favourite singers in favourite repertoire. That’s no bad
thing to have available for occasional watching. Not that
the visual aspects are in any way tempting. The hall – in
Palazzo dei Congressi in Lugano – is dull and the colours
are a bit watery. The image is rather muddled – not at
all sharply focused - and the camerawork is unimaginative.
On the other hand, there is very little one can do besides
registering what happens on the platform. The soloists
and the conductor march in and out. There is long, thundering
applause and the camera visits the audience from the same
angle each time. During the orchestral music some of the
instrumentalists are spot-lit, first and foremost the leader.
From a position somewhere behind the orchestra we get some
pictures of the conductor at work, obviously having problems
with his fringe which continually falls across his face.
said, honest and straightforward filming, albeit dull,
is far preferable to some producers’ ideas. We have become
used to fussy tracking, zooming in and out, close-ups on
artists and even members of the audience, finding interesting
details in the ceiling or having a camera circle a singer
or conductor. When the video production becomes the main
attraction and the music is reduced to wallpaper – that’s
what I call bad TV or video. I wouldn’t want to see this
concert very often but it does have merit.
sound is fully acceptable, the orchestra play well and
there are fine solo contributions from the woodwind. The
long cello solo in the orchestral introduction to Philip
II’s monologue from Don Carlo
is exquisitely played.
Both singers had long and distinguished careers behind
them when this was recorded in 1985. Siepi was past 60
and had made his debut while still a teenager during the
war. His early recordings from the late 1940s were issued
by Nimbus not long ago and were enthusiastically received
by myself (see review
as well as by my colleagues Jonathan Woolf (see review
and Robert Hugill (see review
What impressed most of all, considering that he was not
yet 25, was the maturity of the voice as well as the readings.
His account of Philip’s monologue from Don Carlo
few equals. This character is really a man – one who has
lived a long life and attained power as well as been struck
by misfortune. The dark brooding from 1947 is perfectly
in character. Thirty-eight years later he has reached the
right age; his voice has lost surprisingly little in quality.
There is a slight widening of vibrato, it’s true. The reading
has mellowed but it is a real treat to have both. When
Rudolf Bing started his regime at the Metropolitan in NY
in 1950 he brought Siepi to the house and his first assignment
was as Philip II in the new production of Don Carlos
West Hill Radio Archives have recently issued the broadcast
from a few days after the premiere. This is in refurbished
sound and with quite extensive excerpts from the telecast
of the premiere as bonus. This was thought to have been
lost but a primitive sound recording by an amateur has
surfaced. This Don Carlos
, with Jussi Björling in
the title role, is due for review within a couple of weeks.
It is also valuable for letting us hear Siepi in one of
his greatest roles – one that for some reason he was never
allowed to record complete commercially.
real signature role was Don Giovanni, of which there exist
two studio recordings as well as a number of live tapes.
One of these, from the premiere of the Zeffirelli-Solti
production in February 1962 (see review
is especially interesting since Zerlina is the young Mirella
Freni. It is again fascinating to compare the two singers
almost twenty-five years later in the well-known duet.
The years have not passed completely unnoticed but the
freshness in Ms Freni’s singing is still remarkable. On
his own Siepi sings not one of the Don’s arias but Leporello’s
Catalogue aria. This he manages well technically but it
is a bit low-key – a valet who is probably contemplating
his retirement. In the nowadays rarely-heard aria from
Gounod’s Philemon et Baucis
Siepi shows that his
lowest register is still in fine fettle and his legato
is impeccable. There is slightly more strain and more vibrato
in Fiesco’s aria from Simon Boccanegra
Freni at fifty has retained her youthfulness, vocally as
well as in appearance. Though her voice has acquired more
weight, allowing her to sing arias from what I like to
call the Tebaldi repertoire, she can still lighten the
tone and sing a lovely girlish O mio babbino caro.
prayer is also begun softly and inwardly. Her power of
living the part is touching. There is an uncommonly long
orchestral introduction to L’altra notte
as in the long and strenuous aria from the last act of Don
she impresses greatly with her sheer volume.
As always she is careful with the fine nuances – always
her true hallmark.
is a DVD that will probably give just as much satisfaction
when played on an ordinary CD-player. Occasionally I may
be tempted to show it on-screen as well, primarily for
Mirella Freni’s charming personality.