The 1954 Revival of Spontini's masterpiece....
B. Cathey | Wendell, NC United States | 07/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This performance was out previously (and briefly) on Melodram. It memorializes a truly "great" festival presentation of what is arguably Gasparo Spontini's greatest opera. AGNESE DI HOHENSTAUFEN has had few performances in the last one hundred years, and probably none in its complete, original 5 hour version. Sadly, it has been neglected by the bigger record companies, who prefer to give us another LA BOHEME or TOSCA with sub-par singers.The 1954 Italian version given at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and presented here by Myto (originally the opera was premiered in German), was a considerably cut edition, and textually appears to differ even some from the 1970 Italian revival (with Monterrat Caballe). I can imagine that a production of the complete 5 hour version would bankrupt almost any opera company!But what a performance! Here are Franco Corelli, Giangiacomo Guelfi, Lucille Udovich, Anselmo Colzani, and Francesco Albanese in stellar voice, with the very fine Maesto Vittorio Gui at the helm. Gui keeps things moving quite nicely, never letting this difficult and complex score become unravelled. He really has extended care to the preparation of this production. His cast sings as an ensemble, which is critical for this grand opera of choruses, duets, and ensembles. Corelli is in very good voice, his trademark ringing tones and brilliant upper register on full display. Mme. Udovich rivals Caballe in her two big scenes, "Quando la brezza il volto" (Act I) and "O Re di Cieli" (Act II). She is superb, as are the other cast members.A word about the sound. The old Lps I had were in somewhat opaque sound, although totally listenable. The Myto issue is, to my ears at least, much clearer, better defined, although by no means state of the art, even for 1954. There is some slight congestion in the tutti passages and choral scenes, but I became attuned to that, and was able to listen beyond these imperfections. In particular, Act II sounds better than Act I. And, as for the vocalists, well, they come across generally with decent clarity and presence. In any case, listening to this epochal performance, one soon puts aside the sonic imperfections---and simply absorbs the beauty and wonder of this phenomenal opera.Highly recommended."