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CD: AmazonUK

Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Turandot (1926)
Maria Callas (soprano) - Turandot; Eugenio Fernandi (tenor) - Calaf; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) - Liù; Giuseppe Nessi (tenor) - Emperor Altoum; Nicola Zaccaria (bass) - Timur; Mario Borriello (tenor) - Ping; Renato Ercolani (tenor) - Pang; Piero de Palma (tenor) - Pong/Prince of Persia; Giulio Mauri (bass) - A Mandarin; Elisabetta Fusco (soprano) - First Voice; Pinuccia Perotti (soprano) - Second Voice; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tullio Serafin.
Bonus items: Turandot: Signore ascolta [2’28]; Tu che di gel sei cinta [2’44].
rec. Teatro alla Scala, Milan in July 1957, 1954 (bonus). mono
REGIS RRC2082 [55:30 + 68:53]
Experience Classicsonline

The famous Callas/Serafin Turandot surfaces again, once more at super-budget price. It has already appeared on EMI GROC and Naxos Historical (see review and review); now, here it is on Regis.

Right from the crashing, dramatic opening, it is clear that Serafin means business. In the great choral scenes of the first Act, he generates huge excitement; in the more playful moments of the second act (the Ping/Pang/Pong trio section) he can be delightfully playful. He was vastly experienced in this repertoire, and it shows in the natural feel of the work’s flow.

The Prince Calaf (the Unknown Prince) is sung by Eugenio Fernandi. As so often with Callas’ leading men, he was perhaps chosen to be solid, strong but with no chance of overshadowing the great diva, as his “non piangere Liù” so conclusively proves: eminently musical, very tender, it is in no way great singing, merely admirable. His Act 3 “Nessun dorma” mirrors all these traits. More interior than most - a polar opposite to Pavarotti’s myriad performances - it fits in well with his conception and voice, while Serafin enables us to hear orchestral counterpoints that often get lost.

It is for Callas that most will buy this set, however. Her “In questa reggia” shows this Turandot to be a woman with a core of steel The interjecting staccato orchestral chords do not carry sufficient weight - one feels strongly this is the recording’s fault, not Serafin’s - but nothing, seemingly, can stop Callas’s icy determination. “Icy” seems the right description here - this is a woman with a heart of steel.

Giulio Mauri is a strong-voiced Mandarin. Whoever sings this part has to be - he begins the opera. In his review of the Naxos transfer of this performance, Ralph Moore suggests this role is sung by Zaccaria. As Timur, the deposed King of Tartary, and identifiably himself, Nicola Zaccaria is strong and confident.

The voice of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is surely instantly recognisable. Her voice is well-suited to Liù, in no way too light and there is no hint of the tremulous quality that can sporadically afflict Schwarzkopf in her memorable “Signore ascolta!”. Interestingly, the bonus tracks on this particular product include a Callas “Signore ascolta”, again with Serafin at the helm (but with the Philharmonia Orchestra) - note this is track 17, not 16 as indicated in the booklet. Callas is as instantly recognisable as Schwarzkopf, and injects her own, rather larger and self-interested, character onto the musical surface. Liù’s “Tu che di gel sei cinta” is also reprised, recognisably, by Callas in the present set’s appendix.

Ping, Pang and Pong are well cast (Mario Borriello, Renato Ercolani and Piero de Palma, respectively), although Borriello is perhaps a tad tremulous.

The transfer is generally excellent. There is some abrasion/stretching of sonic resources as the climax of Act 1 choral scenes - immediately prior to the crowd’s calling for the moon - but elsewhere all is well and the choral passages in question were after all similarly afflicted on the EMI originals.

Colin Clarke 



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