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Rossini barber WS121398
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Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816)
Figaro, Ettore Bastianini (baritone); Rosina, Giulietta Simionato (mezzo-soprano); Don Bartolo, Fernando Corena (bass); Don Basilio, Cesare Siepi (bass); Lindoro/Almaviva, Alvino Misciano (tenor)
Orchestra e Coro de Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Alberto Erede
rec. 1956
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview.
URANIA WS121398 [2 CDs: 141]

Here is a star-studded recording from the golden 1950s, originally issued by Decca in 1958, but long absent from the catalogues. With an all-Italian cast – OK, Fernando Corena was Swiss, but with an Italian mother and a Turkish father – and Decca’s house conductor in the Italian repertoire, Alberto Erede, this is as close to the “real thing” as it was possible to come. Ettore Bastianini, with one of the most glorious baritone voices ever, best known for his many Verdi roles, but here an elegant, good-humoured and dashingly virtuoso Figaro, both musically and verbally and dominating every scene. He is possibly less expressive than Tito Gobbi, on the almost contemporaneous EMI recording, but has the better voice. Corena was one of the greatest buffo basses of all times, and Bartolo was one of his greatest roles. This is the first of his three recordings of the role, and he steals the show playing all the buffo tricks, sings falsetto to great effect, sometimes thundering, sometimes burlesque but not over-the-top. Fritz Ollendorff on the EMI set runs him close however, though German his Italian is immaculate – he studied in Milan – and he is lighter of tone than Corena. The music teacher Don Basilio is almost a minor character in this opera, but he has one of the meatiest arias in La calunnia. Cesare Siepi builds up the tension in a mastery fashion, and had this been a live recording, there would have been eternal ovations. Nicola Zaccaria on the EMI set is of course an expressive singer, and he has the volume required for the climax, but Siepi is more monumental.

When it comes to Lindoro/Almaviva I am in two minds. EMI has a trump-card in Luigi Alva. That was his earliest recording of the role, I have another four and there should be one more that I haven’t heard. “…he is at his youthful best with creamy tone and eager characterisation – listen to him distorting the voice when disguised as singing teacher in the second act. His runs may not be perfect but he has charm in abundance”, I wrote in my review of the EMI set almost fifteen years ago, when it was issued in the “Great Recordings of the Century” series. Alvino Misciano on the present set is the least-known name in the cast, and to my knowledge he made few recordings, besides this Barbiere. He had, however, a thirty-year-long international career and in the 1960s he met the then unknown Luciano Pavarotti, who reportedly regarded him as his teacher. He sings beautifully in Ecco ridente with a lyrical bel canto voice, very nuanced, and in Se il mio nome he is just as good. The duet with Figaro, All’idea di quell metallo, requires more strength, and there he can’t match Alva.

Rosina’s role was once a show piece for stratospheric coloratura sopranos, but it was originally written for mezzo-soprano and in the 1950s it was common to pay regard to Rossini’s will. Cetra recorded the opera in the early 1950s with Giulietta Simionato, and when Decca recorded it some five years later, Simionato was in their stable. Her voice was not quite ideal for the role. She was an ideal Azucena in Il trovatore and Amneris in Aďda, but coloratura wasn’t her best event. But she impresses greatly in Una voce poco fa and also in the singing lesson in act II. Her counterpart in the EMI recording is Maria Callas, who generally also sings the mezzo pitch. She had sung the role at La Scala under Giulini in 1956 (with Gobbi and Alva) and it was not a success. There is a dim recording from the premiere, and she really overplays grotesquely. But when she went into the studio in Kingsway Hall the following year, Walter Legge was the producer and he guided her past the pitfalls, making this one of her best role assumptions.

Rina Cavallari sings Berta’s aria with distinction, better than Gabriella Carturan on the EMI. Arturo La Porta is a reliable Fiorello, but I was surprised to find that Giuseppe Zampieri was hired for the few phrases the Ufficiale has to sing. Zampieri was a well-renowned lirico-spinto tenor who even sang at the Metropolitan, admittedly only once, but he had good reviews.

Alberto Erede was no spectacular conductor, but a reliable Kapellmeister, which is high prize indeed. He draws excellent playing from his forces, the recorded sound, early stereo, is good, sometimes a bit aggressive, but this can be tamed. I have not seen the booklet, so I don’t know if there is a libretto. The EMI has full texts with English, French and German translations.

Anyone interested in a good studio recording from the 1950s of Il barbiere di Siviglia with star singers should derive a lot of pleasure from this issue. It is fully comparable with the contemporaneous EMI recording. It also stands up well musically against more modern recordings, like Abbado (DG), Marriner (Philips) and Humburg (Naxos).

Göran Forsling

Other cast
Berta, Rina Cavallari (mezzo-soprano); Fiorello, Arturo La Porta (baritone); Un Ufficiale, Giuseppe Zampieri (tenor)

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