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Vincenzo Bellini: Il Pirata
30 Aug 2009

Bellini: Il Pirata

This 1958 RAI broadcast of Bellini's early masterpiece requires the accustomed aural compromise for maximum enjoyment.

Vincenzo Bellini: Il Pirata

Mirto Picchi; Anna De’ Cavalieri; Walter Monachesi; Tomaso Spataro; Miti’ Truccato Pace; Odoardo Spataro. Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Torino della RAI/Mario Rossi. Live recording: Turin, February 9, 1958

Urania 22.366 [2CDs]

$18.98  Click to buy

At first the narrow spectrum evokes the aural equivalent of claustrophobia - the ears desperately desire some air around the notes. If a performance is decent or better, the ears soon adjust and even begin to imagine, as in an audio mirage, that the sound is better than it is. That happens here, thankfully.

Essentially a three-character libretto (by Felice Romani, uncredited in Urania’s paltry booklet of cast and track listings only), Il Pirata places a heroic tenor in the lead. Bellini provided his soprano with ample opportunity to shine, however, including an extended final scene bewailing the loss of her true love Gualtiero, the pirate, who is about to be executed for killing her husband Ernesto, who had blackmailed her into marriage. The loss of any synopsis in the booklet, in other words, can easily be compensated for by a performance than revels in the amplitude of Bellini’s music.

This RAI group does very well, despite the lack of starry names. Tenor Mirto Picchi doesn’t have either the sweetness of a lyric or the power of a spinto. His tone falls in the middle, which is not to call it “middling.” Think of him as a more human hero: the body of his voice strong if lacking any distinctive character, and the top securely accessed. Right from her entrance as Imogene, Anna De’ Cavalieri demonstrates that though her name may not be familiar, at the time of this recording she was very special indeed. The tone has a passing familiarity to that of Callas. But in 1958, De’ Cavalieri’s control and fluidity, right to an exciting top, mark her as her own artist. As has happened all too often, Il Pirata becomes another Bellini soprano vehicle with a performance such as this. As her despicable husband, Walter Monachesi growls appropriately.

The Torino forces of the RAI play well for conductor Mario Rossi, but the orchestra contributions are dimmed by the dismal sound. As mentioned above, Urania provides next to nothing in its fold-out booklet. For lovers of this opera, this admirable performance should be provision enough.

Chris Mullins

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