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Recordings

Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West
08 Sep 2006

PUCCINI: La Fanciulla del West

This Fanciulla is such a wonderful issue because, for once, none of the three protagonists ever recorded their role commercially, so that one is spared the many doublings often met in live recordings.

Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West.

Gigliola Frazzoni (Minnie), Franco Corelli (Dick Johnson), Tito Gobbi (Jack Rance), Enzo Sordello (Sonora), Nicola Zaccaria (Jake Wallace), Franco Ricciardi (Nick), Ugo Novelli (Ashby), Athos Cesarini (Trin), Michele Cazzato (Sid), Pierluigi Latinucci (Bello), Gino Del Signore (Harry), Angelo Me,rcuriali (Joe), Carlo Forti (Happy), Giuseppe Morresi (Larkens), Eraldo Coda (Billy), Maria Amadini (Wowkle), Vittorio Tatozzi (Josè Castro), Erminio Benatti (Postiglione).

Myto Historical 061.H110 [2CDs]

$18.49  Click to buy

Frazzoni of course was never blessed with a real record career. Her only official recording is the second Cetra Tosca (Tagliavini, Guelfi) plus a solo album on the same label, re-issued in 1995 on Eklipse together with some live recordings. She was one of those excellent Italian spintos without whom La Scala and the main Italian scenes couldn’t have functioned in the fifties and the sixties and which are nowadays are so sorely missed. Gone are the days of Frazzoni, Hovnanian, Coleva, Maragliano and, somewhat later, Santunione and Orlandi. Frazzoni’s big warm enveloping sound takes a little bit of time to come into her own. Her first high note in ‘Laggiu nel Soledad’ is still blasted out, but then the voice improves. Her ‘Non son che una povera fanciulla’ is particularly fine and in the second act she becomes better and better, combining a wrenching interpretation with brilliant top notes. Of course, she is a soprano in the old veristic way, using effects like sobbing, declaiming words instead of singing, and she certainly was not above some cries at the end of the second act. In short, she resembles the fabulous Magda Olivero (Olivero’s recording was made nine years later) though with far more impressive vocal means.

Tito Gobbi was supposed to sing the role of Jack Rance in the 1958 Columbia recording, but he was replaced at the last minute by veteran Andrea Mongelli. Fortunately a recording of Gobbi does exist. Here Gobbi brings his great powers of vocal acting with him, and he is at his best in ‘Minnie dalla mia casa’ and the moments of the second and third act where he can show his fury at the success of Johnson. Still, there is something lacking in his interpretation. This is clearly Scarpia in California, snarling his way throughout the role and clearly not above any trick to get Minnie in his bed, but this is less than the whole of Jack Rance. The loneliness, the emotional longings of Rance are not even suggested. Sympathetic he may not be, but Gobbi’s characterization , in the best Scarpia-manner, laughs at Minnie’s win in the card-play and still has his way with her. However Juan Pons, so often said to be bland, is the far more believable Rance in the Sony recording, showing rage, sorrow and gentleman-behaviour at the same time.

And then there is Franco Corelli. The jury is still out deciding what his best years were, before or after his Met-appearances. Corelli himself believed the sixties heard his best performances, but not everybody will agree. True, he had refined some of his singing technique. His breath had even become almost infinite. He could sing pianissimo, and as a result of his eternal competition with Carlo Bergonzi, he had acquired a magnificent messa di voce he was not shy to show off. However, after his short vocal crisis of 1964, he more or less became a law unto himself, recomposing most of his scores to suit his voice or his mood depending on the day,and shortening or lengthening notes. In 1956 however, he was still a young singer and probably in awe of a conductor as Antonino Votto, who would never have allowed him such musical liberties. In the first act Corelli is at his best behaviour, trusting his formidable voice, which sounds so beautiful and manly, shimmering with youth and power and more of a vibrato that some (this reviewer too) regret disappeared later on. Piano is still not in his vocabulary, but his mezza-voce on ‘non pinagete Minnie’ is full of tenderness. So is his heart-breaking beauty in ‘Minnie, che dolce nome’ in the second act. In ‘Or son sei mesi’ he opens up and uses some sobs, probably to help his breathing. The sound is overwhelming, though he has to cut short a bit on his last top note (no cracking) as he has given so much. His ‘Ch’ella mi creda’ is powerful , but the last B is a little bit laboured. The grating in the lower register, a consequence of his lowered larynx method, has not yet appeared, and from top to bottom there is a unique richness. A performance no fan of Corelli and no fan of great singing should miss.

The orchestral sound favours the voices and is not perfect, though well listenable. A pity, as the orchestration is so important in Fanciulla and Votto is one of those great ‘routiniers’ that knew all there was to know on Puccini-operas. No wonder Claudio Abbado has said on several occasions how much he listened to Votto, taking notes because he knew that this was the way the composers themselves wanted their operas to be conducted.

The bonus with Myto belongs to the most important singer. We get the greatest part of a legendary Cetra-LP of arias and duets of La Forza del Destino with Franco Corelli and Gian Giacomo Guelfi, the only Italian baritone of the day who could compete with Corelli and even surpass him in decibels. The whole LP (including Guelfi’s aria and cabaletta, lacking on this issue) was reissued by Myto together with a selection of Carmen with the same two artists and Pia Tassinari; incidentally the only highlights of Carmen you’ll ever find with the tenor’s ‘Dragon d’Alcala’ included. I would have hoped Myto could have found some more exclusive Corelli than this recycling of one of their own CD’s though Corelli is fabulous in these 1956 Forza extracts (he would only sing the complete role two years later). La Fanciulla del West is a blessed opera as it has an almost perfect official recording (Decca/London: Del Monaco, Tebaldi, MacNeil) and two magnificent live ones: the Mitropoulos, Del Monaco, Steber, Guelfi that opens up the usual cut in the second act and this Corelli-version. Though it says much of the recent situation in this repertoire that all those recordings were made half a century ago.

Jan Neckers

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