Rare Opera by an Undervalued Master
Leo J. Wolansky | 11/22/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is a rare recording of Riccardo Zandonai's final opera, a work left unfinished at his death in 1944. This opera therefore falls into the esoteric company of Leoncavallo's "Edipo Re", Respighi's "Lucrezia", and Debussy's "Rodrigue et Chimene" as being unfinished operas by well-known composers from the post-Wagnerian period. That no one has bothered to finish the work is an ironic twist given that Zandonai was supposedly given serious consideration to be the man to finish "Turandot", left uncompleted by Puccini, before Franco Alfano was chosen.
The music itself is delightful. Zandonai is one composer who never changed his "late-verismo" style, despite the critics who were pushing for modernism in opera. For this reason, the music will remind the listener of the melodic and harmonic beauty heard in his masterpiece "Francesca da Rimini", "I cavalieri di Ekebu", "Giulieta e Romeo", and "Conchita" (his 1911 breakthrough opera with a plot similar to Bizet's "Carmen", infused with Spanish folk elements).
The singers on this recording are all excellent (Milan would have tolerated nothing less, particularly in 1954). The orchestra under the baton of maestro Francesco Molinari-Pradelli is wonderful. The balance between orchestra and singers is appropriate.
Visually, the CD has a nice cover, a picture of Maestro Molinari-Pradelli, listings of the cast, as well as the length and opening text of each track. There is no libretto, which is not surprising. What is surprising is that there is no essay about the work, or at least the composer.
The big shortcoming is the quality of the sound which is fair to poor. In fact, because this was recorded off of a radio broadcast, there is significant intermittent interference from another competing radio station! (Not surprisingly, no credits are listed for this competing broadcast).
In short, if one is interested in the beautiful music of this relatively undiscovered composer, the first opera to purchase is "Francesca da Rimini". This can be followed by "Giulieta e Romeo", which is considered by some as a work rivaling "Francesca" in importance (although the GOP recording has fair to poor sound quality). This can be followed by "I Cavalieri di Ekebu" and "Conchita". For these latter two and "Francesca" good recordings are available on "Gala". The last opera to purchase is Il Bacio.