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Verdi: Stiffelio
Giuseppe Verdi, Oliviero de Fabritiis, San Carlo Theater Orchestra & Chorus
Verdi: Stiffelio
Genre: Classical


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A Pleasant Surprise
William S. Levison | Valdosta, GA United States | 05/21/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This seems to be the only available recording of a very interesting opera, which the composer later reworked as "Aroldo" (available in a good recording with Montserrat Caballe). Gulin is terrific in the difficult soprano lead (the unfaithful wife of a minister), and Del Monaco is exciting, usually in the wrong sort of way. His singing is unrelentingly loud. The rest of the cast is fine, as is the conducting, and the sound is perfectly serviceable. No libretto, of course. This is a good, inexpensive way to fill a gap in the Verdi canon until Philips decides to reissue its wonderful Gardelli conducted recording with Jose Carerras and Sylvia Sass."
Verdi's "last failure" turns out to have been a pretty good
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 08/19/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

This is a live performance from January 7, 1973 at Teatro San Carlo, Naples.

The sound is about what one might expect from a live performance at an Italian opera house of this vintage. I call it pretty good mono of AM broadcast quality, or maybe a little better.

STIFFELIO, a German Protestant minister, who has been away from home far too long - Mario Del Monaco (tenor)
LINA, Stiffelio's wife, once morally white as snow, but she's drifted - Angeles Gulin (soprano)
STANKAR, Lina's father, a man of dangerously rigid moral views - Giulio Fioravanti (bass-baritone)
RAFFAELE, a local nobleman who is not above poaching on the preacher's wife - Angelo Marchiandi (baritone)
DOROTEA, a member of Stiffelio's congregation - Eva Ruta (mezzo-soprano)
FEDERICO, Lina's handsome, clueless cousin - Luigi Paolillo (tenor)
JORG, a junior minister in Stiffelio's church - Joshua Hecht (tenor)

Oliviero De Fabritiis with the Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro San Carlo, Naples.

While the piano-vocal score of "Stiffelio" has never been lost, full performances of the opera were impossible until the 1960s. It seems that it was Verdi's practice when recasting an opera to remove old pages from his master score and replace them with his changes. Several years after the premiere of "Stiffelio," Verdi rewrote a considerable portion of it to fit a new libretto which moved the action from Germany in the 19th Century to England in the 13th, and changed the too-long wandering pastor into a crusading knight. That version was called "Aroldo," and it's never amounted to very much. In the 1960s, orchestral parts for the original "Stiffelio" turned up in the Naples Conservatory, allowing for the preparation of a performing edition in 1968. This 1973 performance is clearly based on the 1968 performing edition. Since then, more scholarly work has been done, based on Verdi's original sketches for the score, found in the hands of his current family heirs, still living in Verdi's village of Busseto. A critical edition of "Stiffelio" was issued in 1992 and is probably as close to the Maestro's original intentions as we are ever likely to get.

Typical Opera d'Oro barebones package. There is no libretto, but there is a short history of the opera and its problems, a synopsis of the plot and a track list (without timings).

"Stiffelio" has been described as Verdi's final failure--and so it was, but not by reason of its music. "Stiffelio" shows Verdi in transition between his "early" and his "middle" period. The was preceded by "Luisa Miller" and followed by "Rigoletto." No, the problem with "Stiffelio" was never in the music, but in the conflict between the libretto and 19th Century Italian Catholic sensibilities.

The plain fact is that the censors of Trieste simply could not and would not accept a plot in which a priest, even a German protestant minister, was married and, worse, had a wife who'd had an affair with another man, and worse yet, who was willing to divorce his wife in favor of the other man, and worst of all, finally forgives his wife for her adultery. A few years later, Verdi might have thrown up his arms at this nonsense and, as he would do with "Un ballo in maschera," pick up his marbles to play elsewhere. In this case he could not--or at least thought he could not--because his publisher, Ricordi, had committed him to opening in Trieste.

In the end, he accepted the changes forced upon the work, which met with a lukewarm reception at best. Within a few years, Verdi abandoned the original plot, did a half-hearted rewrite in the form of "Aroldo" and then effectively wrote the opera off as a lost cause. By that time, anyway, he had the huge successes of "Rigoletto," "La Traviata," and "Il trovatore" under his belt. The loss was a small one by comparison.

Jealousy and revenge are the emotions at the heart of "Stiffelio." Reviewers, both here in Amazon and elsewhere have remarked on a parallels between this all-but forgotten opera and Verdi's later triumph with "Otello."

I suggest that there is a better and closer comparison. A nobleman has an affair with the wife of a friend. The wife is ambivalent in her feelings. The husband discovers the truth, leading to a violent conclusion. That is the plot of "Stiffelio." That is also the plot of "Un ballo in maschera." The difference between the two is just that the unitary husband of "Ballo" has been sliced into two characters in "Stiffelio": the forgiving, husband, Stiffelio, and his rigid, outraged, familiarly Italianate father-in-law, Stankar. It is Stankar who takes up the familiar operatic task of avenging his honor by killing the seducer who has brought disgrace upon his family name. Basically, "Stiffelio" looks at a rather sordid seduction from the point of view of the (bifurcated) husband, while "Ballo" views it with the eyes of the half-regretful seducer.

Musically, "Stiffelio" is full of middle-period Verdian touches. It has plenty of good tunes but they are clearly restrained by Verdi's overall plan for the work--and very properly so. There is some good remorseful stuff for the conflicted soprano and a nice father-daughter confrontation scene. To my mind, the only thing seriously lacking in "Stiffelio" is the brash, swaggering aria that every middle-period Verdi opera must have. Stiffelio, himself, is simply too damp and soggy a character to swagger. Raffaele, the seducer, is a swaggerer if ever there was one, but Verdi could hardly give what would probably be the most popular tune in the show to the scoundrel of the piece. The audience might end up liking him too much and be dissatisfied when he gets his comeuppance..

The cast of this production is perfectly sound. The star is Mario Del Monaco, who is in good, clarion voice and who really does everything that anyone might reasonably expect from him in the role of the forgiving Stiffelio. I have a small problem with Del Monaco here, not from anything he does in the opera, but from the baggage he brings with him. When I hear Del Monaco, I expect ringing challenges, defiances, declarations and charges into idiotically stupid battles. I absolutely do not expect reasoned statements of forgiveness. But that is my problem, not his. He is fine, by any objective standards. Gulin is also very good. She was a solid, reliable also-ran back in those days. Today, in the midst of our current Verdi-drought, she would be a great star. The rest of the cast members are fine, and I'd be happy to welcome them into any of the productions presented by my local opera company.

I can't claim any familiarity with this opera, but the conducting appears to be appropriate and reasonable. The orchestra is all right, but the chorus is a bit thin and choppy sounding.

Four strong stars for a good, solid performance based on a slightly obsolete text.