Since I have been writing for MusicWeb (a couple of
years) I’ve dealt with Rossini Gala from Decca’s Opera Gala (458 247-2),
a double CD album in DG’s Panorama series (469 193-2) and now this latest
World of Rossini. Since Decca and DG are now in the same stable
it is remarkable how much material is common to at least two out of
three – more than enough to mean that nobody in their right mind would
actually buy more than one of these compilations (and in any case the
idea is surely that purchasers progress through samplers like this to
buying complete operas).
I suppose Decca and DG know what they are doing, yet
they can hardly complain with the one hand that the market for classical
music is going down and down, and then act with the other as though
in the course of a single year (these anthologies have come out one
a year on average) enough new first-time buyers have arrived in the
market place to make another compilation commercially viable (but wouldn’t
these "new" listeners be satisfied with Rossini Gala or the
Panorama album anyway?).
I’m not too sure about the catalogue life of discs
like this and I may be wrong in supposing that a first time buyer is
able to choose between the three; however, the following notes are intended
as a partial survey of the current Rossini compilation situation.
Rossini Gala is all vocal – arias and ensembles. Panorama
have one orchestral disc of overtures and string sonatas (all under
Karajan) and one with fairly substantial excerpts from three operas
(Barbiere and Cenerentola under Abbado, Semiramide under Bonynge) and
the Stabat Mater (Giulini). As you can see, World of Rossini attempts
a listener-friendly sequence by mixing instrumental items among the
arias. Only Rossini Gala has texts and translations; World of Rossini
has a good note by Raymond McGill, Panorama a flippant one entitled
"Fast music and fine food".
Chailly’s performance of the Overture is lively enough
but left me thinking I was maybe not in the mood for Rossini. Hearing
the Abbado version (Panorama) proved that I shall always be in the mood
to hear a performance as refined, pointed and witty as this.
The noisy Nucci/Patané version of "Largo
al factotum" is common to Gala and World; Hermann Prey (Panorama)
sings much better with no less humour, and Abbado’s orchestra provides
plenty of point.
Eight years separate the Berganza/Varviso "Una
voce poco fa" from her remake under Abbado (Panorama). Her voice
and technical accomplishment are equally fine in both and since Varviso,
at least in this instance, is a much more guileful Rossinian than Patané,
there’s not much to choose. She has changed a few things, including
one of the cadenzas, and Abbado has her sing the final page exactly
as written whereas Varviso let her hold her high B for much longer.
On Gala Marilyn Horne goes in for a lot of decoration – at times only
the basic harmonic structure corresponds to the printed page. I’d like
to know more about the philosophy behind this – are they known variants
from Rossini’s time or did the singer (or the conductor, her husband
Henry Lewis) write them? Oddly enough, at the famous "ma",
made so much of by Callas but also by Berganza, Horne has a sudden attack
of "play it as written".
A very pretty piece, played with virtuoso flair by
This is the young Pavarotti and his star quality is
not in doubt. But Dalmacio Gonzales also sings well (Panorama) and his
conductor, Giulini, makes an interesting attempt at finding the religious
character of what can seem (and does under Istvan Kertesz) a march from
a comic opera.
Willow Song (Otello)
A very beautiful piece. June Anderson sings it well,
with a slight touch of swooniness which lends the character an air of
vulnerability. It may seem odd to hear this music first from a soprano
and then from a mezzo (at the same pitch) but Horne (Gala) is something
else again, her rock-steady emission and fascinating, gutsy timbre explaining
why she was one of the great singers of her times. But if you feel that
Rossini’s Desdemona should have at least some character points in common
with Shakespeare’s then you’ll have to prefer Anderson. Horne’s Desdemona
would have been more than a match for Otello, Iago and anyone else you
care to mention.
Sinfonia "di Bologna"
A till-ready introduction leading to a rumty-tum Allegro.
I’d have preferred another aria.
The six extracts from this opera on the Panorama are
from this same Sutherland/Horne/Bonynge set, but only "Bel raggio
… Dolce pensiero" are common to both. Superior singing, particularly
fine in the duet "Serbami … Alle più calde". Gala has
an earlier (1960) Sutherland "Bel raggio … Dolce pensiero".
It’s sung a semitone higher, which seems better suited to the singer
(some enthralling top Es), but I take it Bonynge had some evidence that
Rossini preferred the lower version.
An attractive piece, beautifully handled.
This performance is also on Gala. The version on the
Panorama under Abbado is 13 years more recent. Berganza’s voice still
retained its full bloom and technical armoury; furthermore, the fact
that the later one is from a complete performance means that we get
the various choral interjections and a more "lived in" interpretation
from both singer and conductor.
This time Chailly is not on automatic pilot and conducts
with much wit and point. Karajan (Panorama) finds a gently melancholy
in the woodwind solos and a Beethovenish sense of purpose in the forte
passages. But you might feel that these are not essential qualities
for the job in hand, and some important detail gets lost in a reverberant
acoustic better suited to Bruckner. I prefer Chailly.
Rossini Gala seems to me the best bet of the three
if you’re new to Rossini’s operas but already have some overtures. If
you need a selection of overtures then Panorama is a handy album, but
The World of Rossini certainly has much to be said for it.