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Recordings

Gioacchino Rossini: Semiramide
28 Jan 2007

ROSSINI: Semiramide

The reason for being of this set is Gruberova’s wish to record as much as possible of her repertory (on her own label as most of the majors were either not interested in recording belcanto operas or had their own stars like Decca’s Joan Sutherland).

Gioacchino Rossini: Semiramide

Edita Gruberova (Semiramide), Bernadette Manca di Nissa (Arsace), Hélène Le Corre (Azema), Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Assur), Juan Diego Flórez (Idreno), Julian Konstantinov (Oroe), José Guadalupe Reyes (Mitrane), Andreas Jankowitsch (Nino's ghost), Wiener Konzertchor, Radio Symphonieorchester Wien, Marcello Panni (cond.)

Nightingale NC207013-2 [3CDs]

$55.08  Click to buy

We are told this was a live recording for Austrian radio made in 1998. At that time the lady was 52-years of age and had already a career of thirty years behind her. Amazing, of course when one thinks of many singers who have spoiled their voices after half the amount of years. The result is still very fine: an object lesson as to what belcanto technically means; how to sing coloratura, how to embellish, how to trill. To be honest, one can regret the fact she didn’t record the role earlier. “Bel raggio” is fine but not quite sung with the same freedom as she did on her French/Italian aria record on EMI from 1982. I’m surprised, too, that the recording team didn’t ask her to re-record the top note at the end of the cabaletta (or didn’t use electronic wizardry) as it falls painfully flat and it is not a note one wants to hear everytime one plays this set; but honest it surely is.

Nevertheless not everything is a liability. The voice is somewhat more broad, more dramatic than in 1982 and this corresponds far better with the character of the role. Bernadette Manca di Nissa displays a fine, rounded mezzo though there is not much in her characterization that remind us of a young exuberant warrior which we remember well Marilyn Horne in the famous 1966 Decca recording. This is already more Azucena than Arsace and time. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo cannot quite compete with Sam Ramey at the height of his powers but the voice of the Italian bass is fuller, more beautiful and less dry than Rouleau’s in the Decca. The one singer in the recording under review fully on Gruberova’s level is Juan Diego Florez at the outset of his big career. He has the style and already knows all the ins-and-outs of Rossini. Moreover, he brings with him the sunny colours of a Mediterranean ancestry, which at the time immediately eclipsed fine Rossini singers like Blake and Ford — formidable technicians but without the Peruvian’s natural talent.

Marcello Panni’s conducting is not very inspiring, though one can never be sure on a prima donna’s label that the conductor has the last word on tempi. Even Richard Bonynge, always accused of indulging his wife, brings out the more tragic elements of this opera seria. With Panni one too often has the feeling he is conducting one of Rossini’s comic operas. In the end this rather well-sung and sometimes more homogenous sounding version cannot quite compete with the Sutherland-Horne-Bonynge version where each of the principals is superior to the singers in this recording.  

Jan Neckers

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