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
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.
see also Review
by Göran Forsling