The opening phrases of the first track, “Ma dall’ arido stelo divulsa” from Un ballo in maschera, show immediately why Hina Spani is a singer worth listening to. She has a sensitive, indrawn way, somewhat like Julia Varady among modern singers, and makes the more expansive climactic passages tell all the more powerfully. In that particular aria, the climax (“Deh, mi reggi, m’aita, o Signor”) has first a heavenly softness and breadth in its rise and fall, and then is repeated and extended in a thrillingly full voice that one yearns to have heard live. Actually, one of the attractions of several of these recordings is that they have unusual space – the voice seems to be recorded in opera house perspective, with the orchestra also a much more effective, less confined presence than was usual at that time. It appears that Spani’s voice was found difficult to capture, and partly because of this her records were comparatively few in number and had a short life span in the HMV catalogue; they also failed to secure her an engagement at either Covent Garden or the Metropolitan. Yet the distinction of style and timbre is surely unmistakable: one of the most attractive of sopranos on record.
This collection is not the first on CD. Club 99 issued an almost complete edition (9/90 – nla), the first of the two discs being devoted to the song repertory. Preiser (listed above) have a slightly less well-stocked record (15 items compared with Pearl’s 22), but the transfers are good, a little less sharply defined than Keith Hardwick’s for Pearl but an improvement on Club 99. Pearl’s ‘extras’ are the Willow Song from Otello and “Selva opaca” from Guglielmo Tell (both unpublished in their own day) and one of the rare Columbia recordings, the Cavalleria rusticana duet with Paolo Masini; personally, I do not count them among my favourites. Like the Preiser recital, this one finishes with two songs, and here I prefer Preiser’s selection (Cancion de carretero and Dia de fiesta) as against Pearl’s Amarilli and Fanciullina. Still, the great thing is not to miss Spani herself – and best of all, I would say, would be to scan the second-hand lists and try to find somebody who has the double album on LP (EMI (LP) EX2910543, 11/87), which contains the complete run of HMV recordings in fine transfers also by Hardwick.'