When some years ago the distinguished music critic Andrew Porter kindly looked over my list of candidates for inclusion in this book it didn’t take him long to ask, “but where is Tullio Serafin?”  Well, somehow I’d gotten the notion that Serafin’s conducting betrayed a slight overdose of orotundity, the wall of sound he produced could be too massive. I’m ashamed to say I was so hooked on the merits of Serafin’s admittedly breezier colleague Ettore Panizza that I got my priorities off a bit. Come now, a classic case of apples and oranges: Serafin was a grand conductor indeed, not to be belittled because he didn’t resemble conductor B, C or D.

I would cite as Exhibit A of Serafin’s talents that scratchy but fascinating relic, substantial shavings from his Met broadcast of Don Giovanni with Ponselle, Schipa and friends, 1-20-34. Wow, what a majestic and dangerous opening to the overture, what a big dynamic range peeping through the audio murk. Then a rollicking allegro, neat, wistful, with thundering fortes. A whiplash entrance for Donna Elvira, a cackly Madamina on ball bearings, a courtly and lingering La ci darem la mano, these are some of the delights of this elegant and exhilarating performance, clothed, yes, in a characteristically substantial orchestral fabric but an agreeable one as well.

Leave the dark age of very early Met broadcasts and we arrive at Naples’ Arena Flegrea 7-3-54 for a Traviata with Renata Tebaldi in which Serafin in the second act – Germont has asked Violetta to give up Alfredo – catches Despair like a football and runs with it past the goal posts. If you have the G. Schirmer vocal score look especially to page 92: “Gone is my last ray of hope,” sings Violetta, and Serafin capitalizes on his “shall-we-call-it-orotundity?” to underline the implacable upward pizzicati in the strings which march, five staccato notes, another five, and another, and so on . . . across the page. Then on page 94 with the famous Dite alla giovane – “tell Alfredo’s sister I will do as you say” – Serafin reduces Verdi’s andantino cantabile to a halting, foot dragging and increasingly slower adagio that breaks the heart. It’s as if the music were trying to find a way to live with this renunciation. The gears of such great emotion can’t be shifted at a tempo much faster.

Of the at least two “live” Otellos conducted by Serafin that have come down to us my favorite is the RAI Rome broadcast of 12-15-62 with Virginia Zeani and James McCracken. The sense of danger is keen in the first act with the orchestra’s scary ragout of bubbling winds, ticking brass, flickering strings. Spacious in tempo, relaxed in the best sense, the performance decidedly takes off. In Otello’s monologue in the third act Serafin, to pursue if we may our gastronomical imagery, unleashes a regular gravy of pathos. Now back to 2-10-34 at the Met — Serafin’s conducting of Howard Hanson’s Merry Mount (an opera that still sounds viable, at least melodically) is absolutely convincing.