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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
Il Turco in Italia - Drama Buffo in Two Acts (1814)
Natale De Carolis (bass) – Selim, a Turkish prince; Myrtò Papatanasiu (soprano) – Donna Fiorilla, a capricious woman; Massimiliano Gagliardo (baritone) – Don Geronio, her husband; Amedeo Moretti (tenor) – Don Narciso, an admirer of Donna Fiorilla; Piero Guarnera (baritone) – Prosdocimo, a poet and acquaintance of Don Geronio; Damiana Pinti (mezzo-soprano) – Zaida, former slave and betrothed of Selim, then a gypsy; Daniele Zanfardino (tenor) – Albazar, confidant of Selim, then a gypsy, follower and confidant of Zaida
Gianni Fabbrini (fortepiano),
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Marrucino di Chieti/Marzio Conti
rec. Teatro Marucino, Chieti, Italy, October 2003
NAXOS 8.660183-84 [80:57 + 63:06]

 

 

In May 1813 Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri was a great success when it was premiered at teatro San Bernedetto in Venice. Little more than a year later Teatro alla Scala in Milan mounted Il Turco in Italia. Il Turco failed to find even a precarious foothold in the contemporary repertoire and was probably regarded as a pale imitation of L’Italiana. It did not help that the action proceeds at two levels; too tough a nut to crack for many opera-goers. It is a traditional Buffo with secco recitatives and few arias. Instead there are numerous ensembles and that may also have been an obstacle. Last but not least, it seldom reaches the exalted level of L’Italiana when it comes to the memorability of the music.

This is of course a personal view, partly since I have come to know L’Italiana much better through the years. Rossini hardly ever wrote indifferent music, so there is a lot to admire, a lot to be amazed at; the sheer vitality of it is life-enhancing in its modest way. Now and then he comes up with something that makes time stand still. In this opera it is Fiorilla’s big recitative and aria with chorus near the end of the second act, I vostri censi vi mondo … Squallida veste e bruna (CD2 track 14). This might have been a high-spot in any tragic Italian opera from the first half of the 19th century. It wasn’t enough, though, to ensure the opera as a whole a longer lease of life, even though it was revived less than a decade later and also reached London, Edinburgh and New York. The rest is silence, though, until it was dug up half a century ago and found an ideal interpreter of Fiorilla’s part in Maria Callas, for once venturing into comic repertoire. Her rendering of it was also recorded by Columbia in 1954, a recording that has been recently reissued by Naxos, almost simultaneously with this brand new set. With Gavazzeni conducting La Scala forces and a starry cast featuring an imposing Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as Selim, Nicolai Gedda as Don Narciso and even veteran buffo Mariano Stabile as the Poet, this is a classic. There have been others too: on Sony there was one with Montserrat Caballé, and a Philips version conducted by John Eliot Gardiner with Sumi Jo as Fiorilla – the latter probably the safest recommendation for a modern version. Some readers may raise their eyebrows when seeing the choices of heroines. There must be a world of difference between the approaches of Callas, Caballé and Jo to the part. However, as so often in opera, there is rarely only one way of interpreting a role.

Probably knowing the vices and virtues of these three, you may ask: ‘ ... and where do we place Myrtò Papatanasiu?’ She may be a new name to many. This recording was my first encounter with her. The answer is: she has her own integrity. As her name reveals she is Greek and in that respect she could have something in common with Callas. She is also a good actor, technically accomplished, handles all the runs and trills and embellishments with superior ease and she has a great deal of power when needed. There is a certain hardness to her tone, or rather, it isn’t as liquid and rounded as Caballé’s and she hasn’t such perfectly controlled vibrato as Sumi Jo. On the other hand there is none of that squalliness that is sometimes the reverse side of Callas’s gold coin, she never smudges a run as Caballé can and she has a power reserve that is far beyond Sumi Jo’s armoury. In sum Ms Papatanasiu’s Fiorilla is very much her own. At her first appearance in the aria Non si dà follia maggiore (CD1 track 6) I noted the liveliness, the musicality. She only gets better as the opera progresses, exquisite in duets with Selim and Geronio in the first act, lovely in her second act cavatina (CD2 track 4) and sparkling in the duet with Selim (CD2 track 6). She crowns her performance with the aforementioned big second act aria (CD2 track 14), actually a long tragic scena – and very taxing. She may have a more limited palette of colours than Callas but just listen to her fireworks from around 8:00! It is just as well to learn the name Myrtò Papatanasiu. I’m sure to hear more from her.

I took the heroine as my starting point for this review since I think she is the best reason for buying this set. This does not imply that the rest is bad but none of the other soloists reaches her level of excellence. The one who runs her closest is the experienced Natale De Carolis. This fine singer has been around for more than twenty years, singing in all the big houses. He is also a well-known quantity on records. Rummaging for a while in my collection I found a highlights disc from Le nozze di Figaro (Naxos 8.554172) where he is a sympathetic valet. Recorded in 1997 he had more sap in his voice than as Selim in the present 2003 offering, but the Figaro cover describes him as a baritone. Although he is a notch darker than the two baritones on this set he is not the booming basso that Rossi-Lemeni could be. Apart from that and a feeling that his voice is becoming a bit worn, his is a creditable portrait of the Turkish prince. He is technically assured and always expressive as can be heard in the duets with Fiorilla. That he can rip off a real tongue-twisting patter-duet is proved with excellence at the beginning of act 2 (CD2 track 2). His partner there is Don Geronio, sung by Massimiliano Gagliardo, who is a young man and who sounds young and is quite light-voiced. Piero Guarnera as the Poet, appropriately enough sounds older.

Of the two tenors Amedeo Moretti as Don Narciso sports a bright voice with quite an edge that seems a bit out of character for a deeply amorous young man. He has a softer side too but what remains in my memory is of a slightly acidulous tone. His recitative and aria in act 2 (CD2 track 8) is a dramatic piece and although he sings it with gusto he feels slightly over-parted by it. He has the same kind of voice as Luigi Alva, great Rossinian in the fifties and sixties, but with more acid and less honey, if you see what I mean. He is a very secure singer and his top notes have a certain thrill.

The other tenor, Daniel Zanfardino, is also vouchsafed an aria (CD2 track 10) – not by Rossini!. This is much lighter and actually a lovely piece with a lot of embellishments, sung here with the required elegance and liquid tone. This singer may be one to watch: according to the booklet he was born in 1978 so here he was only 25. Take care of that voice, Daniel! Damiana Pinti as Zaida hasn’t much to sing but what she has she handles well.

There is a good orchestra, obviously well-rehearsed, and the playing is lively. Marzio Conti keeps the music moving. In the overture we hear a fine French horn solo and also a fiery solo trumpet. Overall Conti is careful to exhibit Rossini’s sometimes inventive orchestration, not least the short ritornell between the recitative and the aria proper in the tenor aria in act two (CD2 track 8). The recitatives are accompanied by a fortepiano, placed to the far right. Gianni Fabbrini decorates them quite extensively which lends them extra liveliness.

I can’t find any indications in the booklet that this is a live recording but it obviously is since there is a generous amount of unwritten bumps and bangs. On the other hand the recording balance is immaculate, no voices coming and going as is often the case with live recordings, and there is no sign of an audience: no one coughing, no applause after separate numbers, not even at the end of acts. No great loss, actually.

The booklet has a short essay on the work and the usual synopsis by Keith Anderson and also artists bios. “The Italian libretto may be accessed on the Naxos website.

This will probably not be a first choice to many. The Callas set is in its own way hors concours and the Gardiner is a safer bet among modern recordings. This one nevertheless has its own validity. First time buyers could very well start here. I don’t think they will feel short-changed and they will hopefully fall just as much in love with Myrtò Papatanasiu as I have done.

Göran Forsling

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