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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Il Campanello – Farce in One Act (1836)
Clara Scarangella (Serafina), Renato Capecchi (Enrico), Sesto Bruscantini (Don Annibale Pistacchio), Miti Truccato Pace (Madama Rosa), Angelo Mercuriali (Spiridione), Orchestra Lirica e Coro di Torino della RAI/Alfredo Simonetto
Recorded 13th October 1949, Turin
WARNER FONIT 5050467-1044-2-6 [53:03]

It is surprising that Donizetti’s one-act farce "Il Campanello" is not better-known for it is really very funny indeed. In tandem with Rossini’s "Il Signor Bruschino" it should ensure a delightful evening. It is also an opera which would have pleased Hans von Bülow, the erstwhile conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic who quipped that a tenor was "not a voice but a disease", since there is not a tenor in sight. Perhaps this is the reason for its failure with the public, as neither the music nor the libretto would seem to be to blame. So many of these comic operas do not really seem to be so funny at all but this one surely is, at least with two old hands like Bruscantini and Capecchi to act it out.

Old hands? Well now, those of us who started their opera-going in the early 1970s had vaguely assumed that these two gentleman were born at the age of about fifty and had swallowed some sort of elixir which kept them like that eternally, for both remained with us until remarkably recently. Joking apart, here is a chance to hear them at the beginning of their careers, Bruscantini showing, at the age of 30, a lighter voice than he was to develop later but plenty of character. Capecchi, then a mere stripling of 23, has the most rewarding part, with no fewer than three comic disguises to act out; suffice to say he’s hilarious.

Of the other singers Miti Truccato Pace, a Cetra stalwart who sounded jaded by the mid-fifties, is in fresh-sounding voice and makes the most of a part which unfortunately contains no aria for her. Angelo Mercuriali is good in the minor role of Spiridione.

As for Clara Scarangella in the role of the bride, the excellent accompanying essay admits she has a "very high-pitched, shrill little voice"; the truth is worse still. Only her extreme high notes are at all pleasing – and she has just a few of these towards the end. However, in terms of characterisation she knows her business.

Donizetti’s score, as well as providing a vehicle for the two bass-baritones, has plenty of melodic sparkle of its own and the somewhat underestimated Alfredo Simonetto paces it ideally. The recording catches the voices well enough; there is some distortion in the choral moments and the orchestra is pretty one-dimensional, but this 55-year-old document can still provide a lot of pleasure as well as a peep at two of Italy’s major post-war bass-baritones at the beginning of their careers. As is the practice with this series, we have a very full discussion of both music and performance (unacknowledged but well translated by Nigel Jamieson) and a synopsis in English and Italian, but the libretto is in Italian only.

Christopher Howell

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