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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
Puccini Romance
La bohème
O soave fanciulla [3:36]*#
Che gelida manina [4:30]#
Si, mi chiamano Mimi [4:28]*
Donde lieta usci [3:02]*
Recondita armonia [2:41]#
E lucevan le stelle [2:52] #
Ah, quegli occhi! [5:27]*#
Le villi
Se come voi piccina [5:03]*
La fanciulla del West
Ch’ella mi creda [1:58]#
Cristantemi [7:10]
La rondine
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta (Doretta’s Dream) [3:00]*
Nessun dorma [2:55]#
Madama Butterfly
Un bel di [4:13]*
Viene la sera [13:19]*#
Antoniette Halloran (soprano)*, Rosario La Spina (tenor)#,
The Queensland Orchestra/Stephen Mould
rec. 30 January – 2 February 2007, The Queensland Orchestra Studios, Ferry Road, Brisbane
Texts and English translations enclosed
ABC CLASSICS 476 6404 [65:47]
Experience Classicsonline

I wonder if there really is a market for the plethora of Puccini recordings that have been pouring out during this anniversary year. Some of these have been issued at ridiculously low prices. I bought a 15 CD set from Decca with nine operas, all of them with Tebaldi as the heroine, recorded in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the whole box cost me what I normally have to pay for three full price CDs. And this is only one example of the enormous output. It is wonderful to have the classic recordings with greats from earlier decades but there are still brand new recordings with present day singers being issued and the present disc is one of them. Two young Australian singers, primarily active in the home country but with – especially Rosario La Spina – appearances in Europe, Japan and the US, make this joint effort with arias and duets, which often is a better prospect than the straight solo recital.
The order of the program is a bit haphazard. It is true that the excerpts from each opera are grouped together but not in the order of performance. Thus the disc opens with the love duet from La bohème that is the end of act I, followed by the two arias that precede it. From Tosca we get the two tenor arias in the right order but then comes the duet from the end of act I and I think it would have been a better idea to insert the duet between the arias. This may seem as small-minded grumbling but even though these are isolated chunks from the opera it would make more sense to keep the order. In the case of La bohème it would seem natural to perform the end of the first act as one continuous piece.
Enough carping. The recording, made in the orchestra’s own studio, is praiseworthily detailed with the instrumental solos leaping out of the speakers with superb realism and the overall sound of the orchestra is well integrated. There is a certain lack of atmosphere, though, a sense of clinical purity. This also afflicts the voices, revealing strengths as well as weaknesses that can sometimes be masked in more generous acoustics.
Rosario La Spina has a bright, rather light tenor and he sings with very open youthful tone. Even though he doesn’t have violent attack that was Giuseppe Di Stefano’s hallmark he has the same forward voice production and there lies a risk in this, especially the uncovered and pointed vowels ‘i’ and ‘e’. His enunciation of the text is uncommonly clear, every word is distinct, but sometimes he feels over-conscientious – there is a bit of school-book about it. His singing is mostly stylish, there are no over-emphatic histrionics, no sobs, no sliding up to the high notes. In a way he reminds me of the young Nicolai Gedda, who never had a very Italianate timbre but still could be very efficient in that repertoire. La Spina also seems on the light side and his top notes, though produced with considerable ring, are a bit strained. The high C in Che gelida manina is OK but slightly pinched. He is actually better in Cavaradossi’s two arias from Tosca and it is a relief to hear the hackneyed Nessun dorma sung so lyrically and unaffectedly.
Antoniette Halloran has a more traditional lirico-spinto soprano, quite large and ringing out impressively at climaxes. Unfortunately it is afflicted by a sometimes too generous vibrato and in some arias, notably Anna’s aria from Le villi and Doretta’s Dream from La rondine she is rather unattractively shaky. She is at her best in some of the duets. The one from Tosca has true dramatic potential and she seems to have a special affinity for Madama Butterfly. In Un bel di vedremo she manages to sound quite girl-like and she tames her vibrato admirably and the concluding duet from the same opera is probably the best thing on this recital with La Spina truly inspired.
We are also vouchsafed a purely instrumental number, the early Crisantemi from 1880. It was written for string quartet in memory of the Duke of Savoy in one night. I normally prefer the quartet version, frailer and more Chrysanthemum-like, but I admit that it is well played here in a finely nuanced reading.
Though hardly an issue that shakes the hegemony in the Puccini stakes it is, at least in the case of Rosario La Spina, a worthy calling-card.
Göran Forsling



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