When asked to review Giacomo Puccini: a Discography by Roger Flury, I was expecting to find a modest-sized book with a very complete listing of the recordings of complete performances of the operas of Puccini. Imagine my astonishment on receiving a very large tome listing not only all the commercial recordings of each of the operas but also as many non-commercial issues as Flury could locate—and he was able to locate an impressive number of them indeed. Add to the equation recorded performances of each of the arias from each of the operas, again in impressive quantities. Then add to the total additional chapters titled “Songs and Choral Music,” “Orchestral Music,” “Chamber Music,” “Instrumental Music,” and “Miscellaneous Pucciniana,” and we have a near-definitive list of all of the recordings of the music of Puccini. In his preface Flury does not claim comprehensiveness, acknowledging that he included only what he could find. This is a modest claim given the scope and number of recordings found in this compilation. Flury has not attempted to take on the task of accounting for video recordings, although audio issues from soundtracks are included.
The operas are presented in chronological order, which allows the reader to see exactly how neglected the early operas (Le Villi and Edgar) are compared to the rest of Puccini’s output. Entries for complete operas include full cast information, and are followed by recordings of highlights of the relevant opera, again listed in chronological order. These are followed by individual selections from the opera, arranged in score order, with the recordings listed in alphabetical order by primary performer’s last name. For every entry, Flury has indicated the issue numbers that he has been able to trace. For example, Flury’s listing of Enrico Caruso’s last recording of “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca comprises 10 issues on 78-rpm discs, 5 issues on LP, 1 issue on 45-rpm disc, and 9 issues on CD. Flury lists recording dates and, whenever possible, recording venues as well. He has also included matrix numbers for many of the 78-rpm issues. Composer (if not Puccini), opera and aria title are given for the couplings on 78-rpm and 45-rpm recordings, and album titles are given for many of the LP and CD aria collections. Recordings of arrangements for all types of ensembles and soloists are also included (how did I miss obtaining Gary Karr’s arrangement for double bass and piano of “O mio babbino caro”?). There are other breakdowns where needed. I was fascinated to find act one fragments from a projected 1938 complete recording of Tosca with Iva Pacetti, Beniamino Gigli, and Armando Borgioli. Due to Pacetti’s illness the recording was abandoned, and two months later the complete recording was made with Maria Caniglia replacing Pacetti; the six selections recorded with Pacetti were never issued.
Looking over the recordings of Puccini’s instrumental music, I was struck by the number of recordings of Crisantemi, both in the original version for string quartet (24 recordings) and arranged for string orchestra (26 recordings). It is worth noting that very few of these recordings were made before 1970. The same is true of the recordings of the songs, except for the “Inno a Roma,” which was recorded six times during the Mussolini era. The neglect of Puccini’s non-operatic works follows a pattern seen with many composers associated primarily with opera. There are few recordings of Wagner’s piano music or Verdi’s chamber music. Perhaps seeing the non-operatic works of Puccini laid out in this fashion will inspire more performers to look at his other music.
How comprehensive is the list of recordings? The total number of recordings listed for La Bohème, including complete recordings and all of the excerpts, is 2,387; the list for Tosca is even longer. The decision to include non-commercial recordings is one the strengths of this valuable book, since many of these performances have been available from a number of sources...