While all of you are busily listening to J.S. Bach or G.F. Handel (and yes, that really is Jon Vickers not quite cleanly negotiating "Every Valley," but it certainly is impressive to hear a sound like that in Handel), I put on my own favorite, very, very secular, Christmas Eve music: the first two acts of Puccini's La Boheme. Once again, it was Gigli and Albanese warming up that garret in Paris.
Gigli's a tenor who gets a lot of sneers, over his unabashed sentimentality and, truth be told, sometimes less than immaculate singing. Oh, yes, there's aspiration, and he's not really the guy for Mozart.
But on this recording, and in some other roles, he approaches perfection. Listen to his liveliness in the opening scene, and how responsive he is to Mimi when Albanese makes her entrance. He drains the color from his voice as he observes how pale and ill she looks, he's kindness itself as he gives her a glass of wine, and he flirts shamelessly while they hunt for the key. He stays deeply in character throughout; you can hear his misery and shame in Act III and how badly he misses Mimi in Act IV. His Rodolfo is certainly one of the most carefully created characterizations on record, and oh that golden voice.
And don't forget the Gustavo/Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera. I'm sorry to tell you that you'll have to put up with a truly awful performance by Maria Caniglia as Amelia; you can only wish they'd gotten anyone else to record the role. But again, he has exactly the right touch for the King: joyous, spontaneous, a bit of a clown and trickster. And he is on his best vocal behavior, singing magnificently. Whether it's because of Tullio Serafin or the music, it's impossible to know, but, again, it's a performance you really ought to hear.