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Riccardo ZANDONAI (1883-1944)
Opera Giulietta e Romeo.

Chorus of Communal Theatre of Bologna,
Sanremo Symphony Orchestra Orchestra/Loris Gavarini.
Mono recording 1961
Opera Conchita (excerpts)
Soloists, Chorus and orchestra as before.
Mono recording 1961

WARNER FONIT 5050466-2963-2-0

I was recently asked to speak at a meeting of opera lovers and was told that the large membership knew the names of operas and their composers from Monteverdi to the present day. That was a great encouragement and so I went only to find that no one has heard of Riccardo Zandonai! That was both shocking and unforgivable!

Zandonai was born at Sacco di Trention on 28 May 1883. He studied at Rovereto from 1893 to 1898 and then with Mascagnini in Pesaro. His operas are:-

Il grillo del Focalare 1908

Conchita 1911

Melenis 1912

Francesca da Rimini 1914

La via della finestra 1919

Guiletta e Romeo 1922

I Cavalieri di Ekebu 1925

Guiliano 1928

La farsa amorosa 1933

He wrote some orchestral serenades, the Symphonic Poem The Return of Ulysses and a glowing Violin Concerto

He died in Pesaro on 5 June 1944.

Francesca da Rimini is a truly magnificent opera eclipsing most of the Verdi and Puccini operas except perhaps the superb Simon Boccanegra. Zandonai operas are devoid of the sentimentality of Verdi and the pomposity as in the grand march from Aida although I will be the first to admit that the closing scene of Aida is very moving. Amneris's repeated D flats will always pack a punch. I will never forget the first time I heard this with the lovely Jean Allister as the jealous lover condemning Rhadames to be buried alive with Aida.

Guilettea e Romeo begins with a brief orchestral introduction which is playful and subdued with a wonderful atmosphere of innocence with appropriate hints of tragedy and tension. The singing between Tebaldo and Uomini contains portents of excitement above a rich but not exaggerated orchestration. The chorus of women is ethereal and Maschere's voice is very telling. Gregario's low voice is sinister and the accompanying choral writing is creepy. The introduction of communal laughter in this opera and others never works as far as I am concerned. The soprano and tenor duet Se l'amore non ritorna and the repeated Il canto are most effective. Montecchino's rich voice is a delight and Donna and Gragario throw fragments of melody with expertly judged agitation. Excitement is never far away and where Zandonai suceeds over Verdi and others it is that he can make recitative and sung dialogue so fascinating. Tebaldi's solo Che fu? is quite stunning and a brief passage for Il Mascherato momentarily recalls Puccini's Tosca.

It is with the introduction of Juliet and Romeo that we have extended solos. Juliet is brilliantly portrayed in the orchestra as coquettish and that is rightly so.

I have always been troubled by sopranos who sing the role of Juliet in various works. Often they have been very large women who have no youthful looks or innocence of voice. But then what soprano of fourteen years could rightly interpret the vocal parts written for a Juliet? The singer here is no pubescent girl either. Romeo has two splendid solos Deh! Bel fioretti! and a longer solo at Ben Veerei. Juliet's first real solo Signor mie dolice is quite lovely and lacks the sentimentality of both Verdi and Puccini. Zandonia's music is more controlled and thus avoids the pitfalls of empty emotion and slush

As to Conchita and, as you might expect, it is a Spanish love story similar in some ways to Bizet's Carmen.

The booklet states that it is an opera in four acts and six scenes yet the score does not mention scenes. The libretto is by Maurice Vaucaire and Carlo Zangarini after the novel Le femme et le pantin by Pierre Louys and was commissioned by the music publishers Giulio and Tito Ricordi. Vittoria Cima was a wealthy woman of Turin who urged the composer Arrigo Boito to recommend Zandonai. There were some trials in transposing the novel into a libretto and the establishments of rights. Puccini had apparently turned down setting this as an opera as did Enrico Bossi. The final libretto diluted the rawness of the novel which tells of a cigarette girl from Seville who ensnares rich men, leads them on and gives out erotic signals and when the men attempt to respond to her seduction she refuses and snubs them having acquired their money first. Nothing has changed!

Conchita ensnares Mateo and but does not yield to him. She teases and torments him without mercy and he finally snaps and beats her. She has taken his money and promised to give him her charms and has kept him dangling and finds that he is too gentle and loving

‘The excerpts are

band 12 starting page 57 of full score

band 13 page 94

band 14 page 140 . This is the orchestral intermezzo nella strade

band 15 page 188

band 16 page 242

band 17 page 365

bands 18 and 19 are continuous starting from page 523 which contains almost all the music from atto quarto but omits the Prelude which is a lovely piece.

One excerpt concludes with words not in the accompanying booklet which adds to my view that this recording is the performance broadcast by the BBC as a complete opera a generation ago.

The booklet also refers to scene numbers which is daft because no scenes are notated in the score.

The opera was first performed in Milan on the 14 October 1911 and is a work of great colour, rhythmic vitality, clear structure and an amazing originality. It puts Carmen in the shade.

I could write pages extolling the virtues of this music and disc but I fear that would be repetitive.

A lovely presentation.

David Wright

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