Still there is more to be discovered in the score like Vivetta’s aria, the fine intermezzo or the big duet between Federico and Vivetta in the second act. Cilea started his career as an opera composer with Gina as a 23-year old in 1889 and finished it 18 years later with Gloria as a 41-year old (Bongiovanni’s recordings of both operas can be warmly recommended). He lived for another 43 years without composing a major work.
Soon after the premières his operas sank into oblivion but in the twenties there was a renewed interest and his best known work Adriana Lecouvreur became a staple of the repertory in Italy. L’Arlesiana, too, once more made the rounds of the theatres. By that time, Cilea was probably too old and the onslaught of modern composing techniques was so great that he didn’t show an inclination to return to the stage. Still he started revising some of his older works; especially this Arlesiana, which only got its final version in 1937. By then the older versions were already much ingrained and the two first recordings didn’t use the definitive version.
I’ve never heard the Pederzini/Oncina/Protti recording but it seems the sound is not really state of the art. Rodolfo Celetti in his “Teatro d’opera in disco” has some good words for Pederzini and Protti but thinks the Cetra version to be superior. Of course Ferruccio Tagliavini was the reason behind this recording and he is easily the best Federico on record. Still, for those who know his hauntingly beautiful “E la solita storia” recorded in June 1940, the complete set will be a little disappointing as some of the wonderful sweetness and bloom had gone out of the voice eleven years later. We had to wait another 41 years before we got the first really complete version but Kelen/Anderson/Spacagna didn’t really give us an idiomatic version.
This latest, newest and most complete version has at least an all-Italian cast who know their trade. Lyric soprano Daria Masiero as Vivetta is a discovery: a lovely voice and a vivacious singer who clearly supersedes all her predecessors. Mezzo Elisabetta Fiorillo brings along a rich somewhat tremulous but convincing voice; and her “Esser madre” is a success with the public. Pia Tassinara in the Cetra-set (at the time Tagliavini’s wife before he threw her out and married a young lady 24 years his junior) had recently converted to mezzo-soprano. Yet she remains, however, a soprano who has lost her top; and the voice has not the fullness of Fiorillo. Stefano Antonucci in this latest version but a poor substitute for Cetra’s Paolo Silveri. The sound is indistinct and he has difficulties in his high register. Most opera lovers will have Giuseppe Taddei’s fine version of “Come due tizzi” in their memory and Antonucci is simply no match.
And then there is the fly in the ointment. A good version of L’Arlesiana falls or sinks with the tenor. Joseph Calleja is the only tenor around who could have outsung Tagliavini as he has exactly the beauty and youthfulness that is required in this role but alas he is not in the cast (and is probably already too expensive for a small theatre and recording company). Still I wonder if it wasn’t possible to find older singers like Salvatore Fisichella or younger ones like Giuseppe Filianote for the role. Of course, the tenor in this recording didn’t have to learn the part as he had already sung the role during his career. But listening to Luca Canonici, one wouldn’t presume that he made his début only 18 years before this recording. His was never a big voice and he didn’t always choose his roles wisely and this shows. The voice sounds a bit worn and dry. He never had a big spectrum of colours in his sound, as is proven by his solo CD (a reward for substituting for José Carreras in the Bohème movie) but the freshness has now gone out of the voice. His “E la solita storia” is not bad as he sings with style and sensitivity and doesn’t try to emulate Gigli’s bleaty sobbing. But after all, the role was written for young Enrico Caruso, never a tenore di grazia, and Canonici’s small voice is no match for the role. Reynaldo Giovanninetti has his forces well in hand and gives a sterling interpretation of overture and intermezzo. I hope Bongiovanni will keep up the good work and give us one day Cilea’s Tilda; his only opera that is still completely unknown.