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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Cenerentola [selection]
Cesare Valletti (Don Ramiro), Saturno Meletti (Dandini), Cristiano Dalamangas (Don Magnifico), Ornella Rovero (Clorinda), Miti Truccato Pace (Tisbe), Giulietta Simionato (Angelina under the name of "La Cenerentola"), Vito Susca (Alidoro)
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Torino della RAI/Mario Rossi
Recorded 18th Septemer 1949, Turin

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When is an opera not an opera? Or a symphony not a symphony? Or rather, how much cutting is permissible before purchasers have a right to be told? Going to one extreme, if a collector buys a CD of a Beethoven symphony and finds that at least one repeat is missing (without any acknowledgement of the fact on the front or back cover), could he quote the Trades Description Act and claim damages because what he has been sold is not, strictly, the Beethoven symphony as the composer wrote it?

Probably nobody knows the answer to this, and it is unlikely that anybody ever will have the time or money to call a test case which, even if he won it, would provide him with little but private satisfaction. What damages could the Judge award beyond ordering the manufacturer to reimburse the price of the record? (Though if you are a young mezzo preparing your first Marcellina and you buy a recording of Le nozze di Figaro as a study aid, only to find that Marcellina’s aria and some of her other music is omitted, then the damage is surely considerable; no version before Erich Kleiber’s included that aria, while those that followed until about the mid-1970s were as likely as not to cut it). Furthermore, if the Judge were in a beastly mood and felt the whole thing a footling waste of his time, he might cite Ruskin v. Whistler and have the Plaintiff, rather than the Defendant, pay costs.

And then, our brave pleader might not even win his case. The other side might argue that discs are not just records of music, they are records of performances of music and if you hear a Beethoven symphony at a concert a full clutch of repeats is by no means guaranteed, while provincial performances of Figaro are still today unlikely to include Marcellina’s aria; and in neither case do the organizers feel bound to announce an "abridged" performance.

So the Cetra "Barbiere" which I recently reviewed (also with Simionato), while savagely cut, reflects the standard theatrical practice of its day – and the live Met version on Guild (which I also reviewed not long ago) proves as much. But when we come to a "Cenerentola" which lasts about half the normal length, which leaps from the overture straight into "Una volta c’era il re", omitting all the opening ensembles, which omits all recitatives, in which just one of the many cuts amounts to 50 pages of the vocal score and in which the pieces left are hacked about mercilessly, it has to be said that no opera house would ever have gone that far – the story-line is completely lost, for a start. So at this point I feel that the listener has a right to know that he is getting highlights, in order to weigh the pros and cons of purchase against other highlights discs rather than complete sets (I have added the word "highlights" to the title information above on my own initiative).

Having got this grumble out of the way, of course true operatic buffs (who will realize from the timing that the opera is far from complete) will happily disregard all this if they are to get a glimpse of some classic performances not otherwise preserved at all. I am not sure that this is really so.

If there is a performance here for collectors it is presumably that of Cesare Valletti, a well-schooled and stylish tenore di grazia. I found nothing particularly memorable in his assumption but it was pleasurable to hear.

Saturno Meletti appeared in quite a number of distinguished opera sets over the years; he goes all out for characterization. Rather like some of the singers in the Met "Barbiere", his bravura arias are great on the words but adopt a kind of Sprechstimme in which he sings any notes he feels like rather than those written. Some might find this a worthy memento of a tradition which (thankfully) survives today in Broadway musicals rather than the opera house, and one which, if its roots go back as far as Rossini’s own days, maybe explains why Rossini gave up composing operas.

The importance of Giulietta Simionato’s Cenerentola is lessened by the fact that she recorded the role complete for Decca about ten years later – a boisterous set recorded in Florence under the veteran De Fabritiis which has always held up its head well against the classic Glyndebourne recording directed by Vittorio Gui (EMI). That said, she is in better form, and more suited to her role, than in the Cetra "Barbiere". Her coloratura is pingingly accurate and in pianos and mezzo fortes her rich but vibrant tones may coincide with most people’s ideas of a Rossinian mezzo-soprano. In her fortes, however, she is too regal in her ample Verdian tone, too peremptory of utterance. Those who disagree will obviously want the later recording.

Cristiano Dalamangas is another of Cetra’s seemingly inexhaustible stock of singers who crop up for a recording or two, seem to know their business and then lapse into obscurity. The remaining parts have too little of their music left to call for comment, though Miti Truccato Pace will be a familiar name to connoisseurs of Italian records of those days. The recording has a fine conductor in Mario Rossi. Like Previtali in the companion "Barbiere" he anticipates Abbado in concentrating on the musical values of the score, but he is more imaginative and vital than Previtali, whipping some of the later ensembles into a finely-controlled frenzy which has the feeling of a live performance to it. The sound is quite reasonable for the date, but if highlights of this opera are enough for you, then surely the recent Apex selection with Jennifer Larmore would be a better buy.

There is no libretto but a full synopsis of the opera is provided by a commentator who was evidently not told that the recording was not complete, so if you try to follow the discs with this you’ll have a puzzle on your hands. Notes on the singers would have been welcome.

Christopher Howell

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