Gioconda discography

I have two favorites among the so called "lesser" works of the Italian repertoire; they are "La Gioconda" and especially "Andrea Chenier". Gioconda has always been considered by some to be a very inferior opera and as far back as I can remember, the Opera News quiz panel has always had one member who felt impelled to defend it whenever it was the subject of a question or an answer during the intermission broadcast. I would go along with the defenders. It has an absolutely wonderful role for the soprano, and a not far distant one for the tenor. That, in itself, is good enough. I am not nuts about any of the other roles, and I find the Barcarolle for Barnaba, and Stella del Marinar for Laura to be really tedious pieces of music. The less said about Alvise's role, the better, and it is interesting that I've never heard it really well sung. It lies all over the place, and no place, with hardly a line of interesting music. Sounds like I don't like it after all, but that's not true. The two central roles are as good as it gets, and the number of performances of the opera bear this out.
Let's talk about some of the recordings - (Not a great lot!)

EMI 1931 - Arangi-Lombardi, Stignani, Rota, Granda, Viviani, Zambelli conducted by Molajoli.

In some ways, especially the women, this is my favorite recording. Arangi is in stupendous voice and sculpts the lines as though they were from something in the nineteenth century, which they are. She has range and wonderful inflections, where needed. Stignani sounds youthful on this recording and the voice is one of nature's wonders. The men are all servicable and the conducting is idiomatic. (I'm afraid my comments are going to be quite repetitive about this :-))

CETRA - Callas, Barbieri, Amadeini, Poggi, Silveri, Neri - conducted by Votto.

This was the recording that really put Callas on the map. The voice is at its most impressive and the dramatic insights are amazing. When she goes into the "infamous" chest register there is just nothing like it. The top register is brilliant throughout, and if you can live without a perfect pianissimo, this is the one for the ages. Barbieri is very impressive, the voice is about perfect for this middle placed role. The men are not to be discussed in polite company.

DECCA/LONDON - Cerquetti, Simionato, Sacchi, del Monaco, Bastianini, Siepi - conducted by Gavazzeni.

This is the best performance, all around, in my view. Cerquetti can go flat at the very top, but the urgency of her singing, and the magnificent presence of that voice more than compensate. Simionato is my favorite Laura (my favorite most things, actually) and she brings her usual command to this "sort of nothing" role. The men are all at their best, no mean feat, and it is one of del Monaco's best efforts on commercial recordings. Bastianini had a gorgeous voice, though it went south in terms of pitch a lot of the time, and Siepi does what he can with this music.

Was RCA now DECCA/LONDON - Milanov, Elias, Amparan, di Stefano, Warren, Clabassi conducted by Previtali.

It was late! Milanov does have the note of notes, and it is something to hear. For the rest, they are all vocally pretty much past it and Ifind little to recommend except for Belen Amparan who is a magnificent La Cieca. She was impressive in person and she is grand on this set.

EMI - Callas, Cossotto, Companeez, Mirando Ferraro, Cappuccilli, Vinco conducted by Votto.

What can you say? I find Callas quite extraordinary on this set, and she did too, referring to it as the one to listen to if you want to knowwhat *I* am all about. The voice is very steady, and the tops are injust great shape. Cossotto and Cappuccilli are impressive but they would be much more so later on. The rest is pretty pedestrian, say I.

DECCA/LONDON - Tebaldi, Horne, Dominguez, Bergonzi, Merrill, Ghiuselev conducted by Gardelli.

There is one reason for owning this set, IMO, Carlo Bergonzi. He is the standard for this role both live and on recording, and the ovation he received at the Met in 1968 remains one of the most goose bumpy live events of my life. It just would not stop. How gorgeously he phrases in this music. The rest is for fans; I am not one of any of the others most of the time, and this set is typical of that which I don't like in all of them. Sorry I can't be kinder, but that's it.
I have never heard the Caballe et al, nor the Marton so I have no comments to make at all. I imagine they have their moments, though.
Anyway, I've only seen the opera in person about four times, Milanov,Tebaldi twice, and Scotto. They all had moments in the theater, and I suppose if you could take the best of each, you would have really had something to remember; Tebaldi's natural effulgence, Milanov's still easy top and Scottos magnificent phrasing. It is a marvelous role, it dominates the opera, and no performance can be very satisfying without a great execution of it. I haven't seen one, but I live in hope.