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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)
Andrea Chénier
Andrea Chénier - Mario Del Monaco; Maddalena – Zinka Milanov; Carlo Gérard – Leonard Warren; Bersi – Rosalind Elias; Countess di Coigny - Hertha Glaz; Abbé - Gabor Carelli; Fléville - George Cehanovsky; L'Incredibile - Alessio De Paolis; Roucher - Frank Valentino; Mathieu - Salvatore Baccaloni; Madelon - Sandra Warfield; Dumas - Osie Hawkins; Fouquier Tinville - Norman Scott; Schmidt - Lawrence Davidson; Major-domo - Louis Sgarro
Metropolitan Opera House Chorus and Orchestra/Fausto Cleva
rec. live, 4 December 1954, Metropolitan Opera House, New York City
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO128 [2 CDs: 108:25]

The title of this disc is "Mario Del Monaco as Andrea Chénier". Obviously Pristine Audio is giving tenor Mario Del Monaco top billing in this live broadcast performance of Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier … and for good reason. Not only is Andrea Chénier the title character, it was also one of Mario Del Monaco’s signature roles. Del Monaco was the foremost Chénier of his time. In fact, towards the end of his life, Giordano considered Del Monaco the Andrea Chénier.

This opera was Umberto Giordano’s first success. His next, Fedora, was also popular, but Giordano was unable to follow these two up with anything remotely as successful. Today they are the only ones by Giordano that are still in the repertoire, and Chénier remains Giordano’s most popular work.

This album features a broadcast matinée performance from the Metropolitan Opera on 4 December 1954. Before this run the work had not been performed at the Met since 1933. The source recordings used for this release are well-preserved tapes of the live radio broadcast. Even though producer Andrew Rose argues that the sound has been much improved by Pristine Audio’s XR re-mastering, the sound remains that of a radio broadcast from the mid 1950s. High frequency contents are attenuated, probably a result of Pristine’s efforts to tame some harsh upper frequencies. The bass is a bit boomy and lacks definition.

Del Monaco has been criticized, often justifiably, for lack of subtlety and unremittingly loud singing. He is captured in his prime here, and his singing is certainly stentorian. His power and stamina really need to be heard to be believed. Zinka Milanov and Leonard Warren sound small next to him. This is a heroic verismo tenor role, and benefits from Del Monaco’s full-throated contribution. The voice, though very loud, sounds unforced and is much more pleasant than on some of his studio recordings. He shows sensitivity to the music and scales down his voice when the music calls for it, which is a side of him we haven’t seen too often. He even produces a few well-executed diminuendi. Not only does he sing much louder than his colleagues, he also draws much louder applause and cheers from the audience; some but not all are faded out.

Zinka Milanov sings with a dark, velvety tone that I find a bit dark for the role. Leonard Warren is solid as Gérard. The singing of the smaller parts is adequate but not stellar. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera, under the direction of Fausto Cleva, provide solid support.

The 2-CD set comes in a slim-line double case. No libretto is included and the booklet is a single sheet of paper, with a photo of Del Monaco on the cover and a New York News review and producer’s note on the back. Tracking information and cast are given on the back cover.

There are a couple of other recordings of Andrea Chénier featuring Mario Del Monaco, including a studio recording in stereo with Renata Tebaldi and Ettore Bastianini under Gianandrea Gavazzeni from 1957 (Decca 425 407-2) and a video performance with Antonietta Stella and Giuseppe Taddei under Angelo Questa from 1955 (Bel Canto Society). The current set, with no libretto or booklet, is not a top choice or the only version you want to keep in your library, and I don’t think it is meant to be. For collectors who want more than one version of Andrea Chénier and do not mind less-than-modern recorded sound this set has its strengths.

Wai Kit Leung



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