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Mirella Freni- The Opera Album
Excerpts from:-
PUCCINI Gianni Schicchi, Turandot, Manon Lescaut, La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Suor Angelica
VERDI La Traviata, Falstaff, Otello
BELLINI La Sonnambula, I Capuletti e i Montecchi
MASCAGNI L’Amico Fritz
BIZET Carmen
Franco Bonisolli (tenor), Sesto Bruscantini (baritone), Gudrun Schäfer (soprano)
Hamburg State Orchestra/Leone Magiera, Berlin State Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Lamberto Gardelli, Munich Radio Orchestra/Ino Savini
rec. 1959 Munich; 1973 Berlin; 1974 Hamburg, Germany
Complete programme listing at end of review
No sung texts provided
ACANTA 233707 [3 CDs: 43:03 + 48:48 + 51:08]

It was in May 2005 at the Metropolitan Opera that Mirella Freni, one of a great line of Italian sopranos, announced her farewell to a long and distinguished career. That Gala event was cause for triple celebration as it marked Freni’s seventieth birthday, her fiftieth anniversary on the operatic stage and forty years with the Metropolitan Opera. A genuine prima donna, Freni’s beautiful voice and accomplished vocal technique established her in an elite class of 20th century sopranos. Thankfully she has left an attractive recorded legacy in the form of both complete operas - in particular Verdi and Puccini - and various collections.
She made her professional debut in 1955 aged nineteen at her hometown of Modena in Italy playing Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen. Still in her thirties, Freni began to expand her roles beyond regular lyric-soprano heroines giving notable performances in heavier parts such as Verdi's Desdemona in Otello, Elisabetta di Valois in Don Carlo andAmelia in Simon Boccanegra. The role I most associate with Freni is the seamstress Mimì in La bohème. I have fond memories of her 1972 Berlin Mimì opposite Pavarotti’s Rodolfo accompanied by the Berliner Philharmoniker under Karajan on Decca 421 049-2. Most impressive of all was Freni’s remarkable vocal resilience being able to maintain a vivid freshness throughout a very long career.
The present three disc collection provides only very basic information about the origin of the recordings. I have done a little Google research to serve as a guide for those interested in this type of thing. Disc one is an all-Puccini collection of arias and duets. This re-mastered studio recording from 1974 is under the baton of Leone Magiera; who was Freni’s first husband. The Italian tenor Franco Bonisolli accompanies Freni in a number of the works. This material - including a single track from the same session of Verdi’s Otello contained on disc three - seems to have been released in 2004 titled Puccini & Verdi on the label Arts Archives 43008-2.
The second disc, consisting of highlights from Verdi’s La traviata,appears to have been taken from a re-mastered 1973 Berlin studio recording played by the Berlin State Opera Orchestra and Chorus under Lamberto Gardelli. I understand it was made for a German TV programme and was released in 2004 on the label Arts Archives 43031-2. In a number of works Freni is once again joined by Bonisolli and also by Italian baritone Sesto Bruscantini and German soprano Gudrun Schäfer.
Disc three - apart from a track from the Verdi Otello set mentioned above - looks like being the 1959 Munich material that was released on a disc entitled Mirella Freni: The First Recitals 1959-1961 on Preiser PR93481. Freni is supported here by the Munich Radio Orchestra under Ino Savini.
The recordings made in Hamburg and in Berlin had the most satisfying sonics. Although there is nothing to worry about the 1959 Munich sound on the third disc has a slightly metallic quality. 

There is not a dud track in all of these three discs. Freni is in splendid form displaying her bright, fluid and most attractive voice to wonderful effect. I always enjoy Freni singing Puccini and with Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì from La Boheme she is suitably girl-like. Using very little vibrato, she slides smoothly with ease up to her high register and the effect at the climax is truly poignant. Her duets with Bonisolli are extremely successful with their voices complementing each other splendidly, blending particularly well in the roles of Violetta and Alfredo from Verdi’s La Traviata. Another stunning performance is Suzel’s aria Son pochi fiori from Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz a fine example of the stylish Freni’s talent for smooth legato lines. Worthy of special note is Micaela’s Qui dei contrabbandier / Io dico, no, non son paurosa from Carmen - such lovely singing, so tender and affecting. 

Whilst I greatly enjoyed this fine three disc collection on Acanta it wouldn’t be my first choice for anyone wanting something that showcases the great Freni. My prime recommendation is the BR Klassik CD entitled Mirella Freni - Great Singers Live. Containing ten tracks the material was taken from excellent radio recordings that Freni, in most sensational voice, recorded with the Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra at a series of ‘Sunday Concerts’ broadcast live from Munich between 1971 and 1983. Opera lovers could do worse than obtain both this Acanta set and the live BR Klassik issue. 

Michael Cookson 

Complete programme listing:
CD 1:
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Gianni Schicchi
1. O mio babbino caro [2:22]
2. Lauretta mia [1:24]
Franco Bonisolli, tenor (Rinuccio)
3. Signor ascolta [2:22]
4. Tu che di gel sei cinta [2:12]
Manon Lescaut
5. In quelle trine morbide [2:33]
6. Tu, tu amore tu [8:07]
Franco Bonisolli, tenor (Des Grieux)
La Boheme
7. Mi chiamano Mimì [5:03]
8. O soave fanciulla [3:49]
Franco Bonisolli, tenor (Rodolfo)
Madame Butterfly
9. Un bel dì vedremo [4:16]
10. Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malia [10:31]
Franco Bonisolli, tenor (Pinkerton)
Hamburg State Orchestra/Leone Magiera
rec. 1974, Hamburg, Germany
CD 2:
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata
1. Libiamo, libiamo ne’lieti calici [3:21]
Franco Bonisolli, tenor (Alfredo), Chorus
2. Che è ciò / Und ì felice, eterea [6:00]
Franco Bonisolli, tenor (Alfredo), Ensemble
3. È strano, è strano!/Ah, fors’ é lui che l’anima/ Follie! Follie! Delirio vano à questo! / Sempre libera [9:29]
Franco Bonisolli, tenor (Alfredo),
4. Madamigella Valéry / Pura siccome un angelo / Non sapete quale affetto vivo / Un dì, quando le veneri / Ah, dite alla giovine / Morrò! Morrò! [19:18]
Sesto Bruscantini, baritone (Giorgio Germont)
5. Teneste la promessa / Addio del passato [4:53]
6. Signora! ... Che t’accadde? / Parigi, o cara [5:48]
Gudrun Schäfer, soprano (Annina), Franco Bonisolli, tenor (Alfredo)
Berlin State Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Lamberto Gardelli
rec. 1973, Berlin, Germany
CD 3:
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
1. Sul fil d’un soffio etesio [4:09]
Munich Radio Orchestra/Ino Savini
rec. 1959 Munich, Germany
2. Gia nella notte densa [10:06]
Franco Bonisolli, tenor (Otello)
Hamburg State Orchestra/Leone Magiera
rec. 1974 Hamburg, Germany
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
La Sonnambula
3. Ah! Se una volta sola [11:13]
I Capuletti e i Montecchi
4. Eccomi in lieta vesta [10:15]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
L’Amico Fritz
5. Son pochi fiori [3:28]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Suor Angelica
6. Senza mamma [4:37]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
7. Qui dei contrabbandier / Io dico, no, non son paurosa [7:06]
Munich Radio Orchestra/Ino Savini
rec. 1959, Munich, Germany