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Daniel-François-Esprit AUBER (1782-1871)
Fra Diavolo (1830)
Fra Diavolo – Giuseppe Campora (tenor)
Lord Cockburn – Marco Stecci (baritone)
Lady Pamela – Margaret Simoncini (mezzo)
Lorenzo – Romano Grigolo (tenor)
Matteo – Vito Susca (bass)
Zerlina – Cecilia Fusco (soprano)
Giacomo – Alfredo Mariotti (bass)
Beppo – Paolo Mazzotta (tenor)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1842-1912)
La figlia del reggimento
Maria – Anna Maccianti (soprano)
La Marchesa di Berckenfield – Flora Rafanelli (mezzo)
Tonio – Ugo Benelli (tenor)
Sulpizio – Alfredo Mariotti (bass)
Ortensio – Enzo Viaro (bass)
Caporale - Vito Susca (bass)
Both sung in Italian
Orchestra Filarmonica e Coro del Teatro Comunale “Giuseppe Verdi” Trieste/Arturo Basile
rec. August 1966, Trieste. AAD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON PRESTO CD 4775628 [66:16 + 76:23]

These are recordings from 1966 of abridged versions of comic operas originally written and composed for French libretti but translated into Italian. Each is given one CD and the set is accompanied by plot synopses in three languages indicating where music has been excised.

That probably does nor sound too inviting to the purist, especially as the performers here might be considered decidedly provincial. In fact one or two in the cast will be more widely known to aficionados, especially the two lead tenors, who had substantial careers. Bass Alfredo Mariotti had a beautiful voice and was a stalwart in the recording studios of that era; indeed, he recorded the title role in “Don Pasquale” two years earlier. Campora is probably best remembered by collectors as Adorno in the famous vintage recording of Simon Boccanegra with Gobbi and de los Angeles. Ugo Benelli, much in demand as a Donizetti and Rossini tenor, was in the same studio recording of Don Pasquale as Mariotti, conducted by Gracis. He made an excellent Almaviva in Varviso’s Il barbiere di Siviglia.

Otherwise, although the singers here might have had successful careers they will not be known to most listeners. The singing in general is pleasant but unremarkable. It does not help that Campora’s tenor has a rather throaty tonal quality and evinces a tendency to sing flat. I am also irked by the failure of the singers portraying the English milord and milady to adopt a suitably English accent, as Schaunard does in “La bohème” when he is narrating the “parrot and the parsley” episode.

The Figlia is considerably better sung than the Fra Diavolo and Donizetti’s music, too, is emphatically superior to Auber’s rather bland, proto-Rossinian idiom. It annoys me still whenever I think how a genius like Berlioz constantly struggled to achieve any preference or recognition in Paris while Auber was feted throughout his long life. His music is charming and inoffensive but really rather mundane when set alongside Donizetti’s melodic invention and emotional range. Although the libretto is by an acknowledged old pro in Eugène Scribe, it really is a fusty bit of old nonsense. There are a lot of jolly martial tunes and drinking songs but Donizetti injects so much more life and spirit into his score.

The second CD is thus much more rewarding, even if the opera is cut. Benelli is almost more of a tenorino but he sings so sweetly and neatly, often sounding remarkably like his successor Juan Diego Flórez. It is all the more pity, therefore that he will disappoint many by singing – perfectly well - only four of the nine high Cs we expect from the most famous aria, “Amici miei, che allegro giorno!”, better known as “Ah mes amis, quel jour de fête!” His Maria, Anna Maccianti is yet another singer who appears in the aforementioned studio recording of Don Pasquale and although she might now be largely forgotten she proves herself to be an accomplished soprano leggiero, sweet and true, if a tad shrill.

Neither recording here is a substitute for, or indeed preferable to, a complete recording in French but they provide pleasing entertainment and the Figlia is rather more, being a testimony to the excellence and depth of talent in Italian singing in the mid-sixties.
Ralph Moore



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