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Recordings

Gioacchino Rossini: Bianca e Falliero
27 Aug 2007

ROSSINI: Bianca e Falliero

The choice between this recording made at the Pesaro Festival in August 2005 and the Opera Rara recording of 2000 will partly be made for non-musical reasons.

Gioacchino Rossini: Bianca e Falliero

Maria Bayo (Bianca), Daniela Barcellona (Falliero) ; Francesco Meli (Contareno), Carlo Lepore (Capellio), Dario Benini (Priuli), Ornella Bonomelli (Costanza), Jiri Prudic (Loredano), Karel Pajer (Ufficiale), Stefan Cifolelli (Cancelliere). Coro da camera di Praga e Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia conducted by Renato Palumbo.

Dynamic CDS 501/1-2 [3CDs]

$52.49  Click to buy

Opera Rara always offers so fine a booklet lavishly illustrated and with well-written detailed essays, that many an opera collector I know buys every issue, just for the good read and to have the full series in his/her collection. The two page essay in the Dynamic issue clearly cannot compete with the Opera Rara rival though there is compensation as Dynamic usually sells for lower prices. There is a second reason why Opera Rara will be difficult to be superseded and that’s Rossini’s. I’ve owned the Opera Rara set for many years and I’ve played this newer set several times and I don’t succeed in catching the tunes. The music sounds pleasant and very Rossinian and that’s it. It goes by without making a deeper impression and seems to be one of the composers rather run-of-the mill affairs.

The composer hastily travelled to Milan between turning out a series of operas for Naples in quick succession. After the first performances of La Donna del Lago at the end of October – beginning of November he arrived in the middle of November 1819 in the capital of Lombardy. He got a libretto by Romani and started composing a work of fully three hours of music. And one month and a few days later, on December the 26th , the world première took place. No wonder the review in Gazetta di Milano was not favourable. Indeed, no one hearing a recording of the work and not understanding the words will have a clue to what is happening, except that it seems to be something about a charming though lightweight affair. There is little in the music that reminds one of a tyrannical father wanting his daughter to marry a man she doesn’t love and a daughter who is willing to risk her life to have her and her lover’s life to have her way. As a result, this is an opera one can enjoy listen to but not one that has to sit on one’s shelves in every available version. The first contender therefore mostly takes it all; especially as there are no glaring differences in quality of singing.

The Prague orchestra on Dynamic is not on the same level as the London Philharmonic whose sound is more rich and better recorded. Renato Palumbo however knows his Rossini and brings energy to the score together with a fine understanding for his singers who have to do the most of the work. I’m always surprised how much tempi can differ in one of those interminable acts of Parsifal. Yet in Rossini one rarely notes this idiosyncratic behaviour of conductors. As (happily) both recordings are really complete it is remarkable that the long second act doesn’t differ too much in minutes though Palumbo is more incisive than Opera Rara’s Parry and his slightly quicker tempi make the opera more digestible. Another asset for Dynamic is mezzo Daniela Barcellona. She has the virtuosity for the intrinsic Rossinian writing and her noble timbre for the hero has the apt volume as well which makes this trouser role acceptable for a modern audience. Larmore on Opera Rara is less a technician than Barcellona and her natural means are more modest. Francesco Meli on Dynamic is not a belcanto singer like Barry Banks but he too wins as his tenor is far more Italian than his rival. The difference between Maria Bayo and OR’s Majella Cullagh is marginal but personally I think Bayo’s tone too thin. She doesn’t sound a Venetian noble lady that raises in revolt to her father’s dictates. Carlo Lepore too hasn’t the depth and freshness of sound that Ildebrando D’Arcangelo displays on OR. All in all, the choice between those two versions will depend upon the personal like or dislikes for one or more singers and the non-musical aspect will probably make a difference for many a collector.

Jan Neckers

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