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The Reopening of La Scala Concert

A review from Gramophone, August 1999

The war over, the Milanese set about the immediate rebuilding of the bombed La Scala. By 1946 the work was complete in time for Toscanini to return – by public demand – to his old house to direct the opening concert, a truly legendary occasion now at last officially available on CD in tolerable enough sound to enjoy its many virtues. Chief among them are the old maestro’s inimitable, indeed unique way of inspiriting singers and orchestra to perform Rossini and Verdi as perhaps never before or since.

I would urge David Mellor, so dismissive of Toscanini in the June issue (‘A reader writes ...’, page 22) to listen to these performances so as to have his faith renewed. Nobody else combines the ability to give these composers musical precision and make the music sing as does Toscanini (try the cello melody in the Vespri Overture to hear what I mean about that singing quality or the following staccato passage to judge the exactness of execution). Those attributes are evident in all the overtures presented here, giving the music that quality of Italianita of which Toscanini was an absolute master. Or let Mellor listen to the three piercing chords just before the chorus enters in ‘Va, pensiero’ to judge the conductor’s interpretative genius. Then, who (except perhaps Beecham) would be able to invest the dances from William Tell with such a light, exuberant touch? Finally, and we have only considered so far the first CD, there is the utterly heart-warming feeling in the Prayer from Mose in Egitto with the very young Tebaldi glorious on the soprano line and the veteran Pasero intoning, as only an Italian bass can intone, the bass-line.

The Verdi Te Deum that opens the second disc reminds us of that special quality found in Italian choral singing, and all the chorus members sing their hearts out for their old master, even when there are moments when we realize, in some less than steady moments, that the war’s exigencies haven’t yet quite been overcome. Then we hear something of Toscanini’s affection for two of his other operatic loves, Puccini and Boito. The Intermezzo to Manon Lescaut is a searing experience. This is followed by a performance of Act 3 given by three of La Scala’s stars of the pre-war and wartime era, plus the inimitable comprimario Giuseppe Nessi as the Lamplighter. Favero and Malipiero, with their clear diction and ability to sing off the words with agility, show what the interpretation of Puccini has lost in authenticity in these days of international homogenized performance. Toscanini, in this important addition to his discography, is again in his element, while in the Prologue to Mefistofele he shows – as in his later RCA recording, 6/91 – an affinity with this eccentric score. Pasero has a high old time in
the title-role.

Only the inadequate notes, which keep on repeating the same information in different articles and say nothing whatsoever about the performances, mar a most important issue, surely a must for most opera collectors.



Renata Tebaldi, soprano
Mafalda Favero, soprano
Jolanda Gardino, mezzosoprano
Giovanni Malipiero, tenor
Giuseppe Nessi, tenor
Mariano Stabile, baritone
Carlo Forti, bass
Tancredi Pasero, bass

Chorus and Symhony Orchestra
of La Scala, Milan
Arturo Toscanini

Boito, Puccini, Rossini, Verdi

Naxos Historical Mono 8 110821/2


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