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Beniamino Gigli's career spanned several significant eras—historically and acoustically.  This section includes articles about his life, artistry, and recording career. 

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Articles about Beniamino Gigli's life and career

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        The recorded legacy

DISCOGRAPHY

Gigli cut his first disc in the fall of 1918 and his last, thirty-seven years later in the spring of 1955. The tenor’s recording career spanned the acoustic and stereo eras. Discography as a field of research has made remarkable strides since Peel & Holohan first compiled Gigli's commercial recordings (The Record Collector, 1990).

Click the DISCOGRAPHY link above to access the most  comprehensive discography of Gigli's recordings to date compiled by John Bolig, author of the definitive discography of Enrico Caruso's recordings (Caruso Records: A History and Discography, Mainspring Press, 2002). 


recording reviews

Beniamino Gigli: The Complete HMV Recordings, 1918-1932, Romophone 820111 (Bain, 1999)

Beniamino Gigli: The Complete HMV Recordings, 1933-1935, Romophone 82017-2 (Bain, 2003) 

Beniamino Gigli: The Complete Recordings 1936-38, Romophone 82020-2 (Bain, 2004) 

The Gigli Recordings (Volumes 1-12, complete commercial recordings) NAXOS 8.110263-272, 8.111101-104 & Beniamino Gigli: Songs (1949-1955), Testament SBT 1162-1165 (Ashpole, 2009) 

Note: Combined, the Naxos and Testament releases fallshort by just nine known titles or takes in being able to offer a complete collection of the commercial output of Beniamino Gigli. In a retrospective of The Gigli Edition, Mark Obert-Thorn lists in his producer’s notes in Volume 15 six titles not released on CD by either Naxos or Testament—in the former case due to copyright restrictions at the time the Naxos series reached completion. In addition, a few previously unpublished recordings were released after the tenor’s death, as recently as 1981. Gary Galo, the ARSC Journal’s former editor of Sound Recording Reviews, has identified one title not found on either of the Naxos or Testament CDs, a stereo take of Volonnino’s “Luntano, luntano” that appeared in Vol. 2 of EMI’s three-volume, nine LP The Art of Beniamino Gigli. Roger Beardsley, in the U.K., recently turned up a test pressing of a previously unknown take of the aria “O cessate di piagarmi,” from Scarlatti’s Il Pompeo.

Recordings of Complete Operas 

Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera, Arkadia 78005 (Bain, 1998) 

Giordano: Andrea Chenier, Arkadia 78012 (Bain, 1999)

Recitals 

Beniamino Gigli: Verdi Operatic Arias, Fono 1003 (Bain, 2003) © Association for Recorded Sound Collections

All reviews reproduced with the permission of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. 

Photo: Public Domain; Gigli with phonograph, between circa 1920 and circa 1925

five hours, forty + recordings

Beniamino Gigli—A Life in Words and Music

This 2004, 4-CD, 5-hour documentary offers an interesting portrait of Beniamino Gigli and includes more than 40 of the tenor’s recordings, expertly transferred for NAXOS by sound engineers Ward Marston and Mark Obert-Thorn. Written and narrated by writer and broadcaster Graeme Kay, “Beniamino Gigli—A Life in Words and Music” was reviewed in the ARSC Journal. Click links below for access. 

Beniamino Gigli—A Life in Words and Music

Documentary Review in ARSC Journal

Photo: Gigli in L'elisir d'amore, Buenos Aires, 1928

Beniamino Gigli—Live Performance and film discography

Compiled by David Cutler (Updated June 2021) Click below for access. 

Part 1: Live Recordings

Part 2: Soundtrack Recordings

Part 3: Documentary

Gigli's commercial records have mostly been issued through the years by EMI (now Warner), and latterly, Naxos. The Naxos series covers Gigli’s recording career from 1918 to 1951. Many formerly unpublished recordings from the 1950s were later released on four CDs by Testament records. These include recordings originally made on tape as well as several tracks recorded in stereo. Gigli was one of the very few artists in the earlier part of the 20th century to record from the acoustic method to stereo. However, like other singers, Gigli virtually doubled the number of recordings available through the release of live recordings.
The first so-called “pirate” to release live operatic recordings was Edward J. Smith (EJS) who, between 1956 and 1981, published thousands of live recordings eagerly awaited by opera fans and lovers of historical singers. There were many broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera house. These included Simon Boccanegra with Lawrence Tibbett, Elizabeth Rethberg, Ezio Pinza, and Giovanni Martinelli. Other singers that appeared on his lists were Jussi Björling, Lotte Lehmann, Kirsten Flagstad, Alexander Kipnis and Salvatore Baccaloni, and a whole host of Met opera stars. The EJS material also originated from Europe with, for example, a magnificent recording of Don Giovanni from Salzburg also starring Pinza and Rethberg and quite a bit of the 1939 season from Covent Garden which includes two Gigli performances of La traviata and Aïda.
This enables us to hear the great tenor in quite a few recordings stretching back from 1932 to the end of this career that were not available commercially. Added to those recordings are various film soundtracks. Gigli appeared in some fifteen films, all of which produced at least one gem on the soundtrack. For example, the film Mamma not only produced the popular song of the same name, but also some of Gigli’s best singing ever, in a role that he would never attempt on stage, Verdi’s Otello.
The discography provided here is divided into three parts.
Part 1 comprises performances from the stage, concert hall or any other venue where Gigli was accompanied by piano or orchestra.
Part 2 comprises performances from film. From 1935 to around 1952, Gigli was seen and heard in approximately twenty films. His last appearance was in Taxi di Notte (1950). These films often produced musical rarities that do not appear elsewhere in his discography, e.g., excerpts from Verdi’s Otello from the film Mamma. In the film Vertigine, he even attempts the Spring song from act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre. Italy’s film archive also provides some examples of short films where Gigli turns up in either a song or an aria from an opera.
In the late 1920s, Gigli took advantage of the earliest sound films. "Vitaphones" were made from around 1926, initially by Warner Brothers. They were short films which showcased a particular artist. Both Gigli and Giovanni Martinelli starred in several operatic shorts.
Part 3 consists of documentary comments and short interviews from the second half of Gigli’s career. These tend to occur at the end of concerts or even during the interval. There is an important lezione di canto from March 1955, right at the end of his career, in which he explains his method of singing. 
World War II restricted Gigli’s artistic achievements somewhat to the axis countries. Post-war, however, despite his advancing years, Gigli still carried out a reasonably full schedule of operatic performances as well as concerts, many of which were broadcast. In 1948, Gigli made a highly successful commercial recording of “Ed anche Beppe amo” from L’amico Fritz. Just three years later, a performance was caught from the San Carlo opera house, Naples. Another opera never recorded commercially by Gigli was L’elisir d’amore from early 1953. This was the last complete live opera broadcast Gigli took part in. During the last three years of his career, complete opera performances became rare and he sang mostly in concert, including a long round of farewell concerts. Finally, two songs were recorded for the BBC for broadcast over Christmas 1955 after he officially retired. Some or all of these later concerts were recorded and have been issued on disc.            
 My huge thanks to Mark Ricaldone, without whose tireless efforts much of the information presented here would not be accessible. I would also like to thank William Collins, who compiled a first version of Gigli’s non-commercial output in 1990 for the Record Collector journal. Finally, I would also like to thank William Shaman, William Collins, and Calvin M. Goodwin for the huge amount of work that went into their two invaluable volumes of ‘EJS: Discography of the Edward J. Smith Recordings.’

Photo: Gigli in post-war London, 1946

David Cutler managed the Archive at Reuters News until 2021. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he qualified in Information Science and started his career in London’s Imperial War Museum. In 1980, he joined the BBC as a researcher and seven years later joined Reuters, running the Editorial Reference Unit, which supplied research and copy for editors and journalists around the world. An amateur tenor, David studied singing with the Polish bass, Marian Nowakowski, who was himself a pupil of Adamo Didur. David has sung in concert in Dublin, London and Perugia. He reviews new releases of classical music for the U.S. publication Fanfare.

Memories of

Beniamino Gigli

James A. Drake

From 1972-1979, under the aegis of the Gustave Haenschen Oral History Project at Ithaca College, James A. Drake, then a professor and administrator at the College, conducted detailed interviews with approximately twenty vocal and instrumental musicians, announcers, and recording-industry executives whom Haenschen (1889-1980) had either discovered, directed, or promoted during his 60-year career in the recording and radio industries.

Of particular interest to this website are Drake’s interviews with the legendary soprano Rosa Ponselle, coloratura soprano and concert artist Nina Morgana Zirato, and announcer Milton Cross, for decades the “Voice of the Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts.” The arrival in America of Beniamino Gigli and his rapid rise as a primo tenore at the Metropolitan Opera during an era replete with great tenors are topics discussed in detail by Ponselle, Morgana and Cross in their oral-history interviews. 

Milton Cross

Nina Morgana

Rosa Ponselle

Interviews are reproduced with the permission of the author.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, James A. Drake earned his PhD from Ohio State University and began his academic career as a tenured faculty member and administrator at Ithaca College. He served in the academic administrations of the University of Tampa, Clemson University, Findlay University, the University of Central Florida, and Brevard Community College (now Eastern Florida State College), from which he retired as President in 2012. A commercial and academic writer, he is the author of definitive biographies of Rosa Ponselle (1982, 1997) and Richard Tucker (1984), to which Luciano Pavarotti contributed the Forewords. Both biographies were named Music Books of the Month by the National Book Clubs of America. He has also written academic books and contributed more than 50 articles in major magazines and academic journals.

Photo: Rosa Ponselle, CC BY-SA 4.0