Gian Carlo MENOTTI (1911 - 2007)
The Consul (1950)
Patricia Neway (soprano) - Magda Sorel; Marie Powers (contralto) - The Mother; Gloria Lane (mezzo) - The Secretary; Cornell MacNeil (baritone) - John Sorel; Leon Lishner (bass) - The Secret Police Agent; Andrew McKinley (tenor) - Nika Magadoff; George Jongyans (bass-baritone) - Mr Kofner; Maria Marlo (soprano) - The Foreign Woman; Lydia Summers (contralto) - Vera Boronel; Maria Andreassi (soprano) - Anna Gomez; Francis Monachino (baritone) - Assan; Mabel Mercer (soprano) - The Voice on the Record; Orchestra/Lehman Engel
rec. New York City, April 1950
Amelia al ballo (1937)
Margherita Carosio (soprano) - Amelia; Rolando Panerai (baritone) - The Husband; Giacinto Prandelli (tenor) - The Lover; Maria Amadini (contralto) - The Friend; Enrico Campi (bass) - The Chief of Police; Silvana Zanolli (mezzo) - First Chambermaid; Elena Mazzoni (mezzo) - Second Chambermaid; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala Milan/Nino Sanzogno
rec. Teatro alla Scala, Milan, March 1954
NAXOS 8.112023-24 [69:01 + 75:18]
Next year (2011) is the centenary of Gian Carlo Menotti’s birth and he will certainly be duly celebrated. This double-bill opera set is the first in a series devoted to his music. During his life time he was not always hailed, at least not by critics, who found him out of phase with existing musical tastes. Menotti basically belonged to the late-romantic school and could be seen as a follower of Puccini in the Italian opera tradition. He became rather popular with the general public and was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for The Consul in 1950 and The Saint of Blecker Street in 1955. His Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951) was the first opera written directly for the TV medium and it was - and has remained - hugely successful and beloved.
The Consul, after a try-out in Philadelphia, ran for 269 performances on Broadway and the response from audiences and critics alike encouraged American Decca to record it with the original cast. Amazingly enough it has never been reissued on CD. The more grateful we have to be that Naxos are now giving it a new lease of life.
Considering its age - it was recorded 60 years ago! - it is an impressive recording with shattering dynamics and it’s very vivid and easy to approach. The action is brought forward in melodious parlando, punctuated by a very active orchestra, sung and spoken lines are sometimes mixed and there are sweeping melodies galore, but also rather harsh harmonies. This stands in sharp contrast to what was normally played on Broadway at the time. But I believe that even those not normally used to opera must have felt the dramatic coherence and the expressivity of the music. It’s the cold war that forms the backdrop, which also may be a reason that it attracted attention. Communism was the red rag to many and Joseph McCarthy had already started his witch-hunt. With all this in mind it is easy to imagine the impact this opera made. Even today it has a realism that is frightening.
Lehman Engel was one of the leading Broadway conductors at the time and his recorded legacy covers many of the most famous musicals in as complete versions as was then possible. Especially famous is his recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1951), which for more than 25 years was the only one available - even though it wasn’t absolutely complete. His conducting here is both exacting and punchy and though inevitably the orchestral sound is compressed in the mono recording it is an exciting reading.
He has a fine cast, who were well inside their roles. The try-out in Philadelphia opened on 1 March 1950, the Broadway premiere was a month later; the recording was made in April, probably during a number of sessions in daytime with performances in the evening. Menotti’s wish was to have Maria Callas, then relatively unknown, as Magda Sorel but the producer said no. With hindsight it would have been very interesting indeed if Menotti’s proposal hadn’t been rejected but Patricia Neway is a splendid Magda and probably better suited to the idiom. She was already an experienced singer and actress but this was her breakthrough. She went on to sing the role at the premieres in London and Paris and other European cities. It is interesting to note also that she was Mother Superior in the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music, a role for which she received a Tony Award.
All the other soloists are good and in particular it is nice to hear the young Cornell MacNeil as John Sorel. His voice was then a light baritone, far from the imposing power-pack he was later to become. He was also vouchsafed a very long career. I heard him as Amonasro at the Arena di Verona in 1986, when he was in his mid-sixties and his magnificent voice projected superbly to even the most distant seat (where I was).
Menotti wrote a couple of operas while still a child but his first mature opera was Amelia al ballo, which was premiered in 1937 in Philadelphia and the following year was brought to The Metropolitan Opera. This work is quite different from The Consul. It is an opera buffa with the well known love triangle wife-husband-lover. It is charmingly written in pseudo-19th century style but spiced with some 20th century seasoning. As in the true buffa tradition the music rarely settles but whirls on irresistibly as a long scherzo movement. Verdi’s Falstaff had no doubt been a source of inspiration. But when it settles Menotti gives the leading singers some lovely lyrical music to show their expertise in cantabile singing. The Husband has a beautiful romanza (CD 2 tr. 15) and Amelia’s romanza (CD 2 tr. 21) is pure Puccini. The Lover also gets his share in the romanza trio (CD 2 tr. 26).
Nino Sanzogno leads a spirited performance with the La Scala forces on their toes and the leading trio of soloists are excellent. Carosio is brilliant, fluent and lively and sings with beautiful tone. Panerai is completely at ease here, far more than in I puritani, which he recorded with Callas less than a year earlier, and Prandelli, though the possessor of a brilliant tenor, keeps within the confines of the role. As Chief of Police Enrico Campi is sonorous and expressive and has a fine cantabile solo (CD 2 tr. 31), interspersed by Amelia’s coloratura. A wholly enchanting opera!
It is good to have both recordings back in the catalogue and they should be attractive to a lot of opera lovers.
Göran Forsling
Good to have both recordings back in the catalogue and they should be attractive to a lot of opera lovers.