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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Turandot (1924) (105.48)
Giovanna Cosolla, soprano, Turandot; Masako Deguci, soprano, Liú; Lando Bartolini, tenor, Calaf; Felipe Bou, bass, Timur; Armandon Ariostini, baritone, Ping; Javier Más, tenor, Pang; Vicenç Esteve, tenor, Pong; Francisco Heredia, tenor, Altoum.
Choral Society of Bilbao (Bilboko Koral Elkartea)
Escolania Santa Maria de la Victoria Children’s Chorus
Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
Sung in Italian. Notes/synopsis: English; German. No text. Cast biographies in English.
Recorded Teatro Municipal Miguel de Cervantes, Madrid, Spain, 27 October 2001
NAXOS 8.660089-90 [2CDs: 105.48]

Comparison Recordings:

Leinsdorf, Nilsson, Tebaldi, Bjoerling, Tozzi BMG/RCA ‘Living Stereo’ 62687

Erede, Borkh, Tebaldi, del Monaco, Corena Double Decca 452 964-2

Mehta, Sutherland, Pavarotti, Caballé, Ghiaurov Decca 414 274-2

Karajan, Ricciarelli, Hendricks, Domingo, Raimondi DG 423 855-2

Previtali, Udovich, Corelli, Mattioli, Clabassi [VHS] Bel Canto Society 0544

The orchestra and chorus are excellent in this performance of this most symphonic of all Puccini’s operas (Ok, there’s Tosca, but there the characters’ voices generally lead, whereas here the orchestra leads the chorus which leads the soloists.). The strengths of this version lie in the ensemble qualities of the massive forces, brilliantly recorded. I’ve certainly never heard the Ping/Pang/Pong trios performed any better or with more enthusiasm, and the choruses are always right on cue and razor sharp. The overall effect of the magnificent first act is as shattering as it ever can be. Most performances start to go stale by the third act, but this one keeps up the excitement right to the final, horribly bland, Alfano-orchestrated chorus. Competent musician or no, Alfano’s work falls short of genius, and while we are grateful to hear an ending roughed out for us—because by the time we get to where Puccini laid down his pen we are profoundly involved with these people—by the final chorus Puccini’s genius is greatly missed.

Soprano Cosolla has sung Turandot many times before; her voice is huge, and she is at first very pissed-off, later relenting to softness at the end; that is, she has two voices, A and B. Tenor Bartolini, whose first-won award was the Mario Lanza prize, screams and howls with the very best of them, but has also managed to learn some of Pavarotti’s good habits as well. Soprano Deguci sings the part of Liú with effective drama; most sopranos in this part are too pretty (e.g., Tebaldi, Hendricks), but here we are reminded that Liú has had a terrible life up to her entrance on stage, and things quickly get worse for her thereafter. I’ve rarely heard the Emperor Altoum sung by such a young voice as here; usually he’s a long retired tenor or baritone (barely) singing in character. All of the principals comfortably make all their high notes. If there is a flaw to be found it is in the relative lack of dramatic textural variety in voices. That leaves the conductor to control the drama, which he does to excellent effect with perfect assurance and with the full co-operation of everyone.

If, like me, you’ve got all the other recordings, you’ll want this one, too. If you don’t have any and want to buy only one recording, it should be the Leinsdorf/Nilsson/Tebaldi/Bjoerling on BMG/RCA. And if you want to own the very best and prettiest ‘Signor ascolta...’ ever recorded, you have to buy the Inspector Morse teleplay ‘The Death of the Self,’ soon to come out on DVD.

Paul Shoemaker

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