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Mirella Freni and Cesare Siepi in Concert
Otto NICOLAI (1810–1849)
The Merry Wives of Windsor
1. Overture
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
Philemon et Baucis
2. Que les songes heureux
Arrigo BOITO (1842–1918)
3. L’altra notte in fondo al mare
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Simon Boccanegra
4. Il lacerato spirito
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
5. Vissi d’arte
Gianni Schicchi
6. O mio babbino caro
Giuseppe VERDI
Don Carlo
7. Ella giammai m’amň
8. Tu che la vanitŕ
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Don Giovanni
9. Overture
10. Madamina, il catalogo č questo
11. Lŕ ci darem la mano
Mirella Freni (soprano: 3, 5, 6, 8, 11); Cesare Siepi (bass: 2, 4, 7, 10, 11)
Orchestra della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana/Bruno Amaducci
rec. Palazzo dei Congressi, Lugano, 1985
Audio: Stereo; Video: 4:3/Color/NTSC
VAI 4482 [75:00]


Experience Classicsonline

My colleague Göran Forsling has already reviewed this concert DVD and I find myself in complete accord with his judgement. I confess that my main motivation in wishing to review it was, apart from the obvious attraction of seeing two favourite singers together on the concert platform, to discover if time had been kind to their voices after so many years of beautiful singing. The answer is a resounding “yes”. Freni was fifty and Siepi sixty-two when this recital took place and the soundness of their bel canto technique is very much in evidence. Both enjoyed longevity of voice with virtually no deterioration of quality well into their seventies. Siepi’s final performance was in 1994 as Ferrando in “Il Trovatore” at the Vienna State Opera. Freni’s was as teenager Joan of Arc in 2005 in Washington. Here in Lugano in 1985, her voice is in fine estate, with trills, resonant top B-flats and subtle gradations of tone all in place. While there is a very slight increase of beat and some inevitable loss in freshness of tone in Siepi’s burnished basso-cantante, he, too, is otherwise in fine fettle. We immediately hear the proof in his opening aria, the berceuse from Gounod’s “Philemon et Baucis”, in which Siepi displays flawless legato and a lovely concluding low E.

Fine though the singing is, there is at first an inescapably low-key feeling to the concert – at least visually. The singers waste no time in changing places to stand and sing; the camera-work is unfussy and unadventurous. There is little to divert the eye apart from remarking upon the irritating frequency with which conductor’s hair flops forward and how, as with all singers who have not maltreated their voices, Freni and Siepi betray no signs of extraneous stress; no mugging or mouthing. The sound is a little over-reverberant - with slight tape hiss - but that simulates the ambience of the Palazzo dei Congressi. As ever, one or two inconsiderate members of the audience wait for the quiet bits to cough but they are mostly unobtrusive and enthusiastic in their applause.

Every aria is worthwhile: Freni’s intense performance of “L’altra notte” elicits well-deserved cries of “Brava”. The power, volume and pathos of “Vissi d’arte” palpably raises the emotional temperature, yet she then lightens her voice to sing a delicate “O mio babbino caro”. At that stage of her career, she had successfully moved into heavier lirico-spinto roles, including, controversially, “Aida”. She is well up to the demands of Elisabetta. The two arias from “Don Carlos” form the core of the recital. Siepi repeats his dignified, deeply-felt King Philip – which was, alongside the Don, his most famous rôle but was, inexplicably, never commercially recorded; however, we have some good live recordings. His top E throughout the concert is not as resonant as it was formerly, but his sincerity, conviction and vocal finesse still convince. Restraint was always the hallmark of Siepi’s style. While I can understand that some preferring a more laddish Leporello, I appreciate the virtues of Siepi’s smooth vocalisation.

The orchestra is very fine, especially the principal cello and the mellow horns, and the strings have an attractive sheen on their sound. It is sedately directed by Bruno Armaducci, who secures a magical atmosphere for the Nicolai overture and finely judges the long prologue to the “Mefistofele” aria.  He delivers a rather stately and restrained overture to “Don Giovanni” – elegant but rather tame, it emerges as more “portentoso” than “giocoso”.

So; no scenery-chewing here, just some lovely, classical singing from two great artists. My only regret is that there is only one duet: the concluding “La ci darem la mano” from “Don Giovanni”, which they perform charmingly. The other items consist of solo arias and two overtures.

Ralph Moore

see also Review by Göran Forsling



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