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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Edgar (1884-89/ rev.1889-92)
Opera in three acts, libretto by Ferdinando Fontana
Edgar – Carl Tanner (tenor)
Fidelia – Julia Varady (soprano)
Tigrana – Mary Ann McCormick (mezzo)
Frank – Dalibor Jenis (baritone)
Gualtiero – Carlo Cigni (bass)
Chorus of Radio France
French National Orchestra/Yoel Levi
Rec. concert, Salle Olivier Messiaen, Radio France, Paris, 7 December 2002DDD
NAÏVE CLASSICS V 4957 [2CDs: 54’32+41’29]

Edgar, Puccini’s second opera, has not been lucky, either in the opera house or on disc. It is never given in production these days, which would lead you to expect, as with other rare operatic fare, that the gramophone would come to the rescue. In fact, the only version available to collectors until now has been the Sony set from the late 1980s, which was edited from live Carnegie Hall performances. It had a couple of vintage leads in Scotto and Bergonzi, but was generally thought of as nothing more than a stop-gap, with an under-rehearsed third act and rather lacklustre conducting from Eve Queler.

So following on from their reasonable success with Le Villi, French Radio come to the rescue with this concert version conducted with great passion and commitment by a current master of the big, broad canvas, Yoel Levi. One of the problems with this work is that the composer himself never believed in it, deriding it to the very end; in one of his most famous letters he refers to it as ‘a blunder … as an opera, it is non-existent’. There is truth in that, and it is obvious at many points that Puccini is setting a libretto that is not right for him; small wonder that he was so choosy from then on!

The story centres around a medieval knight who has to choose between the symbolically named Fidelia (the nice one, of course) and the darker figure of Tigrana, a Carmen figure but without the sparkle or originality. This sort of ancient fantasy did not suit the composer whom, as we now know needed figures and situations rooted in realism to ignite his creative spark.

Having said all that, this is great composer-in-waiting, and there is much to enjoy, especially when the piece gets the right degree of belief and commitment, as it does here. Levi plays the score as if it’s top-drawer Puccini, and though the only really star name here is Julia Varady, the rest are in good voice and clearly enjoy their big moments. In fact, this is one of those pieces where it’s better not to question what’s going on; better let it wash over you and enjoy hearing a young composer at least occasionally hitting the mark.

These moments make this opera worth persevering with, and some will be familiar to fans of the composer. The Preludes to Acts 1 and 3 featured on an excellent early 1980s Decca disc from Riccardo Chailly of unfamiliar orchestral extracts, and they show traits of the later Puccini. Also the Requiem that follows the Act 3 Prelude became well known, and Toscanini conducted the Funeral March when it was played at the composer’s own funeral.


As already mentioned, vocal performances are good, with only Carl Tanner in the title role sounding slightly strained above the stave. In fact, the two women and the character of Frank get many of the best tunes, and they are more than adequate. The orchestra is on excellent form, with Levi pacing well and unleashing a suitably big noise at climaxes. In many ways, the idea of recording in concert proves ideal for opera; one gets the tension of ‘live’ performing with none of the drawbacks of noisy stage action and aria applause. In the present case, one is only dimly aware of an audience, and the odd footstep across the stage is the only thing that betrays its ‘live-ness’. Recording quality is excellent, as should be expected from such a seasoned source as Radio France (the recent Haitink Pelleas originated here). Decent packaging is a plus, with full text, translation and readable liner notes.

Let us hope that this set does well and makes out a case for this opera, which is surely not the unmitigated disaster the composer (and others) would have us believe.

Tony Haywood

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