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CD Review: Rare and Obscure Operas by Bloch, Donizetti, Mascagni, Massenet and Rossini

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 25 August 2000 - The Festival de Radio France & Montpellier has concluded an arrangement with the French publisher Actes Sud, whereby it has opened its archives so that some of the exceptional events may now be available to a wider public. We are exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to become (re)acquainted with a major work by Ernest Bloch, Macbeth. Readers of Opera Diary may refer back to my entry for 26 July 1997 in which I was more than enthusiastic. Rehearing does nothing to diminish my appreciation for this masterpiece that makes us forget Verdi in that Bloch has chosen solutions vastly different from his distinguished elder. Because this is a live recording, one is willing to excuse certain inadequacies, especially as the leading couple, Jean-Philippe Lafont and Markella Hatziano, overwhelm us from start to finish, while conductor Friedemann Layer, not a likely choice, is more than convincing.

Mascagni's Parisina is something different, a verismo effusion that may not appeal to more delicate sensibilities but is vigorously interpreted by conductor Enrique Diemecke. Denia Mazzola in the title role deploys a full range of nuance but Vitali Taraschenko as her lover overwhelms us with a single dynamic, a resplendent forte. The opera is presented in its 3-act version using the cuts made by the composer himself. The three records are excessive as the performance could have been fit onto two discs, but that would have entailed a break in the middle of act 2.

Both operas are presented in digipack with notes and text in French only, which may be a hindrance for English-speaking listeners. We have been told that Harmonia Mundi is responsible for distribution.

Another approach to the story of Parisina d'Este is offered by the mature Donizetti in a performance emanating from the Swiss Italian radio. Alexandrina Pendatchanska in the title role may be a bit light of voice but she more than compensates with a reading that combines fire and virtuosity. Unfortunately, her colleagues are not at the same level, though the conducting of Emmanuel Plasson offers compensations.

Donizetti remains on Dynamic's menu with the first recording of Il Fortunato inganno, live from Martina Franca in 1998. This farsa loses momentum with its long stretches of spoken dialogue, though we are always amused by operas about opera troupes and their vicissitudes. The work is intrinsically interesting to see how the young Donizetti deals with an idiom with which he is unfamiliar, succeeding of course.

Other Donizetti novelties come from Opera Rara: Zoraida di Granata, an early work, is presented in its original version along with substantial extracts from a subsequent revision that replaced one of the two tenors with a contralto so that four well-filled discs provide significant enjoyment for those attuned to the Donizettian world. Bruce Ford's Almuzir makes light of some difficult writing, while Paul Austin Kelly's tenorino fares well as Abenamet. Diana Montague's sopranoish mezzo in the revised version lacks the heft that we imagine was brought to the role by its creator, Rosmunda Pisaroni, so that it is difficult to choose. A decisive element might be that the earlier version clearly shows its derivation from Donizetti's teacher, Mayr, while the revision shows how deeply Donizetti had imbibed from the Rossinian fountain. Newcomer Majella Cullagh in the title role is promising, only lacking the individuality to which we have become accustomed by some other sopranos who have sung for Opera Rara.

A disc of scenes and overtures by Donizetti allows us to hear material composed for later revivals of various works, including a new finale for Caterina Cornaro (Nelly Miricioiu and Garry Magee), arias from Marino Faliero (Rockwell Blake) and Maria di Rohan (Miricioiu) and numerous ensembles, all enthusiastically conducted by David Parry. A new series, Il Salotto, offers some fascinating material, Vol. 1 devoted to Mercadante's Soirées Italiennes, which Liszt found sufficiently interesting that he made a piano transcription. The bulk of the work falls to Miricioiu and Blake, along with Yvonne Kenny and William Matteuzzi, with occasional appearances by Garry Magee and Alastair Miles. David Harper's sparkling accompaniments add to the charm. Many of the same soloists turn up in Vol. 2 of the series, this time devoted to cantatas and songs meant for domestic performance, occasionally with instrumental obligato. Favorites are Rossini and Mercadante, with Pacini and Mayr running a close second.

Departing from its customary policy, Opera Rara has issued Rossini's Otello, long available on commercial discs with Carrerras and von Stade. The new recording takes advantage of the knowledge acquired in the intervening years to give us a reading that is more respectful of musical grammar and custom than was the earlier version (not to mention a Rome Opera pirate that has little to recommend it other than the much neglected Virginia Zeani). Bruce Ford in the title role once again demonstrates why he is the major Rossini tenor since Chris Merritt's withdrawal from this repertoire and Rockwell Blake's increasingly infrequent appearances.William Matteuzzi displays his customary strengths and weaknesses with Elizabeth Futral somewhat undercast in a role written for the then Signora Rossini.

To return to the indispensable Dynamic records who fortunately persist in documenting the Festival della Valle d'Istria di Martina Franca, Massenet's Roma, the last of his operas to be produced in the composer's lifetime. The somewhat episodic libretto, evocative of La Vestale or Norma, borrows heavily from the grand operatic tradition, with the usual dosage of the composer's lyric vein (aria for tenor, soprano), and all this in five acts lasting just over two hours. Iano Tamar, a favorite at Martina Franca, touches us as the sullied virgin Fausta, while suitable French style is supplied by Nicolas Rivenq's Fabius Maximus. Warren Mok's Lentulus may be less stylish, but his considerable vocal means compensate. Svetlana Arginbaeva's Posthumia and Francesco Ellero d'Artegna's Lucius Cornelius round out the principals, while Marco Guidarini's grasp of Massenet's ebb and flow is considerable.


Bloch Macbeth

Bloch: Macbeth
Markella Hatziano (Lady Macbeth); Jean-Philippe Lafont (Macbeth); Jean-Philippe Marlière (Macduff); Jacque Trussel (Banquo); Christer Bladin (Duncan); Philippe Georges (Lennox); Marcel Vanaud (Porter); Sophie Fournier, Hanna Schaer, Arian Stamboulidès (Witches); Wojtek Smilek (1st Apparition)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, Latvian Radio Chorus
Friedemann Layer, conductor
Actes Sud AD 124/AT 34100 (2 cds) - text in French only

Donizetti Zoraida di Granata

Donizetti: Zoraida di Granata
Majella Cullagh (Zoraida); Bruce Ford (Almuzir); Diana Moqntague/Paul Austin Kelly (Abenamet); Dominic Natoli; Cristina Pastorello, Matthew Hargreaves
Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
David Parry, conductor
Opera Rara ORC 17 (4 cds) - notes in English; text in Italian and English

Donizetti: Il Fortunato Inganno
Stefania Donzelli (Aurelia); Magali Damonte (Fulgenzia); Domenico Colaianni (Lattanzio); Nicolas Rivenq (Il Colonnello); Massimiliano Chiarolla (Vulcano); Saverio Fiore; Luciano Miotto; Madia Todisco; Luca Grassi; Mario Nisticò
Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia, Bratislava Chamber Choir
Arnold Bosman, conductor
Dynamic CDS 228/1-2 (2 cds) - notes in English, Italian, French and German; text and translation in Italian and English

Donizetti: Parisina d'Este
Alexandrina Pendatchanska (Parisina); Daniela Barcellona (Imelda); Amedeo Moretti (Ugo); Ramon de Andrès (Azzo); Eldar Aliev (Ernesto)
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Coro della RTSI, Gruppo Vocale Cantemus
Emmanuel Plasson, conductor
Dynamic CDS 277/1-2 (2 cds) - texts and translations in English, Italian, French and German

donizetti scenes and overtures

Donizetti: Scenes and Overtures
Nelly Miricioiu, Rockwell Blake, Garry Magee, and Mamjella Cullagh, Antonia Sotgiù, Sara Fulgoni, Dominic Natoli
Philharmonia Orchestra, Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
David Parry, conductor
Opera Rara ORR 207 - notes in English; text and translation in Italian and English

Mascagni Parisina

Mascagni: Parisina
Denia Mazzola (Parisina); Tea Demurishvili (Stella); Vitali Taraschenko (Ugo); Vladimir Vaneev (Nicoló); Valery Ivanor (Aldobrandino); Laura Brioli (La Verde/La Fante)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, Latvian Radio Chorus
Enrique Diemecke, conductor
Actes Sud AD 185/AT 34103 (3 cds) - notes in French; texts and translations in Italian and French

Massenet: Roma
Iano Tamar (Fausta); Svetlana Arginbaeva (Posthumia); Francesca Franzil (Junia); Angela Masi (Grand Vestal); Carmelita Mitchell (Galla); Warren Mok (Lentulus); Nicolas Rivenq (Fabius Maximus); Jean Vendassi (Vestapor); Francesco Ellero d'ARtegna (Lucius Cornelius); Giacomo Rocchetti (Old Man)
Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia, Bratislava Chamber Choir
Marco Guidarini, conductor
Dynamic 267/1-2 (2 cds) - notes in English, Italian, French and German; texts and translations in French and English

Mercadante Soirees Italiennes

Mercadante: Les Soirées Italiennes (Il Salotto, Vol. 1)
Nelly Miricioiu, Yvonne Kenny, William Matteuzzi, Bruce Ford, Alastair Miles, Garry Magee
David Harper, piano
Opera Rara ORR 206 - notes in English; texts in Italian and English

Rossini otello

Rossini: Otello
Elizabeth Futral (Desdemona); Enkelejda Shkosa (Emilia/Otello); Bruce Ford (Otello); William Matteuzzi (Rodrigo); Juan José Lopera (Jago); Ryland Davies (Doge); Dominic Natoli (Lucio); Barry Banks (Gondolier); Ildebrando d'Arcangelo (Elmiro)
Philharmonia Orchestra, Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
David Parry, conductor
Opera Rara ORC 18 (3 cds) - notes in English, texts and translations in Italian and English

La Potenza d'Amore (Il Salotto, Vol. 2)
Majella Cullagh, Nelly Miricioiu, Enkelejda Shkosa, William Matteuzzi, Bruce Ford, Garry Magee
David Harper, piano
Opera Rara ORR 208 - notes in English, texts and translations in Italian and En

Joel Kasow writes on opera in Europe and is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com.

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