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Donizetti: Poliuto
Gaetano Donizetti, Antonino Votto, La Scala Theater Orchestra
Donizetti: Poliuto
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #2


      
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CD Reviews

Corelli's Greatest Performance
Shaun Greenleaf | 07/24/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This famous, exciting performance marked Callas's return to La Scala after the feud with Ghiringhelli. The diva is in respectable "late period" voice, no trial for the Faithful; and the doomed Bastianini is vocally glorious if dramatically rather sketchy. The real triumph is Franco Corelli's molten magma martyr. Viscerally exciting throughout, Corelli reaches the heights of legend in the grand Act 2 scene in which Poliuto, the Christian zealot bound for the loosing end of a bout with lions in the Colliseum, overturns the idol. No tenor since has commanded this kind of passion with vocal glamor of this quality. His duet with Callas in the last act is spectacular, as well. This is one of the great performances, with good (not superb) sound, and certainly the most persuasive account of this neglected but extremely influential work ever to appear in the catalogue. A must for vocal entusiasts and Donizetti lovers."
Historical document of two great singers
klavierspiel | TX, USA | 04/05/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Despite the bel canto revival of the latter part of the twentieth century, a large part of Gaetano Donizetti's prolific operatic output remains obscure. Poliuto is a score that deserves wider renown--as the liner notes to this Opera D'Oro reissue point out, the fluidity of form and importance of the chorus vividly anticipate the later innovations of Verdi. Donizetti's score lacks the dramatic impetus of the later composer, probably due to a lackluster story and libretto, but for the listener there is much beautiful music to be savored here.The 1960 La Scala revival of which this recording is a live document attracted notice for the presence of Maria Callas, returning to the hallowed stage after an extended absence caused by disagreements with the Scala management, and Franco Corelli, then at his vocal zenith. Though Callas receives the loudest, most prolonged ovations from the Scala audience, the opera is really Corelli's show. He makes the most of his opportunities in the title role, singing with the bronzed tone for which he was famed and letting loose some spectacular high notes. By 1960 Callas was past her vocal prime, and probably chose the role of Paolina for her Scala return because it made fewer demands than others in her repertory. Her important contributions are limited to one extended scena and two duets. Vocally she sounds secure but cautious--no doubt this was a nerve-wracking occasion for her, but she comes through honorably. Ettore Bastianini is in his usual splendid if dramatically neutral voice as Severo, Poliuto's rival for Paolina's heart, and the other roles are well cast.Musicologically the edition used for this production does not pass muster--it is heavily cut and conflated from two divergent versions of the score. Some Opera d'Oro issues have in the past been miserable in audio quality but the sound on these CDs is quite listenable. Fans of Corelli and Callas, therefore, have a bargain worth grabbing with this low-price reissue documenting an exciting evening in the opera house."
Callas, Corelli and Bastianini ablaze in a deservedly obscur
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 02/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Source: Live performance at La Scala in Milan on December 7, 1960.

Sound: Live 1960s mono, neither the best nor the worst of the breed. The voices are favored and well-caught, for the most part. Orchestra and chorus pick-up is adequate, but no more. The audience is enthusiastic. Anyone who purchases this recording should do so for the spectacular performance, not the sound reproduction.

Cast: Poliuto, Magistrate of Mytilene - Franco Corelli; Paolina, his wife - Maria Callas; Severo, Roman proconsul - Ettore Bastianini; Nearco, leader of the Christians in the City of Mytilene - Piero di Palma; Callistene, Priest of Jupiter - Nicola Zaccaria; Felice, Governor of Mytilene and Paolina's father - Rinaldo Pelizzoni; First Christian - Virgilio Carbonari; Second Christian - Giuseppe Moressi. Conductor: Antonino Votto with the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan.

Text: This appears to be a practical performing text cobbled together well in advance of what is currently regarded as the standard critical text. In accordance with the practice of the times, there are cuts, but I doubt that very much of real significance or beauty has been omitted.

Format: Disk 1: Overture, track 1; Act I, tracks 2-11; 49:07. Disk 2: Act II, tracks 1-6; Act III, tracks 7-10; 62:20.

Documentation: No libretto, otherwise Opera d'Oro Dismal.

Donizetti and his semi-respectable hack librettist Salvatore Cammarano adapted a play by Pierre Corneille called "Polyeucte." In "Poliuto" as in "Polyeucte," an Armenian nobleman has become a secret Christian during the reign of the persecuting emperor Decius. His level-headed wife tries to wean him away from his dangerous religious beliefs. A new proconsul comes to town. He is armed with a warrant from the emperor for the death of all Christians. As luck would have it--this is an opera after all--the proconsul, Severo, happens to be an old lover of Paolina, whom she had thought dead (of course) when she married Poliuto on the rebound. Passions slosh all over the stage: Severo wants Paolina back. Paolina is tempted but virtuously stands by her man. Severo becomes annoyed. Poliuto is overcome by jealousy. (He has no choice--he's a tenor!) Meanwhile, politics and religion keep moving on. High Priest Callistene (who has his own designs on Paolina) demands that Nearco rat out his latest convert. The old bishop refuses to speak but Poliuto outs himself. Paolina rushes to Severo in an attempt to save her husband. Poliuto sees them together. In a fit of jealous rage (or possibly in a rit of fealous jage, as Inspector Clouseau once famously put it), he overturns the altar of Jupiter and calls on the True God to punish Paolina. Even as he and Nearco are hustled off toward suitably dank accommodation, he spews curses over his wife and the proconsul. Later, the battered Poliuto wakes up in a cell to find Paolina at his side. She convinces Poliuto of her faithfulness and explains that Callistene, who has his own plans for her, has made a sucker of him from start to finish. Severo turns up. In a most un-proconsular manner, he is willing to let bygones be bygones if Poliuto will only come to his senses about this religion thing. He is shocked to find that not only does Poliuto insist on his martyrdom but that Paolina willingly joins him. Hand in hand, the smiling lovers joyfully march off to the arena.

[Readers of my decrepit age will find all this strangely familiar. It is the plot of "The Robe," the first super-duper Hollywood mega-spectacular in the gigantic, wide-screen CinemaScope process, which was designed to lure audiences away from their 14-inch black-and-white TVs and back into the movie theaters. In the film, Jean Simmons was the Christian convert and Richard Burton was the level-headed Roman who tried to make her see sense. At the end, hand in hand, the smiling lovers joyfully marched across the wide, wide screen to the arena.]

"Poliuto" is a hard-luck opera. It was written in 1838 for the San Carlo Opera House in Naples. Rossini was far away in Paris, mysteriously not cranking out the operas that everyone expected of him after "William Tell." Poor Bellini was in his much too early grave and Verdi wasn't yet above anybody's horizon. Donizetti was at the top of the Italian operatic heap when he was told that the King of Naples, a man of delicate religious sensibilities, had flatly and permanently forbidden the production of the piece anywhere in his territories. Donizetti left Naples in a huff. Two years later, Donizetti got an offer to put the opera on stage in Paris. There he went. The ubiquitous Scribe translated the libretto, converting three acts into four and making space for the absolutely required ballet. Donizetti industriously re-composed and reshaped the opera for the sophisticated tastes of the French. And there, as "Les Martyrs," it met with resounding indifference. "Poliuto" was not performed in Italy until 1848, some months after the composer's death. After that, "Poliuto" bumped along for more than a century, an antiquarian reference, one of Donizetti's other operas, that is, not "Lucia," not "L'Elisir," not even "La Fille."

In 1958, La Scala and La Divina came to an acrimonious and widely-reported parting of the ways. The iron gate was slammed shut, then publicly and permanently locked, chained and bolted. In 1960 all was forgiven. Callas made the most spectacular re-entry that Milan has ever seen. The vehicle for this wondrous event was "Poliuto." It had never been a success anywhere at any time, but who cared? Callas was back!

This recording documents one of the performances of The Great Return. Now there are some--even here in the Amazon reviews--who say that "Poliuto" is the tenor's opera, for he has the longer part and the more spectacular music. While there is some truth in that, the fact remains that "Poliuto" is never revived unless there is a pretty spectacular soprano who wants to do it--a Callas, a Gencer, a Ricciarelli. That "Poliuto" is not now to be found on the boards of any major opera house in the world may--for those willing to do so--be taken as a sad commentary on the state of the divas in these piping times.

For this recording, Votto, as usual, was perfectly competent and perfectly uninspired. The orchestra and chorus were all right, though hardly flattered by the recording. Franco Corelli was spectacular: everything that an Italian tenor with no brains at all and a glorious voice ought to be. Ettore Bastianini, at age 38, was at the glorious peak of his career, his magnificent sound untouched by the throat cancer that in just two years would begin first to steal his voice and then his life. And Callas? She was not what she had been. But listen to her: La Divina. On that day she might well have said, "Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' / We are not now the strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven / That which we are, we are."

Five stars? You better believe it!"