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Recordings

I Puritani
15 May 2006

Three Releases from Nightingale Classics

Frank Sinatra had Reprise. The Beatles had Apple. Madonna has Maverick. And Edita Gruberova has Nightingale.

Vincenzo Bellini: I Puritani

Edita Gruberova (Elvira Valton), Justin Lavender (Lord Arturo Talbo), Ettore Kim (Sir Riccardo Forth), Francesco Ellero d'Artegna (Sir Giorgio), Katja Lytting (Enrichetta di Francia), Dankwart Siegele (Lord Gualtiero Valton), CarloTuand (Sir Bruno Roberton), Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Fabio Luisi (cond.)

Nightingale Classics NC170562-2 [3CDs]

$47.99  Click to buy

Yes, even classical artists can have labels which exist predominantly for the distribution of their own creative efforts.

For well over a decade Nightingale Classics recorded for posterity the voice of superstar (at least in Europe) Edita Gruberova, in complete sets of the operas with soprano roles which best display her amazing coloratura agility and crystalline high notes. Now a new distributor in the US seeks to bring renewed attention to these sets, and three will be considered here: I Puritani, La Fille du Regiment, and Die Fledermaus.

Fabio Luisi's career as a conductor has grown rapidly since he led this I Puritaniin 1994. His efforts here are compromised by rather distant sound and the proficient but not convincingly idiomatic reading of the Bellini score by the Munich Radio Orchestra (the ensemble for all three recordings discussed here). neither of the principal male leads offers anything distinctive. Justin Lavender manages the high notes for Lord Arturo, but not with much impact, and his tone throughout his range lacks beauty. Ettore Kim's Sir Riccardo has more personality, if not any more basic attractive vocal quality.

This set then truly serves as a showpiece for Gruberova, raising the question of whether a highlights CD might have been a better option. She has full command of the role's demands, and that plaintive aura in her middle range works well for Elvira, who spends most of the opera despondent, when not insane. A better cast overall can be heard on the recent DVD release (reviewed on OperaToday), and though Gruberova is fresher, obviously, on this recorded set, seeing her in the role does make a greater impression.

gruberova_fille.jpgMarie in La Fille du Regiment has two sad-tinged arias as well, despite the comic setting, so Gruberova gets to display most of finest attributes in this set, probably the best overall of the three. The contribution of Deon van der Walt as Tonio must be respected here; this role, currently a favorite for Juan-Diego Florez, requires a charismatic tenor with reliable high Cs for this great "Mes Amis" aria, and van der Walt delivers, if without Florez's greater tonal allure. The rest of the cast and Marcello Panni's conducting all keep the fun feather-light.

gruberova_fledermaus.jpgThe best cast for any of these releases distinguishes the Die Fledermaus set. Gruberova 's classic Adele supports Thomas Moser as Eisenstein and Adrienne Pieczonka as Rosalinde. Friedrich Haider conducts capably. However, two mitigating factors make a whole-hearted endorsement unlikely. First, once again, a DVD with Gruberova is available, with an even finer cast: Wiekl, Popp, Fassbaender, recorded in Vienna, and also reviewed here on OperaToday some time ago. Second, some may object to all the dialogue being cut, while others may be grateful. very few, one suspects, will be glad to have the third act comic relief character of Frosch lead us through the opera's story with monologue interludes, in German (of course). Translations are included in the libretto (all these sets have good booklets, although the English translations of the essays have an unintended comic quality).

So for those who have a taste for Gruberova and an indifference, if not dislike, for DVDs, the Donizetti and Strauss sets can be recommended. Fans of the Bellini score should look for an alternative, with sopranos as great as Callas, Sutherland, and Sills all still available on disc.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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