On the surface, this is a very tempting set of a major Tchaikovsky
opera, what with Jurinac and Bastianini in the cast and Rodzinsky
in the pit. The first thing to notice is the language – this
is live, Italy, early fifties, so it is sung in Italian.
The mismatch between the Italian language - with all its bel
canto associations - and the rather more down-to-earth
slavic feel of the original is marked. If you are only just
getting to know Queen of Spades, this is not the
place to start!
There’s more. The sound distorts, sometimes slightly, sometimes
terribly. At lower levels there is a loss of definition to
the orchestral contribution - a shame, given who is in charge
there. There are problems of ensemble, also, between children’s
chorus and orchestra and at times between singers and orchestra
(try around two minutes into CD 2). Mostly, one misses a
Russian-sounding orchestra. The first time the strings really
dig in is not until track 11 of CD1, where they begin to
approach any sort of darkness of tone.
The two biggest names here are of course Jurinac and Bastianini.
Jurinac appears here only two years after her Glyndebourne
debut. Her scene with Rina Corsi’s Paolina is a delight,
if one can ignore the dry accompaniment and the distortion!
Actually Corsi seems to match Jurinac throughout. Yet it
is at the close of the opera that Jurinac triumphs and one
can hear her star quality clearly.
The Herman - Ermanno here, of course! - is David Poleri.
He emerges as very dramatic and strong. In fact the male
singers are generally very good. Silvio Majonica is a sure-voiced
Surin, while Bastianini has plenty of confidence. If only
Bastianini sounded that bit more Russian!
Despite the presence of Jurinac and Bastianini, for me the
star is the Countess, Gianna Pederzini, who shades her part
exquisitely, has a strong lower register and can be truly
gripping (Act 3).
Rodzinsky conducts with a sure sense of drama throughout.
It is difficult to tell where the fault lies in the various
lapses of ensemble, though. The Rodzinsky discography deserves
and needs expanding, but in reality this release does the
conductor few favours due to the sound quality. This performance
has been available on LP: 3 LP-box on Cetra, DOC63. I can
only imagine that it sounded better there!