if this opera is rarely heard today it has gone down in the
history books, due to its sensational premiere. It was on
7 February 1792 at the Burgtheater in Vienna that it was
first seen and heard. Emperor Leopold II was so enchanted
that, after a supper for the artists and the composer, he
ordered the entire opera to be repeated. It is easy
to understand that it was appreciated, since this is one
of the most fizzing and joyful of operas. The score is filled
with attractive music, melodic, expertly scored and the libretto,
though drawing on traditional clichés, is well crafted and
not too silly. In other words: a charmer. That it can’t measure
up to Mozart’s best works in individuality and characterisation
is another matter. Maybe that’s another reason for the early
success: it is straightforward and not too complex.
have been several recordings. Early on I got to know it from
the old Cetra version from the early 1950s. In spite of execrable
sound and scrappy orchestra the singing is uniformly good
and executed by some of the best Italian singers of the day.
There is an authenticity about that performance that the
present thirty plus years can’t quite muster. Alda Noni,
Giulietta Simionato, Cesare Valletti and Sesto Bruscantini
are still well-known names and here they are in the early
blossoming of their careers.
have been another handful as well that I haven’t heard, but
just a year ago I reviewed a DVD with an excellent modern
cast – well, it was filmed twenty years ago - directed by
Michael Hampe in minimalist fashion (see review)
and with good actors all. This is also a highly enjoyable
extra frisson of this DG set with superb sound that belies
its age and lively playing by the ECO under Barenboim make
it still the ultimate recommendation. Barenboim was always
a splendid Mozart conductor and this is music in the same
mould. Add to this six world-class singers.
true that besides Alberto Rinaldi there isn’t a native Italian
in the cast, but coached by Gwyn Morris they all sound expertly
idiomatic. It is only when making direct comparisons with
the old Cetra that one notices that where the DG team have
learnt their lessons admirably the Italians just give forth
with their mother tongue. For sheer vocalism the DG singers
have nothing to fear. Arleen Augér’s silvery voice is so
perfectly suited to Carolina, where the lively and pert Alda
Noni has a certain acidity in her tone that robs her interpretation
of some warmth. Giulietta Simionato was one of the great
mezzo-sopranos of her time. She is magnificent but also sometimes
too blustery. Julia Hamari is more restrained and so more
in tune with the action. With Simionato one gets a feeling
that she prefers Amneris to Fidalma. Cesare Valletti has
possibly never been surpassed in modern times in this kind
of repertoire but Ryland Davies was at the height of his
powers thirty years ago and runs him close in elegance and
mellifluous delivery. As the supreme buffo of the day Sesto
Bruscantini was an ideal Geronimo, light and fluent and sometimes
hectoring but always with the elegance that was his hallmark.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau here makes one of his best appearances
in this kind of repertoire, on a par with his first Don Giovanni
(for Fricsay). He audibly relishes every minute.
bought the original LP set pretty soon after it was released
and was extremely happy finally to be able to hear this marvellous
music in first class sound. It took me some time to come
to terms with the singing – the Cetra voices always rang
at the back of my head. After a while, though, I realised
that the DG team had their own validity and actually sang
better in several cases. Returning now to the set after an
interval of some years, I only needed to dip into this scene
or that to refresh my memory and find confirmation that this
is the benchmark recording. That said, I still wouldn’t be
without the Cetra.
booklet has photos of the soloists and the conductor, though
in some cases not the ones from the original booklet. We
get texts and English translations (by Lionel Salter) but
the original had translations into French and German as well.
Regrettably the extended essays by Dietmar Holland and Stanley
Sadie are gone.
of this should deter anyone from acquiring one of the best
examples of recorded opera buffa in the entire catalogue.
see also review by Terry Barfoot
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