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Recordings

Gaetano Donizetti Anna Bolena
28 Aug 2007

DONIZETTI: Anna Bolena

A career-making smash for Donizetti at its 1830 premiere, Anna Bolena eventually faded from the standard repertory.

Gaetano Donizetti Anna Bolena

Elena Souliotis; Marilyn Horne; Placido Domingo; Carlo Cava; Dame Janet Baker; Raymond Gibbs; Emilio Beleval; Orchestra & Chorus/Henry Lewis.
Live recording: New York, Carnegie Hall, November 15, 1966

Gala CD 100.659

$21.49  Click to buy

It got a boost from the 1950/60s bel canto revival, but in recent decades it has seldom been revived. Gala takes Donizetti fans back to the last years of that revival, with a four-disc set comprised of three performances dating from 1966 through 1977. The catch here: Only one of the performances is complete, that given in 1966 by the American Opera Society at Carnegie Hall. Starting on disc three and ending on disc four are some choice excerpts from a 1974 New York City Opera production, and disc four closes with an even more narrow range of selections from a 1977 performance at Rome Opera.

An in-house recording, the 1966 Anna Bolena captures an exciting performance, as the understandable but occasionally intrusive applause demonstrates. After one's ears adjust to the sound (decent for this type of source but buzzy in loud passages), the singing of fine vocalists in their prime can be enjoyed as they deliver Donizetti's passionate if unsubtle score with complete conviction. Elena Souliotis, the Anna, could not maintain the quality of singing evident here - dramatic, bold, fearless - and though her career ultimately did not fulfill its promise, she has this recording to substantiate the excitement she could generate. Marilyn Horne was establishing her greatness, and her Giovanna (Jane) Seymour has all her famed intelligence and control, with a voice not yet self-consciously beautiful. Placido Domingo went on to spinto roles fairly quickly, but his Lord Percy reveals how good a fit his dark, handsome tenor made in a Donizetti lead. Carlo Cava is a worthy Enrico (Henry the 8th), and in a wonderful piece of casting, Janet Baker takes the role of Smeton. Henry Lewis leads the orchestra, with the opening sinfonia sounding amazingly like a lost Rossini overture.

The NYCO performance gives very little away in terms of voices. Marisa Galvany (Anna) and Olivia Stapp (Giovanna) go at each other in the second act confrontation scene with delectable ferocity. Roger Patterson has a less distinctive sound than Domingo as Percy, but he is capable enough. A young Samuel Ramey contrasts well with the Boris Christoff performance in the third performance, discussed below. Ramey may slight the characterization, but he has all the music in his voice and that counts for a lot. Juius Rudel conducts well, at least as well as can be heard in an acoustic more constricted than that of the Carnegie Hall recording.

In his fine notes, Andrew Palmer cites Christoff as the main reason to enjoy the brief excerpts from the 1977 Rome performance crammed onto disc four. Christoff certainly roars and blusters, as one might expect an Enrico to do, but for these ears, his voice in 1977 is unpleasantly harsh. His Giovanna, Maria Luisa Nave, makes a much more appealing impression. Sadly, there is too little of Leyla Gencer, the Anna. Gabriele Ferro conducted.

Gala's decision to combine a full performance, a heavily cut one, and a fragmentary third ultimately doesn't make much sense. Those who only want the Suiliotis may resent having to pay for the others, and those who want the Galvany or Gencer will surely deplore the missing music. Lacking for any other alternatives, however, at least Gala offers this set at budget price, with good tracking information and, as mentioned, a solid though brief essay by Andrew Palmer.

Chris Mullins

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