One of Zandonai's Best
Leo J. Wolansky | 02/21/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After his masterpiece "Francesca da Rimini", "I Cavalieri di Ekebu" may be Zandonai's finest opera, at least the finest among those which are commercially recorded. A third excellent work is "Giulietta e Romeo" of which no good sound quality recording seems to be available. The music is typical for Zandonai, a "late verismo" composer (1883-1944), whom the legendary publisher, Ricordi, hoped to make Puccini's successor. Although Mascagni was Zandonai's teacher, the score is more laden with chromaticism than "high verismo", evident from in the opening number where the orchestral "Phrygian" mode clashes with the minor scale of the tenor, although the polytonality is very effective. Characteristic for the composer is abundant lyricism in both the orchestral and vocal parts, interspersed with humorous little vivace orchestral passages.
The libretto is based on a Scandinavian novel by Selma Lagerlof, "The Legend of Gosta Berling", and, according to the liner notes by Andrew Palmer, it is in that region of the world that the opera is most popular (least neglected). The story was also the subject of a movie starring Greta Garbo. A wealthy woman "Franci" or "La Comandante" takes in a group of vagabonds (I Cavalieri) and turns them into productive citizens as iron-workers. In the end, there is a tragedy but not without a touch of optimism.
The cast is excellent. By far the most important character is the mezzo-soprano lead, "La Comandante" who is sung superbly by Fedora Barbieri. Mirto Picchi is also very good. We could use more tenors like this today. Rina Malatrasi as Anna and Antonio Zaccaria as Sintram are also fine.
The only shortcoming of this excellent opera, which would otherwise deserve five stars, is the sound quality, which is only fair. Unfortunately, there is no libretto, although the liner notes are interesting. Some bonus tracks are added to this relatively short opera, which feature Fedora Barbieri in miscellaneous standard arias. The price is a steal.
In conclusion, this is an excellent piece, a revival of which would be a refreshing addition to the standard repertoire throughout the world's opera houses. Until someone rediscovers this work and creates a high-quality recording of it, this recording is "a must"."