is a seriously good recording. Devotees of Opera in English will
already have discovered this because they will have been unable
to resist the temptation to purchase. Thereby they will have found
themselves in that somewhat unusual operatic genre: the semi-seria
- of which this is an almost perfect example. Here are comic elements
intermingled with the dramatic, darker side of life. Not everyone
lives happily ever after.
everyone lives happily now: blinkered opera-language purists will
have read ‘Rossini’ and ‘Opera in English’ and no more. Not for
them the language of the audience. Original libretto and composition
fanatics will not get much further either: this production is
based on the 2002 Garsington production with omitted arias and
‘radically cut’ (David Parry’s words) recitative. ‘Original’ depends
on which version you refer to: Rossini’s original of 1817 or the
revivals at Pesaro and Naples for which he wrote additional music.
Stop worrying. Three and a quarter-hours have been cut to two
and a half. And in that time you will listen to a taut compelling
version which, whilst not perfect, I defy you not to enjoy.
of Rossini’s contemporary critics complained of "noisy instruments"
– as pointed out by Richard Osborne in his usually interesting
and learned introductory notes in the accompanying booklet. I
believe the complaint was a misunderstanding of Rossini and in
particular his love of sound, instrumental or vocal and the juxtaposition
of each to the other.
this recording we have some excellent examples; some where the
orchestra adopts a superbly controlled supportive role; for example
the duet at the beginning of Act II. Conversely it attempts to
take over once or twice seemingly carried away in the euphoria
of splendid sound: the opening trio before Ninetta’s cavatina
is an example.
did wonder from time to time whether David Parry had overlooked
our inability to follow visually the singers on stage when recording
the CD as opposed to the live Garsington performance. Just occasionally
he allows the singers to be submerged in "noisy instruments".
It is a small but irritating point when Chandos have taken the
trouble to record in English: there is not much point when you
cannot hear the words, an intermittent occurrence, not only in
aria but also in recitative.
said there is a splendid example of the reverse where the orchestra
fades leaving the chorus of servants in charge (before Giannetto’s
cavatina). The chorus is good: very good: from the rustic opening
to the drama of the court scene where there is threatening power
with the later smooth funeral type march.
Ninetta of Majella Cullagh takes centre stage. Her coloratura
runs are a delight with seamless head to chest transfers. There
is a suggestion of shrillness when she has to leap to a particularly
high note or when it is delivered forte. Just occasionally she
sounds insecure in one or two of the very fast ensembles, taken
at a gallop rather than a canter. These are compensated for by
a glorious tone particularly at the deliciously low end of her
vocal range which she displays with satisfying frequency.
her, and just as importantly for all the leading soloists without
exception, it is their vocal balance with each other which is
one of the great strengths of this recording. In Majella Cullagh’s
role: the moving and gentle duet with her father Fernando (Russell
Smythe); the stroppy interaction with the devious Mayor (Christopher
Purves) and her quite splendid duet with Giannetto (Barry Banks)
at the prison.
is not a commanding role. Despite the drama Russell Smythe injects
into his opening recitative and his protestations in the prison
scene it is almost a subdued parental role. However he brings
a very important balance to the ensembles where he contributes
significantly to the vocal precision. I enjoyed particularly the
stunningly good quartet at the end of the prison scene.
Banks’ distinctive timbre makes a readily identifiable prodigal
returning hero, Giannetto. He can cut through any orchestral take-over
bid but in despatching them there are occasional signs of strain
particularly when soaring on high. Again his voice provides the
distinctive high tenor to balance with the tessitura of the other
soloists in the ensembles. As I have said already the prison scene
duet is very good and enables both Banks and Cullagh to demonstrate
some delicate vocal colouring.
a spectrum of vocal colour, for me, Christopher Purves is outstanding.
He portrays the darker side skilfully with some excellent vocal
characterisation. He clearly relishes the investigative scene
as he does his attempted seduction of Ninetta. In that later scene
he produces some wonderfully open vowel round sounds almost dripping
Bickley and Jeremy White also clearly enjoy their roles: Gianetto’s
parents / Ninetta’s employers. Jeremy White’s sonorous tone even
manages to suggest controlled Bacchanalian pleasure. He contributes
importantly to the ensembles with his very distinctive characterisation
and deep bass harmonisation.
Jones, in the trouser role of Pippo, presents strongly her supporting
role. In her duet with Majella Cullagh in the second Act she conveys
well that question, with no clear answer, of how far her emotions
might travel. A very smooth duet with gentle modulations.
Graham-Hall’s Isaaco is a model Dell Boy / Fagin / Artful Dodger
all rolled into one with just the right level of almost distanced
insouciance. The other supporting roles are just as well sung
and characterised – all totally enjoyable.
usual high quality box packaging on the outer sleeve (but not
on the CD box itself or booklet) has a non-removable sticky label
"featuring Prunella Scales as the magpie". Indeed so
it does and she has the best ‘caw’ I have ever heard. I just hope
that her fans will not be misled into thinking there is more to
her role than that. Incidentally, I was amused / diverted by the
Italian spelling of ‘melodrama’ (double m) in the title on the
with two full CDs, conveniently one for each act, an excellent
number and placing of cue or prompt points and a modest price,
there is only one question: what are you waiting for before adding
this to your collection?