This magnificent new Pappano release is a worthy successor to his 1997 recording
of Puccini's La Rondine that won Gramophone's 'Record of the Year' accolade.
Again, Alagna and Gheorghiu are starred but this time in an ensemble cast.
The duo star only in Gianni Schicchi, as the young lovers, Rinuccio and Lauretta.
In Il Tabaro they have a minor, background role as two lovers strolling along
the banks of the Seine. Rather than weakening the production by having Gheorghiu
singing the lead roles in all three operas, the notion of having three separate
sopranos provides a welcome diversity of tone and that strengthens the whole.
I treasure those recordings of the three single-act operas made by EMI in
the 1950s, that were gathered together in the box set released by EMI in
1992 (CMS 7 64165 2). Tito Gobbi was unforgettable as the tragic, tormented
Michele in Il Tabarro and wryly comic as Gianni Schicchi; and Victoria De
Los Angeles had a luminous beauty as Suor Angelica. This new complete recording
of Il Tittico, however, must now be regarded as the benchmark recording.
Pappano again shows his mastery of the Puccini idiom. He breathes life and
credibility into these three diverse stories, realising all Puccini's little,
yet revealing subtleties and nuances and delivering beautifully structured
performances that are ideally paced so that the emotional climaxes have
tremendous power. He is aided by first class engineered sound with wide
perspectives and dynamics. The opening of Il Tabarro, for instance, is a
vivid evocation of evening on the banks of the Seine with the busy street-life
of Paris, around Michele's barge, slowly winding down; just as the serenity
of the convent gardens with its birdsong and fountains is magically captured
at the beginning of Suor Angelica.
In Il Tabarro, Carlo Guelfi, as Michele, may not dispel memories of Gobi
but he characterises very well the essential warmth of the cuckolded barge-master
as well as his jealousy and cruelty. He makes his duet with his wife Giorgetta
(Maria Guleghina) superbly poignant as he tries to make her remember their
dead baby and the days when they were happy together. Guleghina and Shicoff
(as Luigi, Giorgetta's doomed lover) are also well cast and convincing as
they sing their duet wishing they could be free of Michele and his barge
to enjoy life together in Paris.
The young Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domâs is a radiant Sister
Angelica and she sounds rather younger than many sopranos who have approached
this role. This is no bad thing because one can imagine a very young girl
being led astray and having to pay the price of having an illegitimate baby
by being banished to a nunnery. But Gallardo-Domâs shows not only Sister
Angelica's kindness, warmth and compliance and piety, but also her defiance
in the scene where she is rebuked by her icily implacable aunt, the princess
(frostily sung by an appropriately imperious Bernadette Manca di Nissa).
The climactic miracle scene, when after taking poison in a fit of madness,
and appealing to the Virgin Mary, Sister Angelica is granted absolution and
is reunited with her dead infant as she dies, is breathtakingly beautiful.
I cannot remember having been as moved by this scene before - a tribute to
Pappano's skill in treading the fine line between the beatific and the mawkish.
As Gianni Schicchi, José van Dam once again proves what a great
singer/actor he is - all the wry cunning and sardonic wit implicit in this
role is realised. Gheorghiu is beguiling, subtle and delicate in her big
aria 'O mio babbino caro'. Alagna impresses with his enthusiastic paean to
Florence in his aria 'Firenza è come un albero fiorito' (Florence
is like a tree in flower). And together they sing radiantly of their love
triumphing at the close of the opera. The supporting cast all shine as the
greedy grasping relatives of the deceased Buoso Donati - all keen to get
their hands on his wealth.
Recommended most strongly