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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
L’Elisir d’amore (1832)
Hilde Güden (soprano) – Adina; Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor) – Nemorino; Fernando Corena (bass) – Dulcamara; Renato Capecchi (baritone) – Belcore; Luisa Mandelli (soprano) – Giannetta
Orchestra e coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Francesco Molinari-Pradelli
rec. Teatro Comunale, Firenze, September 1955
DECCA HERITAGE SERIES 478 1724 [62:32 + 45:37]
Experience Classicsonline

In the early years of the LP – read 1950s – there were four versions of L’Elisir d’amore available: a Cetra set from Turin, conducted by Gavazzeni with Cesare Valetti, Alda Noni, Afro Poli and Sesto Bruscantini; an HMV from Rome, conducted by Nino Sanzogno with Marguerita Carosio, Nicola Monti, Tito Gobbi and Melchiorre Luise; this Decca set and an HMV (or Columbia) set from La Scala conducted by Tullio Serafin with the young Luigi Alva, Rosanna Carteri, Rolando Panerai and Giuseppe Taddei. In the late 1960s Molinari-Pradelli recorded it again, now in Rome and for EMI, with Nicolai Gedda, Mirella Freni, Mario Sereni and Renato Capecchi, who during the intervening years had changed over from Belcore to Dulcamara. These are the five sets that could be considered in the historic category. I haven’t heard the Cetra set but suppose the technical quality must rule it out. Musically I have always been extremely fond of Don Pasquale with roughly the same cast. Nor have I heard the Sanzogno, which was for many years hidden in EMI’s archives and wasn’t unearthed until 2000, when it was given a very positive review in Gramophone by John Steane. I heard the Serafin set many years ago and remember Alva as a honeyed Nemorino in the Valetti mould, Taddei a superb Dulcamara and Panerai a virile Belcore. Serafin’s conducting is much more alive than that of the penny-plain Molinari-Pradelli. The latter is not much different on the later set, which nevertheless is highly competitive. Gedda and Freni are splendid, Capecchi’s Dulcamara is preferable to his Belcore and Sereni is as reliable as ever.

After this overview we can turn our attention more directly to the Decca set, which has been more or less continually available for more than half a century. The sound, in an early stereo recording, is dated but acceptable, in spite of some distortion, and the playing of the orchestra can’t be faulted, whereas I’ve heard much better choral singing.

The solo singing is a different affair. The only non-Italian, Hilde Güden was a lovely lyric soprano in Mozart, German repertoire but also in many Italian roles. Her Gilda for Decca at about the same time as this issue, is a pleasure and in the 1960s she recorded a complete La traviata for DG, opposite Fritz Wunderlich. It’s true that it was sung in German, but her style and voice were truly idiomatic. As Adina she is well-nigh ideal: glittering, charming and haughty, depending on the situation. If in doubt just listen to her in act II Prendi, per me sei libero (CD 2 tr. 10). It is also a pleasure to hear Di Stefano in a role where he has no need to press the voice beyond its natural limits. Quanto e bella (CD 1 tr. 3) is lovely, the long duet with Dulcamara is lively and theatrical and here Molinari-Pradelli is more inspired than elsewhere. Una furtiva lagrima, well known from numerous compilations, is elegant and sung with feeling, and Adina, credimi in the finale of act I (CD 1 tr. 17) finds him on top form with ardent lyric singing of the utmost beauty.

Fernando Corena – only half-Italian but with a diction that surpasses that of most other singers – is in his element as Dulcamara. Though not the possessor of a world-class voice he is so expressive and theatrical that it would be a shame to complain. Renato Capecchi was not really the bel canto baritone that Donizetti had in mind. Though expressive and virile his voice is too heavy to be ideal. Luisa Mandelli is a good Giannetta.

All the above-mentioned recordings of L’Elisir have a lot of positive features to make them recommendable. For me the present version, in spite of the lacklustre conducting of Molinari-Pradelli and a less than ideal Belcore, is still the historic recording of the work. However, first choice, irrespective of age, is the thirty-year-old (and isn’t that so respectable an age that it is on the verge of being historical as well?) Pritchard recording on Sony from Covent Garden, with Ileana Cotrubas, Placido Domingo, Ingvar Wixell and Geraint Evans. But just as I am writing this I hear Di Stefano’s Una furtiva lagrima in my headphones –and Gosh! What beauty, what feeling, what charisma! I could never be fully satisfied with just one version of this opera and this old Decca recording is certainly on my shortlist.

There is no libretto, no synopsis, no notes at all – just a cast-list and a track-list. Never mind – it’s the singing that counts, and it will – forever!

Göran Forsling












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