Mario del Monaco


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While tenor Mario del Monaco, known to some as the "brass bull of Milan," is derided by certain opera experts for his lack of subtlety and overabundance of projection, within Italy he remains a heroic and legendary figure. Italian label Bongiovanni's Mario del Monaco: Rarities is an entry in its Il Mito Dell'Opera series; it singles out various tenor arias from live broadcast recordings mostly taken from Italian radio. All but one come from Neapolitan productions -- La bohéme and La fanciulla del West from 1951, Andrea Chénier and Tosca from 1954, rounded off by a Pagliacci from Rio de Janeiro from 1956. The sound quality throughout is simply horrible, although the "Rarities" tag does seem to be accurate; while these performances clearly are excerpted from complete performances of operas, none of these broadcasts seem to have surfaced in their complete form elsewhere. Bits of other singers' contributions and audience applause float in and out of the beginnings and ends of tracks, and the pitch of the recording in the Tosca excerpts is all over the place. Although the Rio recording is hissy, it has a bit more definition than the recordings from Naples, all of them being wobbly, distorted, and sounding as though coming from a tin can placed 10 feet from one's ear. If anyone needed suitable ammunition to support the "brass bull" criticism against del Monaco, they would certainly find it here, as he is the loudest single element in these recordings; their metallic sound tends to amplify that very quality in his voice.

There is one positive aspect to this production; the liner notes by Gianni Gori are excellent, and more or less admit to the marginality of Mario del Monaco: Rarities while pointing up what it is we are supposed to be hearing in these performances. For that reason, Mario del Monaco: Rarities might still have some value to those who are incontrovertibly devoted to del Monaco's voice and persona. For others, this will be bad even for those accustomed to the vagaries of live opera recordings. Del Monaco did make studio recordings of at least Fanciulla and Tosca; moreover, decent live ones exist of del Monaco in Chénier (with Maria Callas) and Bohéme; as a result, this effort can't even be recommended as a guilty pleasure and doesn't seem to serve his memory well.

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