Debate still rages among opera buffs about whether today's tenors are as good as those of the past. This collection, "Song of Italy," gives us five great singers of yesteryear singing famous Italian songs. The monaural recordings date from the mid 1920s to the late 1940s.
At the top of the ladder are Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957), with a voice of velvet smoothness, infinite flexibility, and seemingly limitless power; and Swedish-born Jussi Bjorling (1911-60), who, like Gigli, was considered a natural successor to Caruso. He had a voice of soaring lyricism that made his rivalry with Gigli comparable to the Pavarotti-Domingo contests of later years.
The disc includes a generous selection of twenty-three songs, including the expected "O Solo Mio" done in three different renditions--by Bjorling, Gigli, and Schmidt. I preferred Bjorling by a hair over Gigli, and Schmidt a distant third. Other songs include "Torna a Surriento," "Santa Lucia," "Maria, Mari," "Piscatore e Pusilleco," "Casarella," and many others.
The sound, as one might expect, is variable. The EMI remastering engineers have used enough noise reduction to eliminate any serious signs of hiss, making the top end inevitably soft but rendering the voices quite listenable. In a few cases, however, it is more the mono sound than anything else that betrays the age of the recordings.
In all, the disc provides an excellent showcase of vocal art and popular entertainment.