If pressed to compile a list of the most distinguished Italian
conductors of the first half of the twentieth century, I think it would be a
struggle to come up with the name of Gino Marinuzzi. This is not an artistic
matter, more a question of the lacunae in his discography.
Marinuzzi (1882-1945) was born in Palermo and studied piano and
composition at the city’s conservatoire. He stepped in at short
notice, in classic fashion, for an ailing colleague and thus began a career
as a conductor, albeit one who composed. He was invited to replace Toscanini
at the Teatro Colón, but preferred learning his craft in Italian
houses where he conducted a lot of Wagner. By 1909 he was in Paris and soon
after he went to Buenos Aires. There he gave the first South American
performances Tristan and Die Walküre. He remained
enormously popular in the continent, returning every year until 1933. From
this point his career accelerated; his most famous opera, Jacquerie
was premiered, and he conducted at La Scala, at the Chicago Opera, later
turning down a contract with the Metropolitan in New York. He gave numerous
premieres of important works by Malipiero, Wolf-Ferrari, Pizzetti and
countless more. He was also active as a symphonic conductor.
The matter of his death was curious. He took La Scala on tour to
occupied countries, and some of the 78s he recorded, which are in
Preiser’s disc, were recorded in Berlin, though there was nothing
especially odd or unsettling about that, at least, given the circumstances.
Rumours that he had been assassinated by partisans in Milan in 1945
persisted in a number of reference books I’ve consulted about
Marinuzzi, but it seems the truth was more prosaic. He suffered acute liver
failure, and died in hospital in Milan.
If his name is known at all it’s for one major recording
project, the 1941 set of La forza del destino with a cast including
Masini, Caniglia, Tagliabue and Stignani. Recorded over 35 sides, it was the
opera’s first complete appearance on disc. It appears he did make some
(unpublished) recordings for Columbia in America as early as 1920 or so.
Fascinatingly, they seem to have included Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1. Preiser doesn’t
include everything that survives, as clearly there’s no room for La
forza. Also missing are the Schumann Manfred overture, some
Marinuzzi arrangements, some snippets from his music, and other smaller
items from the Italian operatic repertory.
The selection of 78s is limited largely to overtures, which
indicates the main focus of his musical life, opera, without
going to the expense of recording complete sets. The Barber
of Seville is well pointed with prominent winds, whilst
La Gazza ladra is very characterfully done at a sustained,
quite slow tempo, with the percussion at times almost explosively
present. L´Assedio di Corinto is tautly expressive,
and the overture to Norma no less so, with trenchant
drama, though there’s a very obvious slowing down at 4:22
into the side turn. Both these last two were part of the Telefunken
series in 1942. Rich portamenti inform the Intermezzo
from Manon Lescaut and there’s a deftly warm
Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana. It’s
good to hear the extract from Giordano’s Siberia
(Italian HMV, 1936), and the scuffing on the 78 used is only
minimally invasive. Given the conductor’s work on behalf
of Pizzetti it’s valuable to find an example from Fedra
(Telefunken, 1941), played with resplendent command, and in
particular the brief ritornello passage from Wolf-Ferrari’s
Il Campiello not least because Marinuzzi premiered the
work. There’s a pleasing example of the conductor’s
own rich, romantically burnished work with a four minute ‘bonus’
from a Telefunken session in 1942.
Preiser has been responsible for a nice slice of restoration work
with these quite rare sides. Marinuzzi should be far better known than he
is, which is to say largely not at all.