Gorgeous, Underrated But Perhaps Not The Best Vespri Recordi
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Cheryl Studer [Elena] ** Chris Merritt [Arrigo] ** Giorgio Zancanaro [Monforte] ** Ferruccio Furlanetto [Procida] ** Gloria Banditelli [Ninetta] ** Ernesto Gavazzi [Danieli] ** Enzo Capuano [Bethune] ** Francesco Musinu [Vaudemont] ** Paolo Barbacini [Tebaldo] ** Marco Chingari [Roberto] ** Ferrero Poggi [Manfredo] ** Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala ** Riccardo Muti (conductor)
This live 80's performance of Verdi's least popular opera is a great modern version with plenty of good things and bad things, though mostly good things. Ricardo Muti conducts the score with fresh, powerful musicianship and lyric richness, subtlety and detail. He understood Italian opera quite well and it's too bad he is not regarded in the same ranks as Carlo Maria Giulini, Giuseppe Sinopoli or Claudo Abbado, the leading Italian opera conductors. Muti cast a rather odd bunch of singers. Cheryl Studer is primarily a German lyric soprano who nevertheless sang numerous dramatic roles, including Wagner. For the role of Elena, she changes her voice so that it comes off as Italian lyrico-spinto. She hits high notes easily and beautifully and reaches downward for great lower notes as well. It is a human, dramatic account and arguably the best. Tenor Chris Merrit is not wholly suited for the tenor role of Arrigo because at times he falters vocal-wise. The tessitura of the role taxes him considerably but he does cope with the music quite well. For me, there is not enough Italian or even Verdian fire in his performance. He has a beautiful lyric voice, full of elegance and bravado but he lacks the je ne sai quais that say Placido Domingo or Nicolai Gedda would have given to the role. Because Domingo and Gedda have sung the role quite well, Merrit is really a lesser light next to them. But he is still doing a good job nonetheless. I'm just being picky I guess. Giorgio Zancanaro's lovely baritone voice is tailor-made for the role of Monforte and he gets into the character's nasty mind set quite well. Zancanaro is delivering a splendid performance as always and it is unfortunate he was underrated singer. Because this is a live La Scala performance, there is an enthusiastic audience and a vitality to the performance you cannot find in a glossy studio recording. And even as such, a lot of operaphiles, including myself, prefer the RCA studio recording made in the late 70's starring Placido Domingo, Martina Arroyo, Sherill Milnes, Ruggero Raimondi and James Morris. But this recording is another fine set and has its own merit.