Puccini Ritrovato (Puccini Rediscovered)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
1. Preludio a orchestra (1876) [2:29]
2. Ed ora bevo all'amor (La rondine, 1920, second version) [3:18]
3. Con onor muore (Madama Butterfly, 1904, original version) [7:49]
4. Sia benedetto il giorno (Edgar, 1889, manuscript version) [12:10]
5. Preludio (Edgar, 1892 version, prelude to Act I) [2:54]
6. Sola, perduta, abbandonata! (Manon Lescaut, 1893, original version) [7:15]
7. Preludio (Manon Lescaut, 1892, prelude to original Act III/1) [4:18]
8. Il segnale… Oh, se qualcuno vuol quell' oro (La fanciulla del West, 1910, first published version) [4:26]
9. Adagetto per orchestra da camera (1881/83) [5:14]
10. Amici fiori (Suor Angelica, 1918, original version) [4:47]
11. Parigi! È la città dei desideri (La rondine, 1920, second version) [2:25]
12. Evviva! le coppe colmate! – La coppa è simbol della vita (Edgar, 1889, manuscript version, Act II, scene 3) [5:50]
Plácido Domingo (tenor)
Violeta Urmana (soprano)
Annamaria Dell’Oste (soprano) (track 2)
Alfredo Nigri (tenor) (track 11)
Stefano Secco (tenor) (track 2)
Wiener Staatsopernchor and Wiener Philharmoniker/Alberto Veronesi
rec. February, December 2008 Große Musikvereinssaal, Vienna, Austria. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 7455 [63:47]

Superstar tenor Plácido Domingo and soprano Violeta Urmana perform an interesting collection. The release comprises eight première commercial recordings of opera arias and ensembles that were subsequently revised or discarded, together with four rarely performed orchestral scores. Musicologist Michael Kaye author of ‘The Unknown Puccini’ (Oxford University Press, 1987) has been successful in uncovering a significant number of ‘lost’ Puccini music. Ten of the scores here are performed in Kaye editions whilst tracks 4 and 12 have been edited by Linda Fairtile. The notes to this Deutsche Grammophon release describe these scores as a ‘treasury’ of rediscovered Puccini. Rather than infer that these scores are revelatory or groundbreaking I prefer to describe them as fascinating unknown Puccini scores that are written in the composer’s familiar style and character.

Alberto Veronesi is somewhat a Puccini specialist having been music director of the celebrated Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago in Tuscany since 1999. The association between Deutsche Grammophon and maestro Veronesi commenced in 2006 with an acclaimed recording of the early Puccini opera Edgar with Plácido Domingo singing the title role. Here Veronesi conducts the soloists and the Wiener Staatsopernchor and Wiener Philharmoniker with assurance and commitment.

The orchestral scores commence with the fledgling Preludio a orchestra (1876) from the eighteen year old Puccini. Then there is the Adagetto per orchestra da camera (1881/83); the Act 1 Preludio from Edgar (1892 version) and the Preludio to the original Act III/1 of Manon Lascaux (1892). All the orchestral scores inhabit a similar sound-world; high on style and grace, light and sweet in character. In the Edgar and Manon Lascaux Preludes I noticed how Puccini smartly develops the emotional weight of the music in an ever so subtle manner.

Impressive is the Act 2 quartet Ed ora bevo all'amor (And now I drink to the love) from Puccini’s neglected masterpiece La rondine (The swallow) in the 1920 second version. In this version of the ensemble Puccini redistributes the music away from the chorus to the quartet of soloists. This is glorious singing by the quartet of Domingo in the baritone part, Urmana, Dell’Oste and Secco.

From the conclusion of original 1904 version of Madama Butterfly the aria Con onor muore (One dies with honour) Violeta Urmana wonderfully portrays Cio Cio San’s hauntingly moving suicide scene. I enjoyed the extended love duet Sia benedetto il giorno (Blessed be the day) from the 1889 manuscript version of Edgar. Domingo and Urmana, as the tragic lovers Edgar and Fidelia, perform a heart-rending duet that lifts the hairs on the back of the neck.

The aria Sola, perduta, abbandonata! (Alone, lost and forsaken) is presented here in its complete original version from the 1893 première of Manon Lescaut. In a magnificent portrayal soprano Urmana as the heroine Manon convincingly conveys raw swathes of emotion. Another highlight of the disc is from the 1920 version of La rondine the Act 1 entrance aria Parigi! È la città dei desideri (Paris! The city of desires). Here the assured Plácido Domingo as Ruggero is extolling the delights of Paris and of Magda his new love attraction.

Both the featured soloists soprano Violeta Urmana and superstar tenor Plácido Domingo have made waves in the music press for switching their voice ranges. Previously known as a dark-toned mezzo-soprano Violeta Urmana confidently made the transition to the role of a soprano back in 2002. Her control and vocal characterisation in these Puccini roles is commendable. Recently singing the baritone role of Simon Boccanegra, the Doge of Genoa, Plácido Domingo’s rich warm timbre is in fine condition and continues to thrill and entertain.

The sound quality is up to the high standards set by the famous yellow label and the two essays are interesting and informative. Full texts are provided with English translations which is good to see. For Puccini lovers this Deutsche Grammophon release featuring Plácido Domingo should prove to be a veritable treasure-chest of fascinating rarely heard scores.

Michael Cookson