Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Gioacchino Rossini: L’Italiana in Algeri
24 Sep 2005

ROSSINI: L’Italiana in Algieri

This newly re-mastered recording was originally released in 1954 by Columbia (Qcx 10111/12), later reprinted by EMI (C163-00981/2), and it includes, besides Giulieta Simionato in the title role, three other members of the original 1953 production at La Scala: tenor Cesare Valleti, and bass Mario Petri in their respective roles of Lindoro and Mustafà and Conductor Carlo Maria Giulini.

Gioacchino Rossini: L’Italiana in Algeri

Giulietta Simionato; Cesare Valletti; Mario Petri; Marcello Cortis; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala/Carlo Maria Giulini. BONUS: Unpublished excerpts from the Concert given by G. Simionato and C. Valletti in San Francisco – Live recordings: 1953 & 1954

Urania 22.275 [2CDs]

 

By far one of the finest comedies in the operatic repertoire, L’Italiana in Algieri has always played the “little sister” to Rossini’s more famous Il Barbiere di Siviglia, but unlike the “older sister,” L’Italiana had a successful launch, and the proceeds from its 1813 premiere season saved the Teatro San Benedetto from bankruptcy. L’Italiana in Algieri also made its twenty-one year old composer the toast of Venice. The librettist, Angelo Anelli loosely based his drama on the legend of Roxelana, a young Russian girl who in 1523 was captured into slavery by the Turks, and who later, through her guile and intrigue married the Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. There is another legend involving a young Italian noblewoman who was captured and sent to a harem in Algiers. The young woman was later set free and returned to Italy to, no less, sing the role of Isabella!

As was the custom in the nineteenth century and before, L’Italiana had previously been set to music by another composer, in this case Luigi Mosca, in 1808.

After a somber but comical beginning symbolizing the Sultan’s omnipresence, the overture which Stendhal considered frivolous, quickly and effectively mixes the love and mad cap themes in the opera, bringing to mind the different characters and situations in the opera.

Mario Pietri in the role of Mustafà sets the tone in the opening scene: a bit gruff, but gentle. His basso voice is well suited for this role, as is his perfect timing and comic mastery. A young Graziela Sciuti in the role of Elvira, delivers a delicate and solid performance as Elvira, the Sultan’s rejected love interest. Her crystal clear soprano shines in the Quintetto of Act 1. Baritone Marcello Cortis delivers a fine performance as the quintessential pompous and elderly suitor, Taddeo; however of all the principals, his is the least interesting rendition.

Of special notice is Cesare Valetti, a key participant in this recording. His Lindoro is expressive and graceful without being weak or affected, and from the start of his opening aria “Languir per una bella,” Valetti’s brilliant lyric voice soars over the orchestra with ease. There is no need for Valetti to worry over other younger singers of today in this role. Many speculate that operas are neglected for lack of female voices to carry the work, but in the case of L’Italiana one would venture to include the lack of tenors like Valetti.

Giulietta Simionato is somewhat limited in her coloratura, but her fluid singing, masterful technique, and elegant phrasing show her as a qualified and adept performer of Rossini’s and early nineteenth century music. In fact, it can be argued that Simionato’s participation in the revival of these early operas paved the way for future generations of singers. A great Dalila, Amneris, Mignon, Carmen and Azucena among others, Simionato is perfectly at ease in lighter roles, having successfully sung a number of comedies before taking on the role of Isabella.

Simionato imbues Isabella’s “Cruda sorte” with the fragility of a lost, bewildered young woman in search of the man she loves—a lullaby in sharp contrast to the subsequent “Qua ci vuol disinvolture” in which Isabella sheds her innocent image to disclose her determination and true intentions. In “Oh! Che muso, che figura!” rather than addressing the listener with mocking intentions, as the aria is often sung, Simionato, very effectively, almost whispers the words to herself, going back to the image of the bewildered young woman, as though she were laughing with, instead of at Mustafà’s unpleasant appearance. Her high notes are never forced, and her chest notes are natural. Likewise, her interpretation of “Per lui che adoro” is lovingly slow and deliberate, leaving one wandering who the recipient of her lament really is—just as intended by Rossini.

The music and story are fast paced, providing the audience with one musical situation after the next, and Giulini conducts with restraint and attention to detail—thus the nuances in the score are never lost or overshadowed by unnecessary embellishments or loudness. Rossini’s melodic invention is evident throughout, as is his superb use of the sound of the language in the riotous finale to Act 1, in which all the characters relate their state of mind to a sound, which the composer parallels to an instrument in the pit. The cast and orchestra are superb in the handling of this situation, capturing the Rossinian genius with an engaging verve, yet never overpowering one another.

Not only is this a delightful opera, overflowing with the composer’s magic, but all the interpreters are in top form, making for a most enjoyable listening experience. Though there are some cuts—few operas were not “cut” throughout the first half of the twentieth century—the recording holds its own against better known, more complete, later versions of Rossini’s masterpiece.


Daniel Pardo

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):