This is the fourth
and last of the recordings conducted
by Renato Cellini (1912-1967) during
his period on the music staff of the
Metropolitan Opera. Celliniís health
was not robust and he left the demands
of the Met to become Musical Director
of the New Orleans Opera Association.
In my reviews of Pagliacci
(Naxos 8.110258) and
Il Trovatore (Naxos
8.110240-41) I found Celliniís conducting
unobtrusive and idiomatic. Faint praise?
An era of more dynamic, and often egocentric,
maestri was to follow on record and
at the Met. These conductors often put
their interpretations ahead of the composerís
intentions. Cellini didnít. Listening
to the musical performance here I am
struck by the natural lyrical beauty
of the result and the equally natural
evolution of the opera. There are no
periods of either over-driven or pulled-about
tempi for transient or spurious effect.
The singers are supported, not stretched,
by tempi or dynamic. The whole drama
unfolds naturally, just as it should.
The cast represents
the outstanding standards at the Met
at the time. The role of the wronged
Santuzza, is sung the Croat-born naturalised
American Zinka Milanov (1906-1989).
She is a pure voiced dramatic spinto
with tone and temperament to spare.
I admit to preferring a mezzo in the
role with Cossotto for Karajan (DG)
being my ideal. Milanov is to my ears
the best of the sopranos that are to
be heard on recordings, including Callas
and Caballé. She projects the
role with bite and precision reflecting
the agonies of her circumstances as
she reveals Turriduís behaviour; first
to his mother and then to the husband
of his latest dalliance. The promiscuous
cad Turridu is sung by Jussi Björling.
His plangent clear tone allied to dramatic
thrust is a joy. In the LP and subsequent
period, only Bergonzi for Karajan has
matched the beauty and intensity of
Björlingís singing in this part.
The tonal purity and diction of those
two wonderful tenors does not detract
from the dramatic impact of their characterisation
of the role. Robert Merrill (b. 1917)
as Alfio is a little dry-toned, certainly
as compared to his Silvio on the Pagliacci.
His tone is certainly more rounded and
fuller on the Beecham La Boheme recorded
in 1956 and the recent CD issue by Decca
in their Classic Recitals Series recorded
in1963 (479-396-2). That is to cavil
somewhat, for his pitching is true and
the dramatic thrust of his committed
singing greatly adds to the drama. The
minor parts are well taken and all the
singers exhibit good diction to go with
their exemplary phrasing. The chorus
provide vibrant and idiomatic support
in the Easter Hymn (tr.6). The usual
theatre cuts of the period mean around
eight minutes of the score are missing.
The recording was made
a few weeks after the companion Pagliacci
and at the same venue. Mark ObertĖThornís
restoration is outstanding. He consistently
manages superb results from LP originals.
Yes, there is a little distortion on
the concluding high note at the end
of track 11. But this is a far better
sound than I ever got from the LPs despite
spending a fortune on my playing deck,
arm and stylus.
This issue provides
an excellent artefact of a period and
generation of singers whose strengths
are increasingly appealing as time passes.
It also serves to remind us of a conductor
intent on interpreting the composerís
intentions rather than imposing his
own view. Letís not diminish the inherent
strengths of this recording. Those strengths
command for it a place alongside whatever
more modern recording you might have
on your shelves.
Robert J Farr
see also review
by Göran Forsling
This issue provides an excellent artefact
of a period and generation of singers
whose strengths are increasingly appealing
as time passes. ... see Full Review