RECORD OF THE MONTH
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
L’Elisir d’Amore - Opera in two Acts (1832) [113:54]
Adina – Roberta Peters (soprano); Nemorino – Carlo Bergonzi (tenor); Belcore – Frank Guarrera (baritone); Dulcamara – Fernando Corena (baritone); Giannetta – Loretta di Franco (mezzo)
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Thomas Schippers
rec. live, 5 March 1966, Metropolitan Opera, New York
no text or translation included
SONY CLASSICAL 88691 90991 2 [64:28 + 49:26]
It may not do to admit it to more solemn and serious music-lovers, but L’Elisir d’Amore is an opera which I always enjoy both in prospect and in actual performance. It lacks the cynicism and artificiality which affect so many comic Italian works of the period. Instead it possesses abundant good humour and sincerity as well as some of Donizetti’s most charming music. In other words it is an essentially likeable piece, and we laugh with not at the characters and at the composer’s use of the banda and all too realistic copy of rustic wedding music. It may indeed be described as the “Cranford” of Italian opera.
If you accept this view, what you will be looking for in a recorded performance is character, sincerity and a real feel of the opera house. Accuracy of performance, quality of the edition used and quality of recorded sound are certainly important considerations but in this opera they may not be decisive. It is for these reasons that I welcome this version. There is throughout a feeling of being present at a live performance with a well chosen cast performing with great spirit and above all as a team. As usual it is the singer of Nemorino who makes the most impact, and fortunately Carlo Bergonzi sings admirably with a real sense of character even if some of the faster passages are sketched rather than sung. His forward projection and clear diction make the listener always aware of the eager and likeable if simple country youth that he is portraying. Roberta Peters may lack similar projection of character but the purity and musicality of her singing make Adina less of a shrew than is sometimes the case. You may find the exaggeration of Fernando Corena’s Dulcamara hard to take, but he is always fully involved in the action and exploring every opportunity for comic effect even when this involves departing drastically from the composer’s text. The part of Belcore is one in which many distinguished baritones have disappointed on record. Frank Guarrera may not be the most exciting of singers in the part but at least he does not bully the listener and is as good in the more songful or florid passages as in the more martial sections. The chorus and orchestra are fully involved, and Thomas Schippers’ conducting is alert even if he tends at times alternately to rush and dally, to the apparent dismay of some of the soloists as well as the listener. The cuts usual at the date of the recording are made, and there is plenty of stage noise. Overall however the recording as such needs no apology and never gets in the way of enjoyment.
I have been disappointed by previous issues in Sony’s Metropolitan Opera series which seemed to be reviving routine afternoons best forgotten. That is emphatically not the case here although the usual lack of text, translation, or information on the cast is a continued irritation. Nonetheless this is well worth hearing, with a splendid cast who are caught at their best in a performance which wholly captures the spirit of this most delightful of operas.
Well worth hearing – a splendid cast caught at their best … captures the spirit of this most delightful of operas.