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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
La Figlia del Reggimento (1840)
Maria Costanza Nocentini (soprano) – Maria, a vivandière; Giorgio Casciarri (tenor) – Tonio, a young Tyrolean; Luciano Miotto (bass) – Sulpizio, a sergeant of the 11th regiment; Mililana Nikolic (mezzo) – La Marchesa de Berkenfeld; Eugenio Leggiadri-Gallani (bass) – Ortensio, major-domo of the Marchesa; Arturo Cauli (bass) – Un Caporale; Giulia Martella – La Duchessa; Franco Becconi – Un Paesano; Alessandro Pento – Un Notaio;
Orchestra e Coro del teatro Marrucino di Chieti/Marzio Conti
rec. live, Teatro Marrucino, Chieti, Italy, 31 March-5 April 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.660161-62 [65:32 + 36:26]

Earlier this year I reviewed another opera with the same conductor, chorus and orchestra, Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia (see review). I was positive then as to both playing and conducting. Though there was no mention of a live recording then, there was, as I wrote, “a generous amount of unwritten bumps and bangs” but no applause and no other signs of an audience. Here the back cover explicitly says “recorded live” but there are no bumps and bangs and no applause. Presumably the live recording has been tidied up through separate recording of final bars and other instances of distracting noises. There are no bangs (?) and not even a single little giggle during some of the hilarious buffa scenes. The theatre seems quite small with little reverberation and I would have liked more feeling of theatre, of being there. Maestro Conti however draws lively playing from his forces this time, too, and strikes the correct tone right from the beginning with a well paced reading of the overture. The opening, with the solo horn sounding almost like the first notes of An der schönen blauen Donau, tells us that this is open-air music – the scene is in the Swiss mountains. After this slow introduction things speed up and we soon hear a military theme, the 11th regiment marching, with a side-drum enhancing the martial atmosphere. Donizetti may sometimes have fallen back on routine writing but there are always nice melodic turns and even thrilling orchestration. La Figlia del Reggimento is no exception, rather this is one of his most charming pieces. Since it was first performed in Paris the original libretto was in French, but was soon translated into Italian; this is the version used here.
Compared to works like L’elisir d’amore, Lucia di Lammermoor and Don Pasquale there are fewer well-known numbers. That said, Tonio’s aria near the end of the first act (CD1 tr. 13) – the one with the nine high Cs that Pavarotti recorded so memorably at the beginning of his career – and Maria’s second act aria (CD2 tr. 6) should be immediately recognised. There is also a riveting trio a little later in that act (CD2 tr. 9) that shows Donizetti’s melodic genius in all its glory. To make up for the few pure arias there are quite a number of ensembles: duets, trios and even larger gatherings. There are also a number of recitatives, accompanied by a fortepiano. In a second act trio (CD2 tr. 4), to begin with, the singing is also accompanied by the piano.
On stage in a colourful and well directed production La Figlia del Reggimento can be a great success, provided the soprano and tenor are good looking and have good voices. That latter criterion is even more important in a sound recording. The two leading singers on this recording in the main fulfil their far from easy tasks with credit. Maria Costanza Nocentini in the title role is technically accomplished. After a somewhat hesitant start she grows into the role. She has a quick, quite prominent vibrato and the tone is rather acidulous, which makes her seem to lack warmth. I don’t know what she sounds like in the flesh – microphones can sometimes exaggerate certain features in a voice – but she is scheduled to be Violetta in Stockholm’s new Traviata, which will be premiered in January. Then I will be able to assess her even better. On this hearing she seems to be a good vocal actor but in the aforementioned trio (CD2 tr. 4) she manages to produce some really nasty off-pitch singing – intentionally of course. She has sung in many leading European opera houses for a good decade – and even in Japan. Born in Florence, like his soprano colleague, tenor Giorgio Casciarri’s career has been even more far-flung, including also the Metropolitan in New York. His is not the most ingratiating of lyric tenor voices, even though he can produce a mellifluous piano if he wants. He is, like his Maria, a bit hard of tone and the voice isn’t as easily produced as some of his present-day colleagues. He manages this testing role quite well however, including the notorious high Cs, but it has to be said that he gets through it more through hard work than with the almost casual elegance of Pavarotti. Some of the singing is strained and not all the Cs are hit plumb in the middle. As Sergeant Sulpizio, bass Luciano Miotto sports a rounded, sonorous voice and he is a lively and elegant singer, quite possibly the best in the whole cast. Eugenio Leggiadri-Gallani also has a fine deep voice and if this production is anything to go by, it is well provided with talented deep voices. The young Milijana Nikolic employs her fruity mezzo to good effect as La Marchesa.
The self-evident recommendation is still the Decca set from the 1960s with Pavarotti and Sutherland in ravishing form. I wonder if it will ever be surpassed – it definitely isn’t by this issue. Still, retailing at budget price and with almost all-Italian forces – Nikolic being the exception – it could be an acceptable alternative for someone wanting this opera in Italian garb. The Decca is sung in the original French.
Göran Forsling


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