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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Turandot (1926) - highlights
Act I:
1. Perché tarda la luna? … Là, sui monti dell’est … O giovinetto [10:12]
2. Signore, ascolta [2:53]
3. Non piangere, Liù [5:19]
Act II:
4. In questa reggia [7:09]
5. Straniero, ascolta [12:22]
Act III:
6. Nessun dorma [3:08]
7. Tu che di gel sei cinta [7:39]
8. Diecimila anni al nostro Imperatore [3:39]
Montserrat Caballé (soprano) – Princess Turandot; José Carreras (tenor) – Calaf; Mirella Freni (soprano) – Liù; Paul Plishka (bass) – Timur; Vicente Sardinero (baritone) – Ping; Remy Corazza (tenor) – Pang; Riccardo Cassinelli (tenor) – Pong; Michel Senechal (tenor) – Altoum; Strasbourg Cathedral Boys’ Choir; Rhine Opera Chorus; Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra/Alain Lombard
rec. Palais de la Musique, Strasbourg, 22–31 August 1977
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 3933712 [52:54]

 


Early in the 1970s Decca gathered a stellar cast under Zubin Mehta to sweep the board of all existing recordings of Turandot. The two leading divas of the day were there: Joan Sutherland and Montserrat Caballé as Turandot and Liù respectively. The King of the High Cs, Luciano Pavarotti sang Calaf and there were strong names in the supporting roles, including Peter Pears, as the Emperor. The set from which the present highlights CD derives also won acclaim, though some critics still supported Birgit Nilsson as the icy princess and saw Jussi Björling or Franco Corelli as more authentic representatives of Calaf. As far as I can remember Caballé was universally praised for her Liù, but this is still a fairly small part. At about this time Caballé was gradually moving to heavier roles, having taken on Norma, Tosca and Aida, so it was understandable that she eventually also wanted to try Turandot. When the present recording was made she had not yet sung the role on stage but was to do so just a couple of months later, opposite Pavarotti in San Francisco. Ideally it should have been the other way round, since stage experience is almost always an advantage when recording a role in the studio. This does not imply that her reading is in any way immature but she would probably have been even more intense with a dozen stage appearances behind her. The great set-piece In questa reggia is given a lyrical reading, very beautifully sung and with real heft in the last part with its cruelly high-lying tessitura. The drawback is that she seems rather distant. It’s the same story in the crucial riddle scene, which here lacks the almost physical impact of Nilsson’s tremendous readings. Nilsson recorded it twice: in the late 1950s with Björling and Tebaldi and almost a decade later with Corelli and Scotto.

In the same way the Calaf of José Carreras is not as imposing as the larger-than-life Corelli version, although in 1977 he remianed fresh-voiced and his whole-hearted intensity is just as engrossing as in other contemporaneous recordings. Carreras was basically a lyric tenor and his ambition to take on larger roles than was natural for him – as Giuseppe Di Stefano also did a generation earlier – eventually took its toll on his beautiful voice. He delivers a glowing Nessun dorma, which unfortunately is faded, something that could have been avoided if the compilers of this disc had been a little more generous. With playing time at just under 53 minutes there would have been room for another 25 minutes. The third principal role, the slave girl Liù, is movingly sung by Mirella Freni and her two arias are real highlights. Paul Plishka is briefly heard after Liù’s death as a noble Timur.

With lighter voices than usual in the central parts the end result is less than overwhelming, but the real drawback with this recording is the uninspired conducting by Alain Lombard. A brilliant interpreter of French repertoire he seems to have little sympathy with Puccini’s powerful score. This is felt from the beginning, where the magnificent opening choral scene is small-scale and tepid. This is felt also in the riddle scene, which is low-key. Not until the final chorus (tr. 8) does he convey a sense of majesty.

As usual with these CfP highlights discs there is a track-related synopsis and the sound is more than decent. At budget price this disc could still be a decent investment for someone who wants the well-known arias sung with commitment by three of the foremost singers from the last quarter-century. However a far preferable solution is to get the complete opera in either of Nilsson’s recordings (Leinsdorf or Molinari-Pradelli), the Zubin Mehta/Joan Sutherland or the sensational Bilbao, recorded live in 2002 with a superb Alessandra Marc in the title role and magnificent orchestral and choral contributions (review).

Göran Forsling

 

 


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