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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Turandot (1926)
Alessandra Marc (soprano) – Turandot; Ignacio Encinas (tenor) – Calaf; Ainhoa Arteta (soprano) – Liù; Erwin Schrott (bass) – Timur; Lluis Sintes (tenor) – Ping; Eduardo Santamaria (baritone) – Pang; José Ruiz (baritone) – Pong; Pedro Calderón (tenor) – Altoum; José Manuel Díaz (baritone) – Mandarin
Coro de Ópera de Bilbao; Escolanía Ntra. Sra. de Begoña (Asociación ars viva)
Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskadi/José Collado
rec. live, Palacio Euskaduna, Bilbao, 21, 24 September 2002. DDD
RTVE 65171 [79:13 + 41:02]



Some months ago I reviewed a DVD with a 2005 production from Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. This was a co-production with Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse and Asociación Bilbaina de Amigos de la Ópera (A.B-A.O.). While visually the Barcelona performance was lavish and had its high points dramatically, it gave little pleasure vocally. The chorus were afflicted with moments of rough ensemble but in the main did a decent job, the minor solo parts were OK, in some cases better than OK, but of the four main soloists only Barbara Frittoli was at all pleasing.

Now here is the same production from Bilbao a few years earlier. It should be mentioned that Barcelona was first out in 1999 to celebrate the reopening of Liceu. When on occasion good visuals and good acting can redeem less than attractive singing, here we have only the sonics to go by. It turns out, however, that Bilbao wins hands down on almost every count. They have a comparable set of singers in the minor roles – only Lluis Sintes’ Ping was in both productions. There is more precision and punch in the Bilbao chorus – indeed they are plainly magnificent. José Collado has an even tighter dramatic grip on the combined forces than the wholly admirable Carella in Barcelona. The recorded sound is impressive and there is surprisingly little in the way of distracting noises. Even the audience at the end of September is blessedly free from bronchitis.

José Manuel Díaz is a dramatic Mandarin – the first voice we hear – and Erwin Schrott, noble, warm and with beautiful timbre, is one of the best of recorded Timurs. He is especially good in the last act – the scene with Liù’s death. We also encounter a splendid Liú in Ainhoa Arteta. She is vibrant and expressive, a heavier voice than one often hears in the role but she is truly endearing in her second aria Tu che di gel sei cinta! Ignacio Encinas isn’t the most ingratiating of Calafs and not always too sensitive to nuance but he is sturdy and powerful. At the end of act 2 he is heavily strained and once or twice painfully flat, but his is at least a more than decent performance and he makes a good stab at Nessun dorma. It lacks in poetry but the applause is rapturous.

It is, however, for Alessandra Marc’s Turandot that this issue is of special interest. I heard her in the role in Paris ten years ago and was deeply impressed – she is even more glorious here. She has the penetrating top notes, dramatic and expressive and never seems to tire. Since Birgit Nilsson’s heyday we haven’t heard a more complete Turandot. What she also has is a certain amount of warmth – even at her first appearance with In questa reggia. This might be seen as a drawback. I remember a review in Gramophone back in 1992 – I believe it was John Steane who, reviewing a recital disc on the Delos label – wrote: "''In questa reggia'' is (I believe) a mistake and probably a dangerous one: there isn't ice in the voice". That it was no mistake, this recording, made a full decade later, is very clear evidence and personally I think that the hints of warmth make it easier to accept the thaw towards the end of the opera. Nilsson’s princess sparkles with polar ice.

Individually there have been even finer readings of the roles in the past: Corelli, Björling and Pavarotti as Calaf; Tebaldi, Scotto and Caballé as Liù and both Giaiotti and Ghiaurov are superb as Timur, but no one in my experience surpasses Alessandra Marc as Turandot in her combination of vocal glory and warmth. Nilsson’s two recordings, with Leinsdorf and Molinari-Pradelli, will never be redundant and the Decca recording under Zubin Mehta with Sutherland in the title role has many good things, even though I find Sutherland less suited to the role than do others.

There are extensive historical notes and a detailed synopsis - not track-related - in the booklet, but only in Spanish, as seems to be the rule with these RTVE issues from Spanish Radio.

Göran Forsling



 


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