Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Duetti verdiani
1. Donna chi sei? (Abigaille/Nabucco, Act 3) [10:40]
Giovanna d’Arco
2. Oh qual mi scuote rumor di Guerra (Giovanna/Giacomo, Act 3) [9:23]
Luisa Miller
3. Pallida mesta sei … No padre mio tranquilla io son (Luisa/Miller, Act 3) [11:57]
La Traviata
4. Madamigella Valery … Son io (Violetta/Germont, Act 2) [17:58]
Simon Boccanegra
5. Favella il Doge ad Amelia Grimaldi? (Maria/Simone, Act 2) [11:56]
6. Ciel! Mio padre (Aida/Amonasro, Act 3) [7:28]
Amarilli Nizza (soprano), Roberto Frontali (baritone)
Orchestra del Teatro di Silesia e Moravia “A. Dvorak”/Gianluca Martinenghi
no rec.information and no texts
DYNAMIC CDS 661 [69:22]

A disc of Verdi duets seems a good idea, since Verdi is often at his very best in ensembles and we rarely hear duets in recital. This half dozen soprano/baritone duets, presented in chronological order give a fine overview of his prowess, spanning a period of almost thirty years. It is also a pleasure to hear two Italians singing in their mother-tongue.

Amarilli Nizza has been on the international circuit for close to a decade and is represented on several complete recordings. There’s a Puccini recital which I reviewed and about which I had a lot of good things to say, concluding the review: ‘even though she is a bit uneven she is constantly thrilling to hear.’ I must admit that on this latest hearing some of the reservations seem superfluous. She is sensitive and she has that spinto thrill one remembers from Tebaldi and Chiara.

Roberto Frontali made his debut in 1986 and has been one of the most sought after baritones worldwide. His discography is also extensive but as far as I have been able to find out this is his first recital. His is a fine, manly voice, steady and even from top to bottom and his readings are characterized by long phrases and care for nuance. Having recently turned fifty his timbre is perfectly suited to the roles here, all of them mature men and fathers.

On my shelves I have numerous recordings of most of these duets, primarily from complete sets. I haven’t made specific comparative listens but have very good ideas of what my favourites sound like. Let me say at once that Nizza and Frontali have no reason to be ashamed of their readings here, even facing some of the really great names of the present and past.

The Nabucco duet has long been a favourite of mine in the by now legendary Decca recording from the mid-1960s with Tito Gobbi and the young and sensational Elena Suliotis in her debut recording. Gobbi was about the same age as Frontali when he made that recording and the two readings are not dissimilar. Gobbi was a master of nuance but Frontali runs him close and is more at ease with some high-lying passages, where Gobbi is strained. Nizza is vibrant and powerful, slightly occluded at times but with brilliant top. For all her intensity she can’t quite erase memories of Suliotis but hers was an exceptional reading and more than one commentator was anxious about her future, singing with such uninhibited force. They were right. Her career lasted only a few years. There is no such risk with Amarilli Nizza and in her own right she is an admirable Abigaille.

The Giovanna d’Arco duet was the sole number I didn’t have in another recording but I was deeply impressed by her sensitivity. Frontali is as good as on the previous number. When it comes to Luisa Miller I have a soft spot for the old RCA recording with Anna Moffo in the title role. The heroine is required to indulge in some florid singing and in that respect Moffo is the more fluent; on the other hand Nizza has more spinto weight. Frontali’s noble Miller is more sensitive to nuance than Cornell MacNeil on the RCA.

In the long Traviata episode – the key-scene and turning point of the opera – Frontali sounds perfectly elderly, initially somewhat gruff but he soon reveals the warm heart of a loving father. Pura siccome un angelo is really beautifully sung, while Nizza’s anguish at his proposals is believably expressed. I learnt this scene – and the whole opera – from an old Concert Hall recording, where Germont and Violetta were well characterized by two in themselves admirable singers who neither of them had really classy voices. The singing here has the same intensity, the same feeling of realism and it is immensely better sung. Violetta’s Dite alla giovine always has me wipe away a furtive tear but here it was sung so touchingly that I needed a hanky.

I have two favourite recordings of Simon Boccanegra: the classic EMI set from the 1950s with Gobbi and Victoria de los Angeles and Abbado’s La Scala production on DG with Cappuccilli and Mirella Freni. Both duets are unsurpassable but Nizza and Frontali are not far behind. They are both deeply involved.

In the father/daughter duet from the Nile scene in Aida few singers have approached Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi. Amarilli Nizza has undoubtedly a more beautiful voice and her spinto tones ring out magnificently. Roberto Frontali is a strong Amonasro but isn’t quite as magnificently evil as Gobbi – though his snarl on slava is frightening.

If some of these comments seem less than flattering for the two singers on the present disc, let me at once underline that in their own right Amarilli Nizza and Roberto Frontali are very good. The orchestra, though maybe not world-class, play well in a well balanced recording. I regret the absence of sung texts but readers who fancy a collection of fine Verdi duets – and there is more than one good reason for having them in a good recording – need look no further.

Göran Forsling

Readers who fancy a collection of fine Verdi duets need look no further.