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Francesco CILÈA (1866 – 1950) L’Arlesiana (1897)
Federico - Giuseppe Filianoti (tenor); Rosa Mamai - Iano Tamar
(soprano); Vivetta - Mirella Bunoaica (soprano); L’innocente -
Kyoung-Eun Lee (soprano); Marco - Jin Seok Lee (bass); Baldassare -
Francesco Landolfi (baritone); Metifio - Juan Orozco (baritone)
Opernchor und Kinderchor des Theater Freiburg; Camerata Vocale Freiburg
Philharmonisches Orchester Freiburg/Fabrice Bollon.
rec. Konzerthaus Freiburg, Rolf Böhme Saal, Freiburg, Germany, 12–17 July 2012. DDD CPO 777 805-2 [61:41 + 44:16]
was doomed to be in the company of others like Mascagni, known as
"one-opera-composers". That verdict is fair on neither man, but it has
stuck and their other works are rarely performed. This opera,
distinguished by the curious fact that the eponymous Arlésienne never
makes an appearance, had the considerable advantage of having Enrico
Caruso especially requested by the composer for its premiere; this
after Caruso had sung Turiddu in Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana
in 1897, earlier the same year as the premiere of this opera. This in
turn led to Caruso taking the leading role in 1902 in Cilèa's most
celebrated work Adriana Lecouvreur, for which Cilèa is now chiefly remembered.
Despite its attractions, which include more tunes than is sometimes the
case in verismo operas and three arias which have found their permanent
place in the concert repertoire, L’arlesiana is not an opera which has
received many recordings. Of the ten to date, eight are live and of
variable artistic and technical quality. The tenor here, Giuseppe
Filianoti made a live recording in 2007 under Eve Queler and the
Vivetta there is Latonia Moore. That said, I am not encouraged by the
presence of Marianne Cornetti as Rosa Mamai, although admittedly I have
not heard it. The 2004 Bongiovanni live recording is certainly not as
The sole studio recording, made in Hungary in 1991 and conducted by
Charles Rosekrans has been issued by EMI Classics; it isn’t bad but
features a wobbly Rosa Mamai in Elena Zilio and an average Federico in
Péter Kelen. Hence first choice for the discriminating collector
hitherto has remained the earliest recording, under Arturo Basile, in
what is apparently a Torino radio broadcast first issued on Cetra LPs.
This has now been re-issued under the super-bargain Documents/Membran
label in a 24 bit re-mastering and in very attractive package.
Unfortunately, like this new one, it comes without a
libretto. which indicate a recording date of 1951. However, a
combination of my own ears and the fact that Gianna Galli, who sings
Vivetta, was born in 1935 and, despite having commenced her
professional career at a young age, was hardly likely to have been
singing that role at sixteen years old, indicates that the recording
was in fact made in 1955; this also explains why it seems to have been
made in good, if narrow, stereo. Coincidentally, Galli managed
Filianoti’s career, dying recently, in 2010.
That 1955 version has a starry cast: the famous "honey-voiced"
Ferruccio Tagliavini, his then wife Pia Tassinari, and the
under-recorded baritone Paolo Silveri, who recorded a number of
excellent sets for Cetra in the 1950s. Silveri shows off his plangent
top notes, even though he is supposed to be an elderly shepherd, and
quite upstages the elderly-sounding bass who is the rival in love to
the hero. Otherwise, the supporting cast is excellent. It includes the
lovely silvery-voiced aforementioned soprano Gianna Galli and Loretta
di Lelio (no less than Mrs Franco Corelli) as the supposedly
handicapped child who recovers his wits.
Derived from concert performances, this CPO set is the first recording
really to challenge the old Cetra favourite with a cast almost as good.
Neither Tagliavini nor Filianoti brings to Federico the ideal
combination of tenorial heft and delicacy which the role’s creator,
Enrico Caruso was able to offer. I suspect that in the case of the
former, his determined delicacy was a conscious artistic choice,
whereas Filianoti is somewhat handicapped by a rather grainy, cloudy
tone. He lacks the ringing top notes demanded at the climax of his
celebrated aria, “Il lamento di Federico” and eschews the top B made so
thrilling by the likes of Björling in recital albums. Nonetheless, he
is a committed, intelligent artist whose timbre frequently reminds me
of the American tenor Neil Shicoff; he sings the role convincingly
within his vocal limitations. A point of interest in this recording is
the inclusion in the Act III duet between Federico and Vivetta of an
aria, “Una mattina”, discovered in the composer’s manuscript by the
tenor singing it. Its orchestration was reconstructed by Mario Guido
Scappucci and is pleasant enough in its lyrical, ecstatic manner but
nothing very memorable and here slightly marred by a strained top A.
However, for me the vocal standout is Georgian Iano Tamar. Her
dusky-coloured dramatic soprano falcon is ideally suited to a role
which may be sung by any soprano with a gutsy lower register, yet her
voice reminds me most of Agnes Baltsa. The aria “Esser una madre è un
inferno” was famously recorded for Columbia in 1935 by just such a
soprano in Claudia Muzio. Tamar matches both Muzio and Pia Tassinari
for gorgeous tone and trenchant emotion. Apparently roles such as
Eboli, Kundry, Elektra and Santuzza – a kind of younger Rosa Mamai –
are all within her repertoire and one can hear why. I look forward to
hearing her again, live or recorded.
Almost as good are baritone Francesca Landolfi and soprano Mirela
Bunoaica. She has a plangent voice-type familiar to us in her
compatriots Angela Gheorghiu and Ileana Cotrubas. His vibrant, flexible
baritone always falls gratefully on the ear, even if he cannot bring to
his opening aria “Come due tizzi accesi” the same expressive nuances
given to it by Tito Gobbi in another famous account. Comparison with
Simon Keenlyside’s much more recent recording are in the British
baritone’s favour for sheer beauty of sound.
The supporting roles are more than adequately sung, although Kyoung-Eun
Lee’s soprano is rather too fruity to depict a boy convincingly.
The Freiburg orchestra is warm and expressive although the extra
freedom of Basile’s conducting gives the RAI recording the edge over
Fabrice Bollon. Within a tightly constructed plot there is much lovely
music here, from the tuneful overture, through the dramatic ensembles
and showpiece arias, to the impassioned Intermezzo, to the thud of the
bass drum as Federico hits the earth.
The recorded sound is excellent with almost no audience noise apart
from a couple of stray coughs. It clearly benefits from the immediacy
of the performance. I wonder that this work has not been successfully
revived more often. This recording may not eclipse the vintage Basile
account but it makes a strong case for a comparatively neglected work. Ralph Moore