The recording here reissued was the first of Verdi's
"Russian" opera (written for St Petersburg in 1862). It is, as recorded,
an account of the familiar 1869 revision which Verdi made for La Scala.
The whole "Sleale" scene for Alvaro is cut and standard omissions of
the time are observed - but nothing like the wholesale butchering which
was practised at the Metropolitan during the 1950s. As will be clear
from the timing given above, this is a reasonably full version of the
An important point, as Gino Marinuzzi's conducting during the choral
and ensemble scenes is one of the recording's strong points. Never wayward
or self-referentially extreme, Marinuzzi nonetheless brings both dash
and discipline to portions of the score which frequently go for little,
thus making evident the "Shakespearean" character of this variegated
piece which was so important to the composer.
But this is an opera, not a symphony, and Marinuzzi
would never have achieved his goals without the splendidly inventive,
yet faithful, interpretations of Meletti, Stignani, and Nessi (surely
the least irritating, most charming Trabucco on disc). Since the Inn
Scene, so frequently cut altogether, is included here, Stignani in particular
is able to display her skills, not least an easy top C (though she blithely
omits all Preziosilla's written trills).
To the principals. Forza (pace Rosa Ponselle)
is in large part a tenor-baritone score. When the "Sleale" scene is
included, they have three large-scale scenes together. Here Masini and
Tagliabue provide contrast more than complement. The tenor gives what
might be termed a visceral interpretation, commanding and often thrilling
(especially on high) but also complete with line-bumping sobs in "Solenne
in quest'ora" and "Invano, Alvaro." Tagliabue on the other hand, though
without the native brilliance of tone and natural vocal intensity of
Masini, gives a cultivated and often subtly-phrased account of his role.
Those whose standard for the role is Warren or Merrill will find in
Tagliabue less to thrill but much to absorb. Tancredi Pasero, with his
flicker-vibrato, does complement Meletti in their last act scene together
and gives an altogether splendid rendering of the Father Guardian.
For many Maria Caniglia's will prove the most controversial
interpretation of the recording. Serafin once told her, "You have a
top, but it is not your glory." He was right. In the theatre the spaces
would have lent shading to her upper tones, but the 1941 microphone
is monochromatically merciless in exposing the shrillness and unsteadiness
that often afflict her. Still, few will dispute the effectiveness of
Caniglia's middle register, or her often striking chest tones, or her
intense reading of the line and attention to words. Some may wish to
take refuge in the easy, shimmering top notes of a Leontyne Price, but
Caniglia, according to her means, gives a striking performance of the
This performance has been reissued several times during
the CD era, often in inexpensive editions. One cannot vouch for the
sources of all these but it is a safe bet that some of them at least
derive from Cetra's old LP edition.
To that extent, the Naxos issue provides a clear alternative.
It has been taken from two sets of the original 78s and restored with
the typical loving care of Ward Marston. Those familiar with some of
the other editions will at once notice differences. Here the pitch has
been made correct and consistent. Though the vocal presence of the singers
may be less blatant, it benefits (Masini's already bright instrument
in particular) from the more mellow reproduction achieved here.
I have only two negatives: Masini's "Signor di Calatrava!"
in the first scene has been carelessly allowed to be repeated, a jarring
effect, and there is occasionally too little time between the end of
one 78 side and the start of another, spoiling to a degree the otherwise
natural progress of the performance and, ironically, reminding us that
this is, after all, a collection of 35 individual parts - something
which the performance itself often belies.
The booklet includes an essay on the opera and the
recording, a detailed synopsis cued to the tracks, and an interesting
note on the dates and circumstances under which the recording was made.
Calvin M Goodwin
Few will dispute the effectiveness of Caniglia's middle
register, or her often striking chest tones, or her intense reading
of the line and attention to words. … see Full Review