This release offers some of the finest recordings of Italian baritone Paolo Silveri, an important artist of the post-war era. After serving in the Italian army in the mid-1930s, Silveri began his singing career as a bass. Upon the advice of Beniamino Gigli, he restudied as a baritone. In 1944, Silveri made his baritone debut in Rome as the elder Germont in Verdi’s La traviata and quickly became a popular fixture at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Engagements at Covent Garden and La Scala soon followed.
Silveri’s Metropolitan Opera debut took place November 20, 1950 in the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. For the next three years, he performed thirteen different roles at the Met, ranging from Rossini’s Figaro to such demanding Verdi roles as Rigoletto,the Count di Luna, and Don Carlo in La forza del destino.
During the 1950s Silveri appeared at major opera houses around the world, and participated in several complete opera recordings on the Cetra label. In 1959 he performed the title role of Verdi’s Otello in Dublin. Based upon the tremulous singing in the two excerpts I’ve heard from that performance (“Esultate!” and “Niun mi tema”), I’m not surprised this was Silveri’s only excursion into the tenor repertoire. After his retirement from the stage in 1967, he managed an Italian touring opera company, and taught in Rome and London.
The recordings featured on this CD were made from 1946 to 1949. At the time Silveri was approaching his mid-30s and the voice was in its most youthful and beautiful estate. Top notes are plentiful, with an ease of production and ring that would be the envy of just about any baritone, from any era. The diction (all selections are in Italian) and legato are flawless. And while Silveri may not offer the kinds of special insights found in the recordings of his great baritone contemporary Tito Gobbi, there is still a wonderful sense of involvement to be found in each selection. I also admire Silveri’s willingness to employ quieter dynamics, making the climaxes of several arias all the more powerful.
While the singing on all of the recordings is of high quality, I would say that Silveri fares best in the lyric baritone repertoire (which, in fact, comprises most of the disc). For example, the selections from La favorita, justly famous, are among the best recordings these arias have ever received. On the other hand, the Rigoletto excerpts, while beautifully and dramatically sung, feature a vocal timbre that is a shade too bright for the tragic jester. It is also a pleasure to hear Silveri apply his considerable vocal and interpretive talents to three Neapolitan songs, usually the province of tenors. I don’t think anyone who hears Silveri’s passionate delivery and superb high notes will feel short-changed in the least.
One minor quibble. The CD features an excerpt from the complete 1946 EMI La traviata—the duet for Violetta (sung by Adriana Guerrini) and the elder Germont. The music begins with Germont’s “Pura siccome un angelo” and proceeds for about six lovely minutes, only to cut off in mid-duet, immediately before Violetta’s “Dite alla giovine.” The effect is jarring, to say the least.
Typical of Preiser, the transfers are excellent. At 76:48, this CD offers a generous sampling of some of the finest lyric baritone singing of the post-war era. When I received this CD, I immediately listened to it twice, straight through. I’ve returned to the disc on several occasions, and plan to continue to do so, with the greatest pleasure.
K.M. (June 2000)