SPONTINI: Agnese di Hohenstaufen
Lucille Udovick (Agnese), Dorothy Dow (Irmengarda), Franco Corelli (Enrico il Palatino), Francesco Albanese (Filippo), Enzo Mascherini (Re di Francia), Anselmo Colzani (Enrico il Leone), Gian Giacomo Guelfi (L'Imperatore); Florence Teatro Communale/ Vittorio Gui
Myto 42084 [2CD] 142.36 minutes
Many years of labor went into Spontini's final stage work. It was first performed in 1829 and given in a much-revised edition in 1837. With its huge orchestra, vast cast, and the subordination of set arias to massive and extended ensembles, it broke with all conventions. It was ahead of its time and clearly influenced many later composers, including Meyerbeer and Wagner.
Unfortunately, it did not please its early audiences. Following those initial outings, it languished unheard until its 1954 Florence revival, drastically abridged. Although strongly criticized at the time, mainly on dramatic grounds, the production finally revealed the unique quality of the work and its vital importance in the development of 19th Century neoclassical romantic opera. Ignoring the overblown nature of the libretto, there is much of musical worth, and a fine collection of star soloists does justice to the melodic, intense and sometimes frenetic vocal writing.
There is one other recording on CD taken from a Muti-conducted RAI broadcast of 1970, with Montserrat Caballé. Guelfi reprised his role but in slightly less refulgent voice. The sound may be stereophonic and richer, and conducting laurels remain even; but Gui has, Caballé excepted, somewhat finer soloists. Not least of these is the young Franco Corelli, heard here already experimenting with the variety of nuance and dynamic that was to become one of his most admired characteristics.
Like the Muti, the 1954 performance has been issued in several formats and on various labels over the years. Comparing the Myto sound with an earlier CD on Melodram and an Opera Live LP, a very slight deterioration in fullness is detected. The difference is small, and all offer acceptable monaural sound from a presumably single source. No libretto or synopsis is supplied — only a potted history of the work and information on the singers. Nevertheless, a version of this seminal score should be in the collection of anyone interested in 19th Century romantic opera and fine singing.
Vivian A Liff
THIS REVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2004 ISSUE (VOL. 67 NO. 6) OF AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE (ARG). IT IS REPRINTED HERE WITH THE KIND PERMISSION OF ARG. FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON ARG, GO TO ITS WEBSITE AT www.americanrecordguide.com.