Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Rare opera recording, uninteresting music, problematic perfo
caspi | Israel | 10/29/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The problem with "La Vestale" of Spontini that if you really want to buy its recording, your choice is very limited and none of the options comes close to be good,not to say perfect.
Several existing recordings featuring old and reliable masters (e.g. Callas/Corelli, Gencer) are hardly audible and heavily cut, making mission of getting acquainted with the opera hard for completion.
Modern recordings which are supposed to offer good enough sound are actually limited to this one with Riccardo Muti and a bunch of virtually unknown singers and the one issued on Orfeo label with Munich orchestra lead by Gustav Kuhn and main parts sung by Rosalind Plowright and Francisco Araiza.
Despite my deep confidence in Muti and La Scala, my first choice fell on the latter recording simply because it's the only one which comes with the full libretto (which is crucial in case of such rare score) and also its cast names sound more promising. The frustration came fast. The music did not conquer me at all, not a single moment of special interest. Stylistically it might be defined as resembling Gluck and Cherubini, but surely inferior to them. If this is the best creature of Spontini perhaps we can easily remain without hard feelings about his obscurity. The orchestra playing is dull and lacking any kind of drive and expression. The singers performance is rather mediocre, which sadly includes "the stars" Araiza and Plowright. Araiza sounds uninvolved and detached from the action, though in good vocal form. Plowright shows hard vocal efforts on top leading to stretched unpleasant sound from time to time, despite generally being acceptable, especially in lyric parts of the score. The vocal level of the supporting cast (except for the bass performing "The Pontife" role, who is good) is generally below the average expectation.
After becoming familiar with the opera with the help of the mentioned above performance, which left a lot of space for impression improvement, I've decided to give Spontini another chance by purchasing the newly reissued recording with Muti, finally available and for reasonable price, but without libretto.
While Spontini's music did not become any better (;-)), this recording presents more of it, unfolding the ballet music not included in Kuhn's performance, thus seemingly being a candidate for the rank of "the most full version", and of course it's by far better performed - well, this is La Scala and this is Muti. The only complaint in this area might come about Muti's famous "a la rocket flight" tempos occasionally producing kind of awkward effect in this score. While the choruses parts are very good most of the time, the soloists singing remains problematic here as well in its own way. I would define Karen Huffstodt singing La Vestale to be the main distraction - her voice does not seem to suit well the role at all, her sound being extremely yelling and vibrant, too annoying and ear-cutting, which is awful. Perhaps she would sound better in some German repertoire, but frankly speaking I have no desire to hear anything else sung by her, luckily for us she was not recorded too much. Denyce Graves singing La Grand Vestale and being the only more or less known singer in this performance is not bad, but of course this is not the same level of the leading mezzos of the pre-modern generation.... Michaels-Moore singing Licinus (strangely baritone was chosen for the tenor part) is vocally competent and perhaps he's actually the best among the whole cast. The rest soloists men are pretty mediocre both vocally and dramatically.
I still cannot decide which of the 2 recordings I now own is better, both are hardly satisfying. One has an advantage of libretto and more or less acceptable singing in the main roles, the other provides more full version and more drive and expression in orchestra playing, but with singing floating between mediocre and bad. The most sad thing (for me) is perhaps the uninteresting music, which does not cover the performance flaws.
I would recommend it only for those who cannot imagine their future life without hearing the complete version of Spontini's "La Vestale" uncut and in good sound."