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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La donna del lagoa (1819) – Tanti affetti in tal momento [3’55]; Fra il padre e fra l’amante [4’12]. Otellob (1816) – O tu, del mio dolor [0’54]; Assisa a’ piè d’un salice [8’03]; Deh, calma, o ciel [2’17]. Stabat Mater (1833, rev. 1842) – Inflammatus e accensusa [5’16]. Armida (1817) – D’amore al dolce imperoa [7’09]. Tancredic (1813) – O patria, dolce e ingrata patria [4’26]; Di tanti palpiti [2’48]. L’assedio di Corinto (1826) – L’ora fatal s’appressac [3’00]; Giusto ciel! In tal periglioa [3’31].
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

Belisariod (1835) – Plauso! Voci di gloria [2’17]; Sin la tomba è a me negatta [3’08]; O desio della vendetta [3’47]. Parisina d’Estee (1833) – No, più salir non ponno [4’05]; Ciel, sei tu che in tal momento [6’24]; Ugo è spento [5’06]. Torquato Tassof (1833) – Fatal Goffredo! [3’25]; Io l’udia ne’ suoi bei carmi [2’37]; Trono e corona [3’21]. Gemma di Vergyg (1834) – Lascia, Guido, ch’io possa vendicare [2’23]; Una voce al cor d’intorno [3’57]; Egli riede? [5’49].
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Un giorno di regnoh (1840) – Ah! Non m’hanno ingannata! … Grave a core innamorato [2’55]; Se dee cadar la vedova [2’48]. I Lombardih (1843) – Qual prodigio! … Non fu sogno! [3’38]. I due Foscarii (1844) – No, mi lasciate … Tu al cui sguardo onnipossente [5’34]; Che mi rechi? … La clemenza! [2’51]. Alziraj (1846) – Riposa. Tutte, in suo dolor vegliante [3’11]; Da Gusman, su fragil barca [3’57]; Alta pietade ogn’anima … Nell’astro che piú fulgifo [2’22]. Attilah (1846) – Liberamente or piangi … Oh! Nel fuggente nuvolo [5’44]. Il corsaroh (1848) – Egli non riede ancora! [2’08]; Non so le tetre immagini [3’41]. Aroldok (1857) – Oh, cielo! Dove son’io [4’23]; Ah! dagli scanni eterei [4’10]; Ah, dal sen di quella tomba [3’35].
Montserrat Caballé, eMargareta Elkins (sopranos); bCorinne Vozza, jMaja Sunara (mezzos); dgErmanno Mauro, kLajos Kozma (tenors); gLeslie Fyson (baritone); egTom McDonnell (bass); Ambrosian Opera Chorus; RCA Italiana Opera aijChorus and abchijkOrchestra/abcCarlo Felice Cillario, hijkAnton Guadagno; defgLondon Symphony Orchestra/Carlo Felice.
Rec. RCA Italiana Studios, Rome, on abcJuly 24th-29th and hijkJanuary 5th-7th, 9th-11th and 13th, 1967, defgWalthamstow Town Hall, London, on September 3rd-6th, 1969 ADD
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 62309 2 [70’49 + 73’04]


Much reason for celebration here. Recorded in 1967 (Rossini and Verdi) and 1969 (Donizetti), these recordings now released under the title of ‘Rarities’, are classics of their time. They reveal Caballé for what she was then – one of the greatest bel canto sopranos (if not the greatest). Further popping of corks for the repertoire, a selection of well-chosen arias from the ‘fringes’ of the accepted canon and beyond, all given extreme care. It sounds like all concerned were on a mission, and it is a privilege to report that the mission succeeded.

Caballé begins her voyage of discovery with Rossini’s La donna del lago (‘The lady of the lake’), a beautifully shaded account replete with scales to make the listener melt into a lakeside puddle. In all respects the perfect introduction to Caballé’s art, it leads to ‘the other’ Otello - and by extension, the ‘other’ Willow Song, magnificently and touchingly delivered. This is a beautiful, harp-decorated and accompanied song (it begins at ‘Assisa a’ piè d’un salice’). Luckily Caballé’s Emilia here, Corinne Vozza, is a good choice, her diction just as good as Caballé’s.

Interesting that we have some of the Stabat Mater, the dramatic ‘Inflammatus’. Caballé’s sense of the longer line is called upon here, and how she soars over chorus and orchestra!. Stunning - a word that just kept on recurring in my listening notes.

Time and time again one is reminded of Rossini’s unstoppable invention, something that is manifest in all its glory in the Armida excerpt. It is a superbly crafted aria that just happens to be unbelievably difficult. Not that that is going to stand in the way of la Caballé, of course.

If it is pure delight you are after, try the closing sections of the Tancredi section of the first disc. L’assedio di Corinto, which follows, offers examples of Caballé’s magnificent pianissimi. The use of chorus on Rossini’s part is masterly.

So to Donizetti. And what a way to begin! Caballé announces her presence with a simply huge ‘Plauso!’ (‘Praise!’). Ermanno Mauro is the tenor who here is Eutropio to her Antonina. Mauro is not a great vocal actor; perhaps it is just that he’s put next to Caballé? Despite the subject matter (‘Even his tomb is denied to me, even my son’s ashes!’ etc), some parts tend towards the jolly (as can be this composer’s way), but the end is simply lovely. The Parisina excerpt is perhaps even finer, with Caballé entirely in the dramatic situation, an extended exchange with Margareta Elkins’ Imelda. The death-predictive aria, ‘Ciel, sei tu che in tal momento mi sgomenti’ is astonishingly touching here.

Donizetti straddles the two discs. It is Torquato Tasso that initiates the second - Eleonora d’Este’s aria ‘Fatal Goffredo!’ onwards. There is a wonderful clarinet solo to set the scene as Eleonora admits her love for Torquato; Caballé responds with more of her liquid legato. The Gemma di Vergy excerpt includes no fewer than three co-singers plus chorus, culminating in an explosion of happiness as Gemma realizes her husband the Count is returning.

Maybe it is the Verdi items that show Caballé at her greatest. She characterises and shades every line of the Un giorno di regno excerpt; her trills are as accurate as on any played instrument, by the way. She raises the roof with the brief Lombardi segment ... or would, if there were an audience there ... contrasting it immediately with the proud eight minutes of Foscari, where she shows her character to be a woman of real strength.

Mezzo Maya Sunara is an excellent partner in Alzira, yet it is Alzira’s aria (which tells her dramatic story) that really focuses the attention. The Attila contains an extended orchestral introduction, sighing and desolate that is well worth experiencing. The guitar-imitating accompaniment to the Corsaro aria is most appealing but it is with Aroldo that Caballé closes. This is ultra-touching, the dark, soft orchestral introduction fully setting the scene. It is in fact ironic that the only fly in the whole set’s ointment should come at this point – the tenor Lajos Kozma, who takes the part of Godvino, is rather weak.
No real matter. This set explains why Caballé is a legend in no uncertain terms. Hell will, I believe, freeze over before I am parted from this set.

Colin Clarke

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