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Rossini cenerentola 4594482
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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Cenerentola (1817) [144.57]
Teresa Berganza (mezzo-soprano: Angelina), Luigi Alva (tenor: Ramiro), Renato Capecchi (baritone: Dandini), Paolo Montarsolo (bass: Magnifico), Ugo Trama (bass: Alidoro), Margherita Guglielmi (soprano: Clorinda), Laura Zannini (mezzo-soprano: Tisbe),
Scottish Opera Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
rec. George Watson’s College, Edinburgh, September 1971
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 459 448-2 [73.57 + 71.00]

When this recording of Rossini’s La cenerentola first appeared in 1972 it was a landmark in the history of the opera’s career on disc. Previous recordings, whether in mono or stereo, had suffered from one or the other of two major disadvantages. Either they had been heavily truncated, or subjected to other editorial amendments which meant that they were far removed from Rossini’s original score; the celebrated EMI mono set from Glyndebourne in the 1950s conducted by Vittorio Gui suffered from this. Or they had been recorded with singers, celebrated in their own field, who had limited abilities in the field of Rossinian coloratura; Guilietta Simionato, one of the greatest Italian mezzos of her generation, appeared in a superlatively recorded Decca set where she comprehensively failed to come to terms with the polished style of singing required (which was supplied by several of her fellow-singers). Claudio Abbado had the advantage of a cast thoroughly schooled in the correct method of delivery for Rossini, and at the same time a comprehensively overhauled edition of the score provided by Alberto Zedda, who was later himself to prove a superbly talented Rossini conductor.

In recent years the supply of singers who can manage the Rossini vocal line has multiplied by leaps and bounds, and recordings both on video and CD have blossomed in profusion. Looking back now at this Abbado set, one can appreciate the advance that it represented while continuing to note that there was still evident a degree of caution in the approach to the music. Concern for accuracy seems to have predominated over the sheer sense of comic enjoyment that should surely also form an essential part of the Rossinian mix. Teresa Berganza in particular, who enjoyed a deserved reputation in the forefront of Rossini singers of her generation, is a very demure and polite Cinderella without the slight pushiness that can make the role so subtly differentiated, and which is represented in more recent recordings by such Cecilia Bartoli or Agnes Baltsa. Luigi Alva as her Prince Charming, a well-established Mozartian in his day, seems more concerned to deliver his lines with pin-point accuracy (and a hint of staccato) which sounds slightly wiry by comparison with the richer lyricism we expect nowadays (and heard in the old Simionato set from the underestimated Ugo Benelli). Renato Capecchi and Paolo Montarsolo are representatives of the good old school of comic baritones and basses, Ugo Trama standing slightly apart with a sense of wry amusement. The orchestra is rather heavy by modern expectations, but Abbado keeps the textures light and the chorus make a lively impression. (Why do we hear so little on disc nowadays of the Scottish and Welsh National Opera choruses?) It almost seems odd nowadays to hear a harpsichord continuo rather than a fortepiano, but then this recording was made nearly half a century ago.

Some ten years after this recording, Abbado returned to La Cenerentola with what was then his La Scala orchestra for an imaginatively filmed version of the opera directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle with Frederica von Stade in the title role. Ponnelle could be maddeningly perverse in some of his productions, but this was one of his most enjoyable romps although the sound, which distinctly favours the voices over the orchestra, sounds somewhat dated nowadays. Many later audio recordings of the score derive from live theatrical presentations, and suffer consequently from audience laughter which can prove annoying when it results from visual jokes (inexplicable to the listener) and can obscure the music. This was a particular problem with the more recent audio Glyndebourne set of the Peter Hall production, as I lamented when I reviewed that in 2013. But there have been several modern studio recordings conducted by Sir Neville Marriner, Carlo Rizzi and Riccardo Chailly (the last with Cecilia Bartoli, who fits the title role as to the manner born, and also features with many of the same cast in a video version conducted by Bruno Campanella).

Nonetheless, as a historical document and in many ways a milestone in the interpretation of this opera, this set deserves to retain its place in the catalogue. There may continue to be arguments about the merits of performance over the years in the field of Verdi and Wagner, but it cannot be denied that opera house standards in Rossini have continued to improve – at least in the instances where the efforts of singers on stage have not been sabotaged by ‘cleverly innovative’ producers. The presentation of this Presto release, taken from mid-price DG originals, is pretty basic – track listings plus synopses in English, German and French – but these synopses extend for some four pages, so giving the listener a fairly good idea of the plot as it develops. Text and translations are in any event readily available online (not that this excuses DG for their failure to provide such information in the case of rarer operas, such as I noted last year with the Presto reissue of Penella’s El gato montes). The recording itself remains in excellent sound.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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