Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Giuseppe VERDI

Renata Scotto (Gilda), Ettore Bastianini (Rigoletto), Alfredo Kraus (the Duke), Fiorenza Cossotto (Maddalena)
Florence May Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Gianandrea Gavazzeni
BMG CLASSICS/RICORDI 74321 68779 2 [2 CDs, 56.27, 64.12]
  AmazonUK   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations

Nothing is told us about the provenance of this recording and though the booklet (sic!) has a double-page spread the inside is actually blank. However, since the other disc I have recently reviewed in this series (Lanner Waltzes under Stolz) was very decently documented it does cross my mind that this may be a mock-up to accompany the review disc and that sale copies may contain something more. Still, if you insist on decent notes and even a libretto or at least a synopsis, get your dealer to open it up and see what it really does contain.

"Pub. 1969" it says on the discs, but Bastianini sang for the last time in 1965 and a reference book gives me 1960. Unfortunately, the recording sounds older than that. It is studio-made, not live, and the solo voices are firm and clear, but the orchestra and chorus, especially in forte passages, are so woolly that I kept thinking my ears needed a good syringe. However, I became so caught up in the music that this virtually ceased to worry me after a while.

I hope this does not sound too discouraging for connoisseurs will have to have this recording and more general buyers who don't insist on digital should also consider it very seriously, for they are unlikely to ever hear the opera better done. Renata Scotto's voice became heavy in later years as she pushed herself into the verismo repertoire. Here it is wonderfully pure and steady, and she expresses all Gilda's emotions with a wide range of tone and close attention to the words. Alfredo Kraus was also in his prime, the sort of youthful, ringing tenor everyone likes to hear. He makes the most of his Act 2 aria, his one chance to hint that he may not be 100% cad, and concludes the following ensemble with a splendid high E flat. Bastianini had a long experience of the role behind him. He gives a real bite to the words in the hunchback's more venomous ravings yet finds space for a honeyed tone when the character's more human side comes to the fore. The scenes with his daughter are extremely moving. Fiorenza Cossotto as Maddalena is a luxury but the advantage of a totally Italian production is that even the smallest comprimari roles make their mark since they are so idiomatically handled.

All this would have come to nought had the conductor been unable to bind it together. Gavazzeni tended to be regarded in England as a routinier (in truth, he could have his listless off-days), as a minor survival from the age of traditional Italian operatic conductors such as Serafin. He was actually a man of wide cultural interests which went far beyond operatic music in general and Italian music in particular (of which he was, however, an indefatigable revivalist: Il piccolo Marat, Zazà, La Principessa della Rosa, you name it. If such operas have been done at all in recent memory, Gavazzeni was usually there to conduct them). One of his last public appearances, in his mid-eighties, was a memorable performance of Reger's Böcklin Pictures. Here he shows the hand of the true operatic conductor in the way his tempi all seem so inevitable one scarcely notices them. All the big moments are launched with the proper slancio and, whether scamperingly light, powerfully trenchant or poignantly sweet his orchestra is always making the right sound.

Some very great names have recorded the major roles of Rigoletto but I venture to suggest that you won't find a more integrated version than this. More than Scotto's or Kraus's of Bastianini's or Gavazzeni's Rigoletto, it is Verdi's Rigoletto. It's just a pity it wasn't better recorded.

Christopher Howell

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: