Aureole etc.




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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Gianni Schicchi - opera in one act
Gianni Schicchi, aged 50…Alberto Rinaldi (baritone)
Lauretta, his daughter, aged 21…Tatiana Lisnic (soprano)
Zita (‘La Vecchia’), cousin of Buoso Donati, aged 60…Mabel Perelstein (contralto)
Rinuccio, Zita’s nephew, aged 24…Stefano Secco (tenor)
Gherardo, Buoso’s nephew, aged 40…Gerardo Lopez (tenor)
Nella, Gherardo’s wife, aged 34…Sara Galli (soprano)
Betto di Signa, Buoso’s brother-in-law (of uncertain age)…José A. Garcia Quijada (bass)
Simone, cousin of Buoso, aged 70…Felipe Bou (bass)
Marco, Simone’s son, aged 45…Celestino Varela (baritone)
La Ciesca, Marco’s wife, aged 38…Claudia Marchi (mezzo-soprano)
Maestro Spinelloccio, a doctor…Carlos Ruiz (bass)
Ser Amantio di Nicolao, a notary…Javier Zorilla (baritone)
Pinellino, a cobbler…Antonio Torres (bass)
Guccio, a dyer…Antonio Torres (bass)
Málaga Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
Recorded at the Sala Carranque, Malaga, 5 and 8 April 2002 DDD
NAXOS 8.660111 [48.20]

 

As Falstaff to Verdi, so Gianni Schicchi to Puccini: his only comic opera. In this case a mere 50 minutes and a single simple plot or story line. The plot? Buoso Donati deceased (a man of property) left all to the monastery. Gianni Schicchi (devious Del Boy) summoned to the death bed, plots with the surviving relatives. Impersonating the deceased, Schicchi instructs the attorney. The will is re-written leaving the most valuable property to Schicchi. The relatives cannot reveal the duplicity for fear of exile at their own involvement. Although not part of the plot, not all is self motivation: the incidental outcome is Schicchi’s ability to give his daughter a dowry overcoming Buoso’s relatives objection to her marrying their youngest member.

Now that is a synopsis, not the briefest but a synopsis nevertheless. The so-called synopsis in the booklet is in fact a detailed account of the plot track by track. And it is that detail which, together with Puccini’s vividly descriptive music, overcomes the absence of a libretto translation.

Apart from the lyrical aria for Lauretta, O mio babbino caro (Oh my beloved Father), you will not hum successive melodies because there are none. Insistent musical phrases, phrase development, dramatic changes of tempo there are a plenty. Pervading all is the almost perfect inter-relationship of words and music and action. Go and read the score to appreciate the enormous detail of stage directions which Puccini gives. Mess about with those, modern directors, at your peril. As an example see the precise ages, set out above, for each role. Although ‘doubled’ on this recording for his 2 lines, even the young Gherardino is specified by Puccini as being seven years old and a contralto.

The self-evident corollary for an opera lasting less then fifty minutes and with some six primary and the same number of secondary roles, is that there is no time for character development. They each have their allotted role and no more. Alberto Rinaldi is a convincing Schicchi with quite excellent vocal acting – and impersonation. When lyricism is called for his touch is sure. At times his tone is uneven but any lack of refinement could be attributed to his rural role ‘up from the country’.

A similar reservation applies to Tatiana Lisnic’s Lauretta. At full stretch she lacks that vocal refinement that we have come to expect from hearing other Lauretta’s. The frustrating point is that when held in check she can float a note which will delight – as at the end of the aria.

Mabel Perelstein (a name to conjure with - the booklet informing us she "was born in Argentina but has Spanish nationality) sings Zita with an admirable deep, round, full sound. Whilst there might be the occasional question mark over the smoothness of head to chest transfer (with some seriously difficult leaps) she acts vocally very well. We can follow easily her role, which helps to keep the plot bubbling along.

Stefano Secco’s Rinuccio whilst clear of diction and accurate of note fails to inspire. There is little dynamic variation in his praise of Schicchi or in his ‘Tuscan folk song’ Firenze è come un albero fioroto. Only in moments of high lyricism does he convince.

The youthful Felipe Bou sings the role of the seventy-year-old Simone. Whilst his voice may well develop the gravitas of age, it does not presently reflect accurately the role of the elder statesmen of the family. Of course the problem for Bou is that his is a ‘straight’ role whilst the youthful Ruiz as the Doctor and Zorilla as the Notary, can sing in ‘disguised’ voices of doddering ancients duped by the schemers. Ruiz’s brief scene is finely convincing whilst Zorilla plays his part in the will re-writing scene to the full.

As the accompanying notes say, the opera "…is notable for its dependence on ensemble singing…". I would add also the importance of the orchestral role: for example in the search for the will and the reading of it.

Rahbari’s orchestral pacing is excellent: now busy and bristling: sometime reduced to a hesitant gait. There is a live, crisp immediacy of tone with some splendidly mellow string playing. You can hear the relatives scurryingly searching for the will; and their later reading of it with expressive phrase repetition as the extent of their loss emerges.

Rahbari occasionally lets the recording down when he allows the orchestra to play too dominant a role with the consequent inability to follow / hear the voices. Both Rinaldi and Secco are occasionally sunk almost beyond trace. Brava la vecchia suffers substantially the same fate – certainly it prevented me from distinguishing the words. Whilst the will rewriting scene itself is balanced extremely well the consequent fury of the relatives is somewhat drowned.

Sara Galli and Claudia Marchi, as Nella and Ciesca, balance well vocally with Perelstein. The opening scene with their successively heard descending registers is very attractive vocally. With no opportunity beyond that of supporting roles, Lopez, Quijada and Varela offer perfectly competent performances each singing with other, and different, cast members as the plot develops.

Recorded at the Sala Carranque there are one or two occasions when the placing of a microphone (or singer) appears not to be ideal. Curiously there are a couple of occasions when there is a suggestion of sound distortion.

As I said this is Puccini’s only comic opera. It is the comic third of Il trittico, contrasting with its two tragic brethren. If you wish to have a recording of this comedy only, then go for it. Whilst not perfect, there is much to enjoy – and at less than £5 (or your super-budget price equivalent) you really cannot go wrong.

Robert McKechnie

 



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