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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Italo MONTEMEZZI (1875-1952)

L’amore Dei Tre Re (The Love of Three Kings)
A tragic poem in three acts
Libretto by Sem Benelli after his play
Archibaldo - Sesto Bruscantini (bass)
Fiora - Clara Petrella (soprano)
Avito - Amedeo Berdini (tenor)
Manfredo - Renato Capecchi (baritone)
Flaminio/Un giovanetto - Aldo Bertucci (tenor)
Una giovanetta - Gilda Capozzi (soprano)
Una vecchia - Ebe Ticozzi (contralto)
Orchestra Lirica e Coro di Milano della RAI
Arturo Basile (conductor)
Recorded (mono) Milan, 3 September 1950
WARNER FONIT (2 CDs) 8573 874787 - 2 [85.49]
superbudget


Crotchet  £8.99 AmazonUK   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations

An opera which has been described as ‘without a doubt the greatest Italian tragic opera since Otello, L’amore dei tre Re has never quite come up to expectations. Toscanini admired it. He and Gatti-Casazza took it to the Met and its success has endured in America more than Europe. Here it gets the sort of Wexford airing of a curiosity but it is an opera well worth more than that (unlike three others he produced thereafter, which were La nave, 1918, La notte di Zoraima, 1931, and L’incantesimo, 1943). Benelli’s libretto is a good one, the music is attractive so all the ingredients were there for its successful première at La Scala, Milan on 10 April 1913. The plot is full of Cav and Pag verismo melodrama, set in the Middle Ages, absent baritone husband, adulterous soprano wife with young tenor lover, vengeful blind bass father frustrated by suspicions of a daughter-in-law he can’t see, so he strangles her (unusually in the second act leaving us with no heroine for the third). Rather stupidly (though understandable seeing he can’t see … if you see what I mean) he sprinkles the corpse’s lips with poison in an attempt to catch the lover, rightly assuming that the lover will kiss her. Sure enough the tenor does, but unfortunately so too does his son, now returned from another rape and pillage session, so by the end the stage is littered, Hamlet-style, with various corpses of all the principal singers, save old blind Baron Archibaldo.

As far as Montemezzi’s style is concerned, there are plenty of signs of the influence of Wagner’s Tristan, which duly appear in the glorious second act lovers’ duet. Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande is to be heard in much of the impressionism and symbolism which permeates the opera musically and dramatically. Both Debussy and Wagner cast their shadows over Montemezzi’s orchestration. Although it tends to be rather dense, overriding it all is an instantly recognisable Italianate vocal line which follows in the line of Verdi and Puccini, with much similarity to both Mascagni and Leoncavallo.

This is a mono recording by Italian Radio fifty years ago, the composer still with two years to live, and a transfer from discs of the time. Though it gets off to a shaky start as far as the sound is concerned, and the timpanist never shakes off that dull sound as if someone is firing off a mortar shell in a nearby battle, you soon get used to it, and by Fiora’s death the drama completely takes you over. Despite very creditable singing from Petrella and Berdini as the young lovers and Capecchi’s struggle with the thankless role of Manfredo, which really only develops in the third act because he never stays around long enough in the first two, the star of this recording is the (30 year-old) Sesto Bruscantini as the old blind baron. His performance is dramatically chilling and vocally authoritative if rather old-fashioned sounding. You are helped to lashings of fast vibrato (but you get used to it) and Bruscantini is helped by always having the last (solo) word in each of the three acts. Conductor Basile whips up his radio orchestra to the required frenzy when necessary, the chorus (only in act three) supply the required grief at the sight of so many dead bodies. Buy it for Bruscantini’s performance alone.

Christopher Fifield

 

 


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