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Recordings

31 May 2005

GOMES: Salvator Rosa

One of the nice features of art in former times was the care-free way artists took in mining the same sources over and over again. Contents and quality were held in higher esteem than an “original” idea. Auber’s La Muette de Portici was still in full swing in many theatres when Antonio Ghislanzoni of Aida-fame concocted a libretto on the same subject: the rising of Naples led by the fisherman Tomas Aniello against the Spanish viceroy in 1647. (Incidentally, it is a legend that La Muette triggered the separatist mutiny that ended the united Netherlands in 1830). And in 1953 composer Jacopo Napoli won third prize in the Verdi composition competition with another Mas’aniello which was duly performed at La Scala. As they couldn’t find a tenor, they asked a youngster, thanked him profusely after the job was done and sent him back home for another two years: Carlo Bergonzi.

Antonio Carlos Gomes: Salvator Rosa
Francesco Ellero D'Artegna (duca); Francesca Scaini (Isabella); Mauro Pagano (Salvator Rosa); Gianfranco Cappelluti (Masaniello); Sofiya Solovey (Gennariello); Leonardo Gramegna (Conte); Salvatore Cordella (Fernandez); Volodymir Deyneka (Corcelli); Analisa Carbonara (Bianca); Tiziana Spagnoletta (Ines); Emil Zhelev (Lorenzo)
Coro da camera di Bratislava and orchestra Internazionale d'Italia, Maurizio Benini (cond.)
Dynamic 472/1-2 [2CDs]

One of the nice features of art in former times was the care-free way artists took in mining the same sources over and over again. Contents and quality were held in higher esteem than an "original" idea. Auber's La Muette de Portici was still in full swing in many theatres when Antonio Ghislanzoni of Aida-fame concocted a libretto on the same subject: the rising of Naples led by the fisherman Tomas Aniello against the Spanish viceroy in 1647. (Incidentally, it is a legend that La Muette triggered the separatist mutiny that ended the united Netherlands in 1830.) And in 1953 composer Jacopo Napoli won third prize in the Verdi composition competition with another Mas'aniello which was duly performed at La Scala. As they couldn't find a tenor, they asked a youngster, thanked him profusely after the job was done and sent him back home for another two years: Carlo Bergonzi.

The real hero in Ghislanzoni's story however is the painter Salvator Rosa who assists Masaniello in the uprising. To the best of my knowledge the real painter was in Florence during the uprising and in any case lived another 26 years; a feat one would not surmise when one hears his desires for early death in this opera if he cannot have the girl. Well, I will not poke fun too much at the libretto but Ghislanzoni didn't take too much pains. The painter is hopelessly in love with a girl he has seen once (so are Fernand in La Favorite and especially Raoul in Les Huguenots; this ploy is still used in Fred Raymond's popular operetta Maske in Blau). She is of course the daughter of Rosa's bitterest enemy (Donizetti's Duca d'Alba) In the second act we get a song on the conquest of Naples with a Pim!Pom! text (Marcel's Pif!Paf! in Les Huguenots).

The same eclecticism can more or less be said of Gomes' music. One irresistibly thinks of a mixture of late Donizetti, middle Verdi and early Ponchielli, though the melodies of Gomes are just pleasing and do not get under the skin like Verdi's best ones. Nevertheless Gomes could write a tune like the still famous bass aria and the magnificent song Mia peccerella, though some Caruso fans will be surprised that the aria is meant to be sung by a soprano instead of a tenor (did ever a soprano record E lucevan le stele or la donna è mobile?). The opera is a long one (2 hours and 40 minutes) and Gomes' inspiration starts to flag somewhat in the last two acts though the music never degenerates into nondescript noise.

This is the third and very much the best recording of the opera. The 1977 live recording from Sao Paulo only gave a faint impression of the opera due to the bad sound. A new one from Dorset opera had some cuts and a lot of singers for whom 19th Century Italian opera was somewhat strange territory. The set under review was culled from performances in July 2004 at the wonderful Festival della Valle d'Itria in Martina Franca where so many operas are resuscitated and at the same time recorded by Dynamic (La Reine de Saba, Polyeucte). This year we get Marchetti's Romeo e Giulietta and if the music is half as good as his Ruy Blas, we are in for a treat. The artistic director is Sergio Segalini (now the boss at La Fenice, too) who was for many years the editor of France's best known magazine Opéra International. He invariably passed his summers as a jury member in any singing competition that offered good fare and a nice hotel. But, in that way he got to know a lot of young aspiring and promising singers who afterwards could be hired rather cheaply for the Festival and with a recording as a little extra.

The find on this recording is soprano Francesca Scaini; a wonderful spinto with a personal, somewhat smoky and sensual sound, who sings with passion and fire without chopping up phrases. And when she opens up she can drown anybody on the stage. A pity that Gomes had lost some steam by the moment he composed her big aria. For the moment, she is singing most of the time in Germany (and in Bieito's productions as well). I hope her career will not be hampered by the fact that some directors think she has not enough "le fysique du role".

The title role is sung by tenor Mauro Pagano, winner of the Gigli-competition in 2000. During the actual performances it was announced he suffered from laryngitis but this is not noticeable on the recording. We hear a firm, full and richly coloured tenor, not too subtle but with charm. He gives the impression the voice comes from rather deep in the throat without sounding ugly but he overcomes the long killer role very well.

Sofiya Solovey, a young Ukrainian soprano, is an outstanding Gennariello with a fresh spontaneous well schooled voice who gives us Mia peccerella with a real lilt in the voice. Baritone Gianfranco Cappelluti is somewhat the weak link; a rather rough and ready sound without any original colour in the voice and only a good top as an asset.

Bass Francesco Ellero d'Artegna is the only international star in the cast and, though he has one of the best tunes (Di sposo, di padre), he strikes me as a little bit bland, a little bit impersonal. Maybe the voice doesn't record too well as I remember him as a compelling singer with an impressive sound in the flesh.

Conductor Maurizio Benini believes in the work he is conducting and he is joyous, sentimental or furious without ever exaggerating tempi. Only his Bratislava chorus (probably cheaper than Italian choruses) sounds a little thin.

The sound of the recording is fine and there are only a few extraneous noises. The recording comes with an Italian-English libretto.

All in all, a most rewarding experience and a must for those among you who can by now sing every Verdi from start to finish and vice-versa.

Jan Neckers

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