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27 Oct 2005
ROSSINI: La Cenerentola
Naxos is perhaps the only significant major label regularly releasing complete opera sets. A few have won widespread praise, and certainly the prices, at super-budget level, make them attractive to both first-time buyers and those whose collections scarcely justify an additional set.
Naxos recorded this Cenerentola in November 2004 at the Rossini in Wildbad festival. While not as punchy or pristine as a studio recording, the sound presents a good balance between vocalists and orchestra, and stage noise, often a significant detriment of live recordings, does not significantly mar the audio.
Right from the overture, however, an inexplicable dampness sets in – the electric charge which many live recordings boast remains stubbornly absent. Conductor Alberto Zedda, whose excellent booklet essay speaks to his commitment and authority, captures some fine detail, but the SWR Radio Orchestra seems to simply lack the flair and innate enthusiasm that brings out the best in Rossini’s charming score. Rossini specialists, however, will appreciate the opportunity to hear some alternative music that Zedda has identified and chosen to include in this performance
The CD cover photo suggests the primary attraction of this recording: rising star Joyce DiDonato’s sweet, agile voice. She delivers her act two canzone, Una volta c’era un re, with the grace and skill of a mature artist, all of which also characterizes her contribution to the sextet. She alone, however, can’t bring up the energy level to one that would make the whole performance take flight.
Juan Diego Florez reigns as Don Ramiro on the world’s stages now. Jose Manuel Zapata takes the role here, and though his voice doesn’t suggest he approaches Florez’s stature, he has a pleasant voice not strained at all by the role’s demands. Bruno Pratico’s Don Magnifico has some rough edges that might have been more effective as part of the theater experience; other than that, he inhabits the role with humorously gruff authority.
Naxos provides a link to an online libretto, with a note on the booklet informing us that this economy measure helps Naxos remain the “leader in the budget-priced market.”
All fine and good, but a Cenerentola that doesn’t sparkle and bounce makes for a less than appealing audio-only experience. Perhaps the staging, if captured for DVD, might have revealed more charm than this recording offers.
If Decca gets around to re-releasing at less than full price the Bartoli studio recording of a few years’ back, budget price alone won’t make this Naxos set competitive. Only as a record of Joyce DiDonato, still early in her career, can it be recommended. The more exciting prospect would be a DVD of DiDonato and Florez in a fine production of the opera. Perhaps the fairy Godmother, or Don Magnifico, of the opera world can make it come true, and soon.
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy