Edward Quade Winter | New York | 01/30/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The problem with modern revivals of Meyerbeer's operas is in cutting them down. Nowadays, we will tolerate most of Wagner's five hour sing-a-thons (one or two of Strauss's) but virtually nobody else's. Another catch is that, of Meyerbeer's four French grand operas, this one has the most "patched together" feel in its original form. Meyerbeer was trying to make a daring leap forward in the form and he would try his scenes again and again in rehearsals, adding, cutting, rescoring, recomposing, till he got what he wanted. The result was the legendary, almost hysterical triumph of 1831. But nowadays the joints creak a little, with some dismaying starts and stops, some wrenching shifts of tempo and mood. This revival has been abridged not just to make it shorter, but to make it run more organically. Rambaldo's Act V plea to his son, which in the original sounds like someone sloppily cut down the original, now sounds like a smooth and uncut unit. The final effect is to emphasize Meyerbeer's genuine melodic talent and his incomparable dramatic power. The cast is mostly good, with Renata Scotto and Boris Cristoff both in their considerable prime. The orchestra is fair, the chorus needs a good talking to. The "live" sound is pretty good if once you get past the noisy page turns from the pit. The "wrong language" thing we can live with. This is a superb introduction to an opera that even Wagner and Mahler admired. It is still the best recording of it available."