This much-loved recording
of a much-loved opera emerges in yet
another guise, this time from super-budget
Regis, who seem to be working their
way through all the great opera recordings
that are now out of 50 year copyright.
This means, of course, a no-frills,
no libretto packaging, though the back
cover promises us an ‘8 page expert
booklet/synopsis’ as well as a recording
‘carefully re-mastered’. Mmmm. I counted
under four pages of ‘proper’ information,
including the rather cobbled-together
synopsis, which is admittedly cued,
though confusingly with titles rather
than track numbers.
As for the ‘careful’
re-mastering, here I have serious misgivings.
There is a bright, in-your-face quality
to the overall sound that makes for
slightly tiresome listening. It does
bring out the solo voices with amazing
clarity, but such a high-level transfer
makes some of the orchestral tuttis
and chorus work sound aggressive and
rather harsh. More seriously, I experienced
distinct pitch wow throughout the recording.
It is noticeable from the start, but
is worse at long pedal points or wind
chords, or (in this opera) those church
organ passages, which come over as hopelessly
distorted. I don’t know if this is down
to Regis’s equipment, but I certainly
don’t remember it from my old records.
I thought I might be being over-fussy,
so imagine my surprise when none other
than Radio 3’s CD Review complained
of exactly the same fault (and others)
on Regis’s re-issues of the Callas Tosca
and Fürtwängler Tristan.
The performance itself
is another matter. The famous central
trio of Bjoerling, Milanov and Merrill
worked and recorded together many times
and were at their peak at this time.
Not every critic was convinced by Bjoerling’s
slightly civilised assumption of Turridu,
but the voice is in tremendous form.
The silky-smooth (though not quite off-stage)
opening serenade is superbly phrased,
and when the tension cranks up towards
the end, his voice effortlessly moves
up a gear.
strong, manly baritone rings out those
top fs with ease, and though the part
hardly stretches him, it is a fine contribution.
As for Milanov, she too disappointed
some observers in this part, but both
her voice and characterisation struck
me as genuine and heartfelt. She may
not have the scorching intensity of
Callas (for Serafin on EMI) or the sheer
tonal beauty of Caballé (for
Muti, again EMI) but Milanov brings
a dark and brooding intensity to the
wretched Santuzza that is very compelling.
Her scenes with Bjoerling clearly bring
out the best in both her voice and acting,
and the two spark off each other with
easily as much passion as their Tosca
Cellini conducts at
a pretty breakneck pace. This is fine
for the orchestral and ensemble passages,
where the momentum needs to be maintained.
Some letting up would have helped in
more tender scenes – he clips a good
few minutes off Karajan’s gloriously
over-indulgent reading for DG. All told,
I do prefer the pace of the drama to
keep moving, and given the slightly
primitive sound quality, it’s probably
for the best here.
So in the end, it’s
down to voices versus recording. If
you want this team of soloists at low
price, you could give it a try – you
may be bothered less than me about technical
matters. Or perhaps another company
will give it a go with more success;
it seems Naxos are also working their
way through similar territory. Either
way, I would try before you buy.