Tito Gobbi: 100th Anniversary Edition

COMPOSERS: Puccini,Tosca,Verdi
LABELS: ICA Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Tito Gobbi: 100th Anniversary Edition
WORKS: excerpts from Verdi’s Rigoletto, Puccini’s Gianni Schicci and Tosca
PERFORMER: Tito Gobbi (baritone); with Renata Scotto, Denis Wicks, Neil Howlett, John Serge, Elizabeth Robson and Marie Collier; New Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Downes; The New Symphony Orchestra/Edward Downes; The Bowles Bevan Singers; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Downes
CATALOGUE NO: ICAD 5118

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Extracts from three major roles are brought together here in a homage to the great Italian baritone Tito Gobbi, the centenary of whose birth fell last year. One of the most acclaimed operatic artists of his time, he was admired not so much for the quality of his voice itself – several of his colleagues could boast better instruments – but as an actor, both vocal and physical.

Though the BBC Television programmes from which these extracts are taken are in black and white, with sets and costumes that nowadays look stagey and old-fashioned, the truthfulness of Gobbi’s exhaustively researched portrayals is still impressive – especially in the cases of Puccini’s Florentine rogue Gianni Schicchi and his sadistic Roman police chief, Baron Scarpia.

Gobbi played the latter role some 900 times in all, as well as regularly directing the opera later in his career. Partnered in substantial excerpts from Acts I and II of Tosca by the glamorous Australian soprano
Marie Collier, Gobbi makes his character charming as well as terrifying, his sense of privilege and power conveyed in the minutest of facial gestures.

Turn to Puccini’s comedy, and the baritone is scarcely recognisable. Gobbi would work hard not just on superficial elements such as make-up, but on considering exactly how a particular individual, uniquely, would walk. The results here are little short of amazing. His Rigoletto (in which Renata Scotto is the rather hefty looking Gilda) was filmed first, and seems a little too large a performance for the small screen; but the others are pure gold.

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George Hall