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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Il Tabarro (1918)
Giorgetta – Melody Moore (soprano)
Michele – Lester Lynch (baritone)
Luigi – Brian Jagde (tenor)
Frugola – Roxana Constantinescu (mezzo)
Tinca – Simeon Esper (tenor)
Talpa – Martin-Jan Nijhof (bass)
A Song Seller – Khanyiso Gwenxane (tenor)
Two lovers – Joanne Marie D’Mello (soprano); Yongkeun Kim (tenor)
MDR Leipzig Radio Choir
Dresdner Philharmonie/Marek Janowski
rec. March 2019, Kulturpalast Dresden.
A digital booklet with text and translation is included.
Reviewed as downloaded from digital press preview
PENTATONE PTC5186773 SACD [49:42]

This new recording of Puccini’s one act melodrama was welcomed in its SACD release a few months ago by Simon Thompson: Review. I am reporting on the digital download version which has been released in both a regular 44.1 khz, and also a high-res audio 96 khz version for a small increase in the price.  (Also as a surround download from the Pentatone website.)

Il Tabarro is the curtain raiser for Puccini’s Il Trittico an opera of three short works that are intended to be played together on one evening. The 1918 premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York featured no less a star than Claudia Muzio, who was one of the most veristic artists in recorded history, as so many of her surviving gramophone records demonstrate. She unfortunately left no recording of her one short aria in this opera but I suspect she must have been truly powerful in the role, assuming that I can judge based on the other recordings I have heard from her.

My comparison recording for this opera is the fairly impressive one on Sony from 1977 featuring Ingvar Wixell, Renata Scotto, and Placido Domingo under the baton of Lorin Maazel (complete Trittico 88697527292, download only, no booklet). It was part of his take on the complete Il Trittico although, at the time, the three operas were all issued separately on vinyl rather than as an entity. The only flaw I have ever found in Maazel’s Tabarro is the far too diffuse acoustic of the orchestra, who sound as if they are covered by a thick fog hanging over the Seine. There is just too much orchestral detail lost in an otherwise atmospherically-charged recording. On this shiny new release from Pentatone, orchestral detail and the many sound effects required by Puccini are captured in vivid detail. Marek Janowski leads a performance that manages to be both passionate and elegant at the same time. I particularly loved the gusto of the strings galumphing their way through the swooping figures during the organ grinder’s waltz early in the opera.

The cast is uniformly good, with one small exception, and is likely the best available that one could find for any opera house today. Melody Moore has been having wonderful success with a string of recent recordings of verismo operas on the Pentatone label. Her appearance in La Fanciulla del West which I reviewed here, showed how well this repertory suits her lush but youthful sounding soprano. Her Giorgetta is greatly helped by Janowski, as together they gradually build the emotional arc of the young, desperately unhappy barge wife. Ms Moore gives a passionate account of her aria about Giorgetta’s earlier life in Belleville, before coming to Paris. It is better that her sense of desperation is only suggested in this aria and not pushed too far forward, as Renata Scotto does for Maazel. She is equally impressive in the duet which is the emotional centerpiece of the opera. Only in her lifeless scream at the conclusion does she sound unconvincing, but this is just a small quibble.

Brian Jagde has a voice that is perfectly suited to the passionate barge worker, Luigi. Often sung on stage by voices that are a little past their best years, Jagde shows what can be done when a gifted singer in his prime, with a voice of appropriate weight and presence, can make of Luigi. He is thrilling in the duet and in vocal terms, he dies rather convincingly. Domingo’s version for Maazel is more the romantic hero and he produces a burnished, bright tone but this is not as fine a representation of the character as Mr Jagde provides.

Lester Lynch impresses even more as Michele than he did as Jack Rance on the Fanciulla del West recording. His upper range is absolutely rock-solid and his tone bears a striking resemblance to that of the excellent Ingvar Wixell on Maazel’s recording; however, Mr Lynch has an even darker glint to his sound that I just love.

Most of the smaller roles are very well cast with the sole exception of an uningratiating voice used for the offstage song seller. Roxana Constantinescu is more than adequate as La Frugola, and she is better than many who have been cast in the role including Gillian Knight for Maazel.

This is a fine modern version of Il Tabarro and I shall certainly return to it in future. Simon Thompson expressed a preference for Antonio Pappano’s recording on EMI (Il Trittico 5565872), but as I have never heard that particular version of Il Trittico I cannot comment. I sincerely hope that Pentatone and Mr Janowski will eventually get around to recording Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi when such things can be arranged again.

Mike Parr

Previous review: Simon Thompson

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