A Russian Mystery
May 21, 2018
This week’s recording is an obscure Zonophone made in Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania but not exactly a capital of recording) sometime in the industry’s early days. It is an opera aria with piano accompaniment, which would normally put the date sometime before 1905, though its catalogue number would suggest something more like 1910. The singer is one A. A. Georgievskii (А.А.Георгiевскiй), and he is extraordinary, but nobody seems to know who he was. He is described (on the label of another Zonophone record) as “Artist of the Private Opera” - several such companies existed in pre-Revolutionary Russia - but nothing more is known.
The name can be spelled various ways in Roman letters, and there is a tenor who sang in the West a little later as “Arnoldo Georgewsky.” He apparently served for a time as a cantor in Bucharest, and wound up in New York City, where he was still living in the early 1960s. This Georgewsky made recordings for Odeon and Columbia in the late 1920s, mostly Puccini standards; they are attractive but fairly conventional. The Zonophone singer is something else, and though cataloguers have assumed him to be the same person as Arnoldo, I don’t think so.
The music is Almaviva’s familiar aria from Il barbiere, “Ecco ridente in cielo,” and it sounds like a throwback to the 19th century, with lingering pianissimi, perfect trills, bold ornamentation, spectacular cadenzas - and a voice of some size, heft, and warmth. Also some confusion between singer and pianist, who don’t seem to have gotten on the same page before immortalizing their work. This is another reason for suspecting that the record might be a very early one. Nobody knew at first (how would they?) that momentary errors become disproportionately annoying upon repetition. At the end of the song, neither performer seems to have any idea what the other is going to do. But to fix it they would have had to make the whole record over again from the start!
I don’t mind - I’ll take it “as is” for the free-wheeling charisma and vocal expertise. Maybe this A. A. Georgievskii and “Arnoldo Georgewsky” were father and son? In any case - if anybody has a hint, I would love to hear about it, and I only wish we had a whole series of bel canto arias by this guy, whoever he was!
Teatro Nuovo puts great emphasis on learning from the singers who had never heard, or heard of, microphone singing - primitive recordings from more than a century ago, forming a link to the traditions of opera’s heyday and the infinite potential of the natural, unassisted human voice. Check this space regularly for samples!