Excellent, authentic and idiomatic "Favorita" from the fifti
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 04/25/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
Source: Live RAI broadcast from November 23, 1955. The RAI masters were subsequently issued on CETRA Lps in 1956. The digital remastering for this set of CDs appears to have been done in 2002.
Sound: CETRA Lps were notoriously harsh in sound. In general, the digital remastering of the whole operatic series re-issued by Warner Fonit quite unexpectedly proved to be highly successful. This recording now appears in respectable 1950s mono. Solo voices, as was the fashion of the time, are very closely recorded and given emphasis over the orchestra. Overall sound reproduction is, naturally, somewhat compressed by the standards of the DDD era but full of detail and capable of pleasing the well-disposed ear.
Cast: Leonora di Gusman - Fedora Barbieri; Fernando - Gianni Raimondi; Alfonso XI - Carlo Tagliabue; Baldassare - Giulio Neri; Don Gasparo - Mariano Caruso; Ines - Loretta Di Lelio. Conductor: Angelo Questa with the Orchestra Sinfonico e Coro di Torino della RAI.
Format: Disk 1 - Overture, track 1; Act I, tracks 2-9; Act II, tracks 10-15; 61:48. Disk 2 - Act III, tracks 1-9; Act IV, tracks 10-19; 74:55.
Text: Donizetti arrived in Paris in 1838. He experienced great success with five operas, including "Lucie di Lammermoor" and "La fille du Regiment" (much to the annoyance of Berlioz and Wagner, who had distinctly not earned the love of the French opera going public.) Two new operas composed by Donizetti, "Le Duc d'Albe" and "L'Ange di Nisida," had for various reasons not been produced and had been set aside. In the summer of 1840, Donizetti was given a commission for a new opera. As he and his librettist, the ubiquitous Eugene Scribe, were of the waste not, want not persuasion, "L'Ange di Nisida" was relocated in time and place, expanded and recycled into "La Favorite." Loath to let a good tune go, they lifted the tenor concert favorite, "Spirto gentil" out of "Le Duc d'Albe" and put it in their new opera. (Thrifty old Scribe would later recycle the whole of "Le Duc d'Albe" and turn it over to Verdi for what is now best known as "I vespri Siciliana.") In December 1840, "La Favorite" was a smash hit in Paris, which meant that Italian impresarios rushed to put it on the boards in Italy, in Italian, of course, as on this recording with a text translated by Francesco Jannetti.
Documentation: Libretto in Italian. Contemporary sketches of Donizetti and Scribe. 1950s photographs of Barbieri, Raimondi, Tagliabue, Neri and Questa. Short history of the opera. Short summary of the plot. Track listing that identifies parts being sung and provides timings.
This is a very fine and idiomatic production with a remarkably strong cast, all of whom are in good form. Raimondi was at the short-lived peak of his vocal career and this might well be the finest complete opera performance he ever recorded. Barbieri is terrific as the King's former favorite. The older Tagliabue and Neri are both excellent.
As an effectively live performance, this "Favorita" occasionally veers toward the rough and ready, but it also generously offers a verve and dynamism virtually impossible to find in a stitched together studio recording.
I assume that the Pavarotti recording, with its more up to date sound, will continue to attract most buyers. Consider acquiring this inexpensive set as a back-up, though, if for no better reason than to hear how the opera ought to be performed.