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CD: Crotchet

Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Nabucco (1842)
Tito Gobbi (baritone) - Nabucco; Bruno Prevedi (tenor) - Ismaele; Carlo Cava (bass) - Zaccaria; Elena Suliotis (soprano) - Abigaille; Dora Carral (mezzo) - Fenena; Giovanni Foiani (bass) - Il Gran Sacerdote di Belo; Walter Kräutler (tenor) - Abdallo; Anna d’Auria (soprano) - Anna, Chorus of the Vienna State Opera, Vienna Opera Orchestra/Lamberto Gardelli
rec. Sofiensaal, Vienna, October 1965
Notes, synopsis and libretto with English translation enclosed
DECCA THE ORIGINALS 478 1717 [53:10 + 67:21]

Experience Classicsonline

This is a recording that I have admired immensely ever since it was issued more than forty years ago. Strangely enough I have never owned the records, due to the fact that it was available at the local library and my financial situation wasn’t exactly luminous. So for quite a number of years I borrowed the set and played it at regular intervals. When the Muti set on EMI was released a dozen years later, I decided to buy it but even though there was a lot to admire I was rather disappointed and played it only a couple of times. Some years ago I reviewed a highlights disc from that set and my impression was confirmed. Muti tries so hard to invest the work with as drama that the effect becomes high-falutin. There is no lack of drama in Gardelli’s reading and I have a feeling that he breathes the music more the way Verdi intended. The playing of the Philharmonia for Muti is superb and the Ambrosians thirty years ago were certainly top of the trade but the Vienna State Opera Chorus with their stage experience and with Gardelli’s safe hands at the helm find an ebb and flow in the music that is even more convincing. That most beloved opera chorus Va, pensiero has been performed and recorded innumerable times - I have at least two dozen versions in my collection - but none has surpassed Gardelli’s. Throughout the opera there is a natural flow in Gardelli’s reading that still makes it irresistible.

Muti assembled a cast of highly experienced soloists and no one can accuse Renata Scotto of ever being bland and unengaged. Hers is a deeply penetrating reading of this devilishly testing role and she sings with ferocious intensity. But even though by 1978 she had moved from the lyrical roles of her youth to the lirico-spinto realm, Abigaille is a tough nut for even the best endowed sopranos. Under pressure Scotto’s voice is often strained to the limits and her vibrato comes close to a wobble. Elena Suliotis was only twenty-two at the time of this recording and with hindsight she should have been discouraged from such a voice-killer as Abigaille. But when the records arrived she was The Sensation. Fearless, whole-hearted, intense and with a voice that put practically every other soprano at the time - bar Birgit Nilsson - into the shade. She wasn’t the subtlest of singers but the world hailed her as the natural heir to Maria Callas. She even surpassed Callas in a couple of respects: steady tone and greater beauty. Returning to her reading so many years later it is the same thrill and the same astonishment that overcomes me. With all respect for Scotto’s many positive qualities, in this case she is only second best.

Decca’s other trump-card, Tito Gobbi, was less of a surprise. We all had high expectations of his Babylonian King - and no one is likely to have been disappointed. If Suliotis was under-aged Gobbi could in all fairness have been regarded as over-aged. His voice had shown strain for several years but during these recording sessions he seemed rejuvenated - why not inspired by his soprano partner. His timbre and ability to sing with face, his histrionic skill - everything is in perfect order and of the many unforgettable readings he committed to records this is definitely one of the most remarkable. He is in extra fine voice in the last act, where Dio di Giuda shows him as a true master-singer. In the previous act the long scene with Abigaille is the vocal climax of the whole opera. When did we hear so many sparks flying? This is one of the most electrifying scenes ever recorded! Matteo Manuguerra for Muti was in several respects the best reason for buying the EMI set but interpretatively and at best he reaches to Gobbi at shoulder level.

The other roles are more or less secondary, but Zaccaria has a lot to sing and his arias in this opera were the first in the long row of solos for the deepest male voice in Verdi’s oeuvre. Nicolai Ghiaurov sings the role for Muti and good though he is he has lost a little of the ease and resonance that can be heard on separate recordings of the same arias for Decca a decade earlier. Carlo Cava may not have the international reputation of Ghiaurov, but during the 1960s he was much in demand and took part in several recordings, including two versions of Il barbiere di Siviglia - Gui on EMI and Bartoletti on DG. With fine rounded tone and excellent legato he contributes further to the overall excellence of this set. Tu sul labbro (CD 2 tr. 1) is an admirable calling-card. Bruno Prevedi sings Ismaele with glorious tone; his counterpart for Muti, Veriano Luchetti, is in the same class. Giovanni Foiani is a sonorous High Priest, smoother than Robert Lloyd on the Muti set, and as Nabucco’s daughter Fenena the rather unknown Dora Carral sings the beautiful solo in the last act with feeling. Muti chose the dramatic Elena Obraztsova for the role but there’s insuifficient contrast with Abigaille and thus I prefer Carral.

Decca’s recordings in the 1960s were state-of-the-art and this set, produced by Erik Smith and engineered by Gordon Parry and James Brown, wears its years lightly, better in fact than the much later Muti set.

Toye said that Nabucco is the ‘most satisfactory of all the early Verdi operas’. Not everyone will agree - Macbeth has claims to be even better - but in so committed and well sung a performance as Gardelli’s it stands out as a great work. This recording should be in every Verdi-lover’s collection.

Göran Forsling



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