(The) Sublime Voice of Carlo Bergonzi
'Carlo Bergonzi is known as the tenor's tenor' apparently. He was also very much the critic's tenor and, as far as I can recall, he was the public's too. For a different opinion see Opera Fanatic ('Bergonzi is overrated'), spring 1986. Meanwhile, start listening.
The collection opens with one of the warmest gelide manine ever. The voice is at its freshest and most beautiful (the recording comes, with other excerpts, from the 1959 Boheme under Serafin), but impresses especially with the variety of its handling, the fertility of imagination. A year earlier, the Butterfly is similarly delightful, Bergonzi's Pinkerton being all confidence and energy, ardent in his Yankee patriotism as in his very Italian love-making. These are some of the best things, but the composer most closely associated with Bergonzi, and of whom we hear most, is not Puccini but Verdi. From the Rigoletto of 1964 (Kubelik) all of the Duke's solos find something very close to their ideal singer, the clean cut of the voice suiting their requirement for an elegance of manner. That is an immediate presence, too, in the items from Un ballo in maschera (Solti, 1962) : Bergonzi's voice at the start of the second disc enters with magical lightness and grace in the opening phrases of 'La rivedra nell' estasi'. Then, how the Karajan Aida (1959) challenges its singers with those (you'd think) impossibly slow speeds - and how nobly Bergonzi meets the challenge in his 'Celeste Aida'.
Not everything is as good as that: he unexpectedly turns his verse of 'Parigi, o cara' to mush (perhaps anticipating what Sutherland is about to do with hers), and I wouldn't for choice choose his 'Di quella pira' to take into battle. Otello's monologue (1975) is not really in his voice or sensibility. Some of the excerpts end abruptly, and sometimes the sequence is disconcerting. Transfers are generally fine, but tracks from the 1958 recital under Gavazzeni have a rough surface on the voice. This is a collection for dotting around rather than listening from start to finish, but whatever the procedure, I can't think it is going to win many recruits for the 'Bergonzi-is-overrated' lobby.'