Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur (1902)
Carla Gavazzi (Adriana Lecouvreur, soprano), Giacinto Prandelli (Maurizio, tenor), Miti Truccato Pace (La Principessa di Bouillon, mezzo-soprano), Saturno Meletti (Michonnet, baritone), Plinio Clabassi (Il Principe di Bouillon, bass), Aldo Bertocci (L’Abate di Chazeuil), Pasquale Lombardo (Quinault), Tommaso Soley (Poisson), Loretta di Lelio (Mad.lla Jouvenot), Jone Farolfi (Mad.lla Dangeville)
Orchestra Lirica e Coro di Milano della RAI/Alfredo Simonetto
Recorded July 1951, Milan
CETRA OPERA COLLECTION - WARNER FONIT 8573 87480-2 [2 CDs: 66:34+58:49]


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While I have encountered some fairly dreadful Cetra recordings from around this date, somebody has done a lot of good work here and revealed a recording which is about as good as a tape over half a century old can be. It doesn’t cope with the few strenuous choral moments (considerable distortion) but the orchestra is remarkably clear and warm-toned, with the voices mainly well-caught and, above all, properly balanced with the orchestra. Even the best Cetra sets usually had the voices far too forward. I said "mainly" because Prandelli’s voice often dominates more than the others, followed by passages where it sounds as if he has turned away from the microphone. Did he perhaps have an irrepressible tendency to move around while he was singing?

By now we know what sort of presentation to expect with these sets: a brief note on the opera plus a synopsis, in English and Italian, and the libretto in Italian. I wish they would reconsider their policy. Sets like these are surely aimed not at first time buyers (although in the case of Lecouvreur the later competition is not all that inspiring) but at opera buffs who would like to know more about the singers and the history of the recording in general. Was there a recording of Lecouvreur previous to this one, for example? I haven’t traced one. Reviewing other sets I have been able to fill in some of the missing information from the Internet; as far as biographical information is concerned most of the performers here have vanished into a black hole, and yet they were all stalwarts of Italian Radio productions of the 1950s; regular listeners to the present-day RAI, which makes much use of its back archives, encounter their names quite often.

Carla Gavazzi was born in 1913 and made her debut as Mimì in 1940. Alongside the expected Italian roles (Liù, Desdemona, Manon Lescaut) she appeared in an Italian production of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler and in such contemporary Italian works as Malipiero’s La favola del figlio cambiato, Respighi’s La campana sommersa and Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Risurrezione. Alfano chose her to give the première of his song cycle to poetry by Tagore. She recorded leading roles in four operas for Cetra: La Fanciulla del West (1950), Pagliacci (1951), the present Adriana Lecouvreur and Elvira in Don Giovanni (1955). All but Pagliacci have now been reissued and a filmed version of Cavalleria Rusticana, made for Italian Radiotelevisione in 1957, has been put on video. Not long after this persistent nervous problems, exacerbated by the fact that her son had contracted polio, compelled her to withdraw from the scene. Sadly, her retirement coincided with an offer from Covent Garden which might have launched her to an international career. Less sadly, her son overcame his illness without serious after-effects and is today an active Milanese lawyer while Carla Gavazzi herself, though frail, is still very much alive.

The evidence here is that, in an epoch during which many a fine soprano (Carteri, Pobbe, Cerquetti, Frazzoni …) was squeezed out of existence by the competition between Callas and Tebaldi, Gavazzi might have held her own. Her spoken first entrance (what a master-stroke by Cilea!) is already impressive and she reveals a voice which is ringingly firm on the high notes, has a strong body of sound in the middle register and employs the chest resonance on the lower notes without a noticeable "break" as she passes from one to another. Above all it is a voice charged with emotion. Her singing of Io son l’umile ancella strikes an ideal balance between verbal expression and musical flow (the conductor is a great help here). Many a modern version seems bland and stagnant in comparison. It is true that Callas was more detailed still in her response to every word and phrase, but the Philharmonia sessions under Serafin to which I refer were notoriously studio bound and it possible to feel that Callas worries the life out of the music. In the later aria Poveri fiori Gavazzi adds some sobs of the old theatrical kind. I shouldn’t think any modern singer would be encouraged to do this in the studio, or even in the theatre, and yet such devices are not foreign to the tradition in which Cilea wrote and I found the effect, in context, theatrical and even moving. That this is so is due to the fact that by that time Gavazzi, together with the whole cast, had me completely under her spell. This is a very fine assumption.

Giacinto Prandelli was born in 1914 and, as far as I can discover, is still alive. He sang a wide range of roles including the first Italian Peter Grimes. The general collector will know him as the Luigi in the Gobbi recording of Il Tabarro under Vincenzo Bellezza (EMI 1955). He was also the Rodolfo in the first Tebaldi recording of La Bohème (Decca 1950, conducted by Alberto Erede) and appeared in the first recording of La Rondine (Columbia, conducted by Del Cupolo, I don’t know the date). He also took part in a recording of Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini with Caniglia and Tagliabue under the legendary but seriously under-recorded conductor Antonio Guarnieri.

His is a strong, reliable voice, but also flexible and able to launch La dolcissima effige softly and sweetly without recourse to semi-falsetto. He is well inside the part and it seems strange that his services were not more widely called upon by the recording companies.

I can find no dates for Saturno Meletti who was nonetheless well-regarded over a period of at least two decades. Back in 1941 he had taken part in two very important recordings, singing Fra Melitone in La Forza del Destino under Gino Marinuzzi (another legendary but seriously under-recorded conductor) and David in L’Amico Fritz, with Pia Tassinari and Carlo Tagliabue under the baton of Mascagni himself. He seems to have made quite a niche for himself as Kyoto in Mascagni’s Iris, of which three versions exist; the "official" one on Cetra with Magda Olivero and Giulio Neri conducted by Questa (1956), a live version from the same year with Clara Petrella, Giuseppe Di Stefano and Boris Christoff under Gavazzeni, and a further live recording with Petrella from 1960 under Santini. The latest recording I can trace is yet another Mascagni opera, Guglielmo Ratcliff, recorded for Cetra in 1963 under Armando La Rosa Parodi and also featuring the Princess of the present Lecouvreur, Miti Truccato Pace. It is a mellow, resigned-sounding voice, clearly not that of a young man and just right for the part. He makes much of his monologue.

Miti Truccato Pace will have a marginal existence on many collectors’ shelves as the Flora in the first Sutherland Traviata, under Pritchard, the Zulma in the Berganza/Corena L’Italiana in Algeri under Varviso (1964) and La Zelatrice in the Tebaldi/Simionato Suor Angelica under Gardelli (1962). To tell the truth even Cetra and the RAI did not often give her large parts and her performance of Acerba voluttà reveals some vocal shortcomings. Her chest register is powerful and her top notes are good, but the middle register, where logically you expect a mezzo to shine, is somewhat woolly. So the changes from one register to another tend to be more noticeable than they should be. However, while this isn’t the best performance of Acerba voluttà you will find she is a convinced performer and in all the various exchanges and ensemble work she contributes regally. The two ladies really strike sparks off one another during their Act 3 confrontations.

Plinio Clabassi is another name worthy of remembrance; he was heard as Melchtal in the Cetra Guglielmo Tell of the same year and was another stalwart of many a RAI production. In 1952, for example, he sang Don Fernando (in Fidelio) and Count Des Grieux (in Massenet’s Manon), both conducted by Vittorio Gui and of considerable interest even though they are sung in Italian.

The other comprimari roles are well taken and there is some fine orchestral playing under Alfredo Simonetto who sets some rattling tempi for the big ensembles, sees that everything is narrated with great fluidity, and knows how to draw yards of plush from the slower scenes without actually getting all that slow. Test him in any of the orchestral interludes; he does not put a foot wrong anywhere.

I began by saying that this sort of reissue is more for seasoned opera buffs than for those just wanting a good Lecouvreur. However, when you come to consider that the recording is remarkably good for its age, that you have a practically faultless cast under a masterly conductor, and that the alternatives (not all currently available) are Tebaldi/Del Monaco/Fioravanti/Simionato under Capuana, Sutherland/Bergonzi/Nucci/Ciurca under Bonynge (both principals at a very late stage in their careers), Scotto/Domingo/Milnes/Obraztsova under Levine and Kabaivanska/Cupido/D’Orazi/Milcheva under Arena, all with fairly obvious pros and cons, the claims of the present version to be considered at least their equal are considerable.

Christopher Howell

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