Riccardo Wagernini or Jozef von Greun
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Here is an interesting synthesis of Verdi and Wagner- think of Don Carlo and some Aida mixed with Tannhauser and Fliegende Hollander. We start in the Spanish court, and after much parlando discussion amongst some men (Wagner) we get a tutti theme for chorus in unison with the brass that reeks of Verdi. However, the opera betrays its Germanic influence by making Columus a more spiritual, iconoclastic character, rather than having him do something Italian like sing an aria about how he is secretly in love with Queen Isabella. The really unusual part of this opera is Act Two, depicting Columbus on the ocean- the crew is about to mutiny when they sight land and all is saved with a chorus of (as you might expect)"Terra! terra! terra!" But the orchestral texture is thick and contrapuntal- and yet pleasingly lyrical. There is a forward-looking prelude with massive blocks of chords followed by a solo tenor singing alone on the ship's deck (how Wagnerian is that?). The act ends with an impressive finale that just misses being as memorable as Verdi could have made it. Act 3 deals with the New World, starting with the Queen of the indigenous people and her stand against the Spaniards who demand "L'oro! L'oro!" Then the inevitable bow to convention comes in the form of the tenor sidekick who falls in love at first sight with the Queen's predictably beautiful daughter. There follows a duet that sounds an awful lot like Venus convincing Tannhauser to stay with her; it reminds you of how many absurd operatic plot twists are covered by an aria. Still, the opera's focus is Columbus: why he feels compelled to voyage into the unknown and his agonizing self-doubt. The tenor/soprano entanglement is a sideline in much the same way in a Verdi opera named for a bass or baritone, as in Macbeth or Simon Boccanegra. An epilogue deals with Columbus in prison back in Spain- he dies quietly like a Tannhauserish Nabucco.This is an esorteric piece that is intersting to hear, but you really should own Don Carlo before you buy. Still- if you are interested, this is a performance that could hardly be bettered (do I have to pay roylaties to the Penguin Guide for that phrase?). The recording quality is top notch, hardly sounding like a live performance-- fine balance with voices prominent, and the large, loud brassy moments (and there are a few- especially with low Wagnerian brass) expand fully with no boxiness. Rich, full sound that is very grateful to the orchestra and singers. The orchestra plays beautifully- encompassing the Germanic textures as well as the Italianate tinkling triangle and recitative passages. Viotti could have wrung more dramatic thrust, but perhaps the libretto is to blame since it is lacking in just that. The singing is fine, with Bruson less than his best and somewhat uneven- singing beautifully and suddenly crashing into a note with an unfocused, vibratoless, flat tone. He has some trouble with the low notes, but not with the high ones even though his sound is a little fuzzy around the edges. Ragatzu as the Queen Isabella as well as the "Indian Princess" has some technique issues- her tone is uncentered and the top comes off above the staff, but she's no worse than most sopranos. Better is Pasino who sings the regrettably brief role of the Native American Queen- once again a hybrid of Venus and Amneris. She doesn't get an old-fashioned aria, but she does get to show of the extremes of her range- the top sounds like Caballe did when she sang a high note loud instead of floating it. The middle and bottom remind me of Cossotto- shiny and well-focused; totally in tune and with a controlled vibrato that doesn't make you wonder what note she is singing. Very nice, but I always find it problematic when a major character suddenly shows up in Act III. Scandiuzzi rates special mention- better than I remember hearing him before-- the tone is rich and firm, with the vibrato finely controlled and not obtrusive in the least. He makes the most of the villain- with tonal beauty and expressiveness making up for the libretto's lack of depth. Sorry to offend Mr. Bruson, but I would like to hear Scandiuzzi sing the title role. Also- props to the Hungarian Radio Chorus who do a very fine job. Yes, I know that the eastern European choruses can tend to sing straight-tone and the high sopranos can become strident, but in this case, the ensemble is excellent, the tone is alive with little problem of "white" stridency. At least you can tell what chord they are singing as opposed to some other choruses filled with braying basses, Kermit tenors and screeching wobbly sopranos. One note, though- the choruses onboard the ships in Act II are mixed. One doubts that that many women took exploratory voyages into the unknown in the 15th century.This is an interesting off-the-beaten-track kind of piece, and there are so many important works that you should own before purchasing this. However, who is ever going to record this again? If you even think you might want it, better buy it now."
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with almost all of the comments by other reviewers of this work. There is one problem: no libretto! My Italian is not good enough to follow the words, and I am left feeling frustrated -- and eager to go out and learn better Italian! You'd think the producers of this set of CDs (or Amazon.com) would note the lack of a libretto somewhere in their advertisement."