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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868)
La Cenerentola (1817)
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo) – Angelina, known as Cenerentola; José Manuel Zapata (tenor) – Don Ramiro; Paolo Bordogna (baritone) – Dandini; Bruno Praticò (bass-baritone) – Don Magnifico; Patrizia Cigna (soprano) – Clorinda; Martina Borst (mezzo) – Tisbe; Luca Pisaroni (bass-baritone) – Alidoro
Prague Chamber Choir
SWR Radio Orchestra Kaiserslauten/Alberto Zedda
rec. live, 13 Nov 2004, co-production: Rossini in Wildbad Festival/SWR Rundfunkorchester Kaiserslauten
NAXOS 8.660191-92 [79:53 + 74:50]


There exist a number of good recordings of this opera. Neville Marriner’s Philips version from 1987, with a starry cast headed by Agnes Baltsa in the title role, has long been a favourite.

This new live recording, though, is a serious contender – for several reasons. First of all it is led by possibly the greatest authority on Rossini, Alberto Zedda, who moreover performs it in his own critical edition, published by Ricordi. This means that he does not include the aria that Luca Agolini wrote for the original Alidoro, but instead the much larger and more difficult one that Rossini himself composed for a performance in Rome in 1820 (CD1 track 12). Marriner does the same, but Zedda also includes Agolini’s chorus Ah! Della bella incognita to kick-start act 2 (CD2 track 4), an inspired choice, while Marriner just starts the act with a recitative secco. Agolini’s third contribution, an aria for Clorinda, is omitted in both recordings. Zedda also includes much more recitative, mostly secco but also (CD1 track 11) some recitativo accompagnato. Musically this adds very little to the enjoyment of the opera but dramatically, at least in the theatre, it can be of some importance. On the whole, though, this does not affect the choice between these versions. What counts is how it is performed.

And here Zedda scores on several accounts. The Radio Orchestra from Kaiserslauten may not be a household name, not even in Germany, but they are obviously well rehearsed and play with a lightness and elegance that is a match even to the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The Prague Chamber Choir is a more well-known quantity and they are certainly on a par with Marriner’s Ambrosians and, recorded live, are even more on their toes than their counterpart in the studio-bound Philips recording.

Right from the beginning, in the wonderful overture, Zedda tells us that this is going to be a sparkling performance with springy rhythms and generally in very good spirits. But also the more lyrical episodes are lovingly handled and the Storm scene (CD2 track 13) is appropriately ominous. There is indeed such infectious zest all through the opera that one only longs for more.

The cast may not look starry on paper but both as an ensemble and individually they are definitely in the top flight. As Cenerentola herself, American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who has sung the part at La Scala and Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia at Covent Garden, could hardly be bettered. She is a genuine mezzo and sings marvellously well: warmly and beautifully in her entrance folksong-like Una volta c’era un re (CD1 track 2) and again on CD2 track 12. On CD1 track 10 her coloratura is absolutely stupendous. Her big final aria, Nacqui all’affanno, al pianto is also lovely. She has been making a name for herself the last few years and this recording shows why.

Her Prince, the Spanish tenor José Manuel Zapata, is also one to watch in the future. He made his debut as recently as 2001 and is still another highly accomplished lyrical tenor, bright and elegant with a lovely pianissimo. He is stylish and technically almost impeccable although his top notes can be a bit detached from the rest, sounding ungainly. But apart from that he has all the attributes that make a good Rossinian tenor.

The veteran in this otherwise youthful ensemble, bass-baritone Bruno Praticò, was in 1998 awarded the Rossini d’Oro in Pesaro for his interpretation of Don Magnifico, and he is still a marvellous buffo, although his voice has dried out a little. He is definitely a great actor and he inflects the text almost visually, using a whole array of expressions. His second act aria Sia qualunque delle figlie (CD2 track 6) is a show-piece of virtuoso singing. Paolo Bordogna, who sings Dandini, Prince Ramiro’s valet, has a voice vaguely reminiscent of that of Rolando Panerai. He, too, is technically accomplished with smooth runs and, just as Praticò, singing off the words. Luca Pisaroni skilfully negotiates the aforementioned replacement aria Rossini wrote in 1820 (CD1 track 12). The two wicked sisters are excellently sung by Patrizia Cigna and Martina Borst and they blend well.

I have no complaints about the sound, the balance between stage and pit being well-nigh ideal. Applause is retained but quickly faded out.

It has to be noted that this very full version has been squeezed onto two well-filled CDs selling at super-budged price, which makes this a real bargain. Even at a considerably higher price I would still have recommended it.

Alberto Zedda writes at some length about the work and Keith Anderson (I suppose) provides a quite detailed synopsis. As usual these days there is no libretto but it can be downloaded at www.naxos.com/libretti/cenerentola.htm. I used the four-language libretto from the Philips box and observed the sole drawback with the Naxos issue: there are far fewer cue-points, which means that if one wants to hear certain separate numbers one has to listen to several minutes of preamble or use fast-forward on the remote control. The last scene of the opera is one eleven-minute-long track, where the aria Nacqui all’affanno e al pianto, is embedded somewhere in the middle. On the Philips set the same scene is divided into four tracks. Please, Naxos, consider this in the future. This factor diminishes the value of the issue only marginally. Anyone investing in this set will certainly not feel short-changed. And I suspect that Rossini himself, somewhere up there in his gourmet heaven, salutes it with a glass of spumante.

Göran Forsling

 

 


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