An interesting rarity
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 12/24/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I really don't know what the previous Amazon.com reviewer, Mr Villanueva, is complaining about regarding the sound of this 1974 live performance. It is no better or worse than most Gala recordings from this era and I find the words perfectly intelligible. I have not heard the equivalent Opera d'Oro issue, but I do not expect that it will be any better - rather the reverse, in fact, if previous experience is anything to go by.
If, like me, you really rate "Andrea Chenier" and "Fedora" as operatic entertainment (Corelli's Andrea is among my very favourite recorded performances), then you might be drawn to sample this, Giordano's own favourite amongst the fifteen operas he composed. It has all the hallmarks of his verismo style: passionate arias and duets, varied orchestral colours, soaring melodies, sudden reversals of mood and a sweeping spatial sense ("Fedora" ranges all over the place - see my review) and it is growing on me the more I listen to it. In addition, we have a unique exotic element: this is the only Italian opera to incorporate an echt Russian atmosphere, quoting the Imperial anthem, the "Song of the Volga Boatman" and a sense of the wild desolation of the steppes and wastes in Vassili's fine aria "Orride steppe". The opening of the opera presents us with a fine, plangent chorus which sounds wholly authentically Russian, sung in harmony con gusto - so the sudden switch to verismo style right after it ends is rather wrenching - but different! I would not have believed that a Milanese chorus could sound so Slavic.
The cast, while not first rank international stars, are more than adequate. Most collectors will know baritone Walter Monachesi from his role as Paolo in the famous Gobbi "Simon Boccanegra" (both the studio and live versions) and here is sturdy, if a just a little stretched and wobbly at times - but wholly convincing. I have never heard of Luisa Maragliano but she is a sound spinto, if, as with Monachesi, occasionally a bit rocky. I certainly do not agree with Mr Villanueva that she is a screamer - in fact, the great Olivero, with whom he unfavourably compares Maragliano, was not immune to that tendency herself, much as I love her voice. The tenor, Amedeo (or "Amadeo",as he is sometimes known) Zambon is a real Italian tenor who enjoyed a not inconsiderable career and might be known to collectors from the fine 1969 Gala "La Straniera" with Caballe (again; see my review). He's a bit of a belter, but I don't mind that in this musical genre. The playing, conducting and (as I said earlier) chorus are very good, as one would expect from Milan RAI forces.
So it's not hard to undestand why the composer favoured this piece. I certainly would not choose it over "Andrea Chenier" but it certainly does not deserve total neglect. It was first performed in 1903, then in the US by the Manhattan Opera in 1908 but its composition seemed to signal Giordano's gradual decline in popularity and it is rarely revived today. There is another full price 2004 recording which Mr Villanueva rates as five stars (but why does he always shout at us in his reviews in capital letters, I wonder?), which I have not yet heard but would like to. It must be better recorded and has a libretto, though I wonder if it can be better sung; meanwhile for the mildly curious and impecunious, this Gala set will do nicely.
(As usual, Gala generously provides bonuses in the form of excerpts in rough sound, both featuring Zambon, from a 1972 "La Wally" with Olivero and a 1966 "Adriana Lecouvreur" with Gencer - the two great candidates for the "Queen of Pirates" title.)"
THE WORST SOUND EVER.
Alfredo R. Villanueva | New York, NY United States | 03/06/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"THE MUSIC IS BEAUTIFUL AND THE SINGERS DO THEIR JOB. ZAMBON IS ACTUALLY VERY GOOD. LUISA MARAGLIANO MADE ME RUN FOR MY OLVERO RECORDINGS TO WASH HER SCREAMING OFF MY EARS. ONE MUST ALSO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THIS IS THE ONLY AVAILABLE RECORDING OF THIS OPERA, A LIVE TAKE FROM 1974. ALAS, IT HAS THE (IN)FAMOUS GALA SOUND, THAT IS, IT SOUNDS AF IF RECORDED THROUGH A BOX, REALLY INTOLERABLE. ADD TO THAT THE LACK OF NOTES OR LIBRETTO, WHICH I WOULD NOT MIND IF AT LEAST I COULD UNDERSTAND WHAT IS BEING SUNG (I KNOW ITALIAN). SO, AT YOUR OWN RISK."