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Franco FACCIO (1840-1891)
Amleto (1865), tragedia lirica in four acts
Amleto - Pavel Cernoch (tenor), Claudio - Claudio Sgura (baritone), Polonio - Eduard Tsanga (bass), Orazio - Sebastien Soules (bass), Marcello - Bartosz Urbanowicz (baritone), Laerte - Paul Schweinester (tenor), Ofelia - Iulia Maria Dran (soprano), Gertrude - Dshamilja Kaiser (mezzo-Soprano), Lo spettro / Un sacerdotte - Gianluca Buratto (bass), Un araldo / Il re Gonzaga - Jonathan Winell (tenor), La regina Giovanna - Sabine Winter (soprano), Luciano / Primo becchino - Yasushi Hirano (bass), Prague Philharmonic Choir, Wiener Symphoniker / Paolo Carignani
rec. 2016, Festspielhaus Bregenz, Germany
Booklet notes in English and German; libretto in Italian with English translation available for download
NAXOS 8.660454 [67:55+66:46]

When an opera CD set arrives at one’s doorstep, which has the impressive compositional clout that this one does, and has not been staged since 1871, one may start to think that a long-lost masterpiece might just have been revealed. Sadly, that is not entirely the case here. Composer Franco Faccio is chiefly remembered for having conducted the world premiere of Verdi’s Otello and the Italian premieres of the revised La Forza del Destino, Aida, Don Carlo, as well as Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. His librettist was no less than the most celebrated Arrigo Boito, who would eventually collaborate with Verdi on both Otello and Falstaff.
This version of Hamlet arrived on the scene only three years before the more familiar version by Ambroise Thomas. It is rather fascinating to compare the two operas. Neither is particularly successful at achieving the raw power of Shakespeare’s drama. Musically speaking, Faccio’s scenes and arias, while pleasant, are something of a letdown. The melodies come and go but they stay too fleetingly to register in any substantive way. The ‘To be, or not to be’ monologue is just as much a failure as the version that Ambroise Thomas composed for Paris. In this opera there is nothing to equal Thomas’ wonderful Brindisi or Ophelia’s mad scene. Both Faccio and Thomas only excel at some of the accompanying orchestral music. Both composed a rather jaunty Danish March to open the banquet scene. Faccio gives us an enjoyable but brief string quartet that is part of the Act 2 prelude. The most beautiful number in the entire score is the gravely beautiful funeral procession for Ofelia. This was one excerpt from the opera that continued to be performed after 1871. According to the booklet, it can still be encountered during Easter celebrations on the island of Corfu. Ultimately I think that Ambroise Thomas achieved more in his score because he was not trying to be utterly faithful to Shakespeare but rather to entertain his wealthy Parisian audience. Faccio and Boito aimed for a loftier piece of music drama, so that had the larger failure. It is worth noting that after the last performances at La Scala Faccio abandoned composing and returned to the podium.

The performance recorded here was made over four evenings in the Bregenz Festspielhaus. The sound veers from close and immediate to annoyingly diffuse at times – a drawback of the live recording – but stage noises are kept to a minimum.

Faccio’s Hamlet is a tenor who is asked to sing a great deal of heavily declamatory music. Pavel Cernoch is in stentorian voice, but it becomes a bit wearing on the listener as the opera proceeds. This is entirely the composer’s fault, not the singer’s. Iulia Dran as Ophelia has a voice which puts me in mind of a young Mirella Freni when she sings in the mid and lower ranges. But as she climbs into the higher range, her voice veers into bouts of gusty unsteadiness. Claudio Sgura displays a firm and attractive bass for King Claudius. Queen Gertrude is sung by Dshamilja Kaiser, who demonstrates a vocal range incorporating a powerful and searing top voice, but her tone tends to sound swallowed and effortful below the passagio. Paul Schweinster as Laertes is a pleasant tenor of lighter timbre than that of Hamlet. Gianlucca Buratto is an impressive ghost.

The excellent Prague Philharmonic Chorus does some really impressive work. The Wiener Symphoniker play their music crisply, with style and accomplishment. Conductor Paolo Carignani brings exactly the right sense of verve and drama to the score, providing the best argument possible for reviving this opera.

This release is worth investigating for those who are curious, but a rival company, C Major, has simultaneously released a DVD (740608) and a Blu-ray (740704) of these same performances; the videos might be better value for purchase.

Mike Parr

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