GIORDANO: Andrea Chénier
DONIZETTI: Roberto Devereux
MOZART: The Marriage of Figaro
Three absolute winners in this batch, and one disappointment. First of all, this Norma is near-definitive as a performance. Montserrat Caballé has said that this was the finest performance of her career and, indeed, it is very special. Beauty of voice, ease of production, perfect technique—all are there, along with a dramatic intensity often missing from the Spanish soprano's performance. She is surrounded by the best, including Josephine Veasey's Adalgisa, Jon Vickers' sterling Pollione and Agostino Ferrin's Oroveso. This color film was made during a live outdoor performance at the Orange Festival July 20, 1974; it seemed to be a rather breezy evening and it's a pleasure to watch the singers perform in this environment. Jean Pierre Lazar was director of photography and did what he could considering limited lighting in some scenes and variables of singer movement. The sound is well-balanced mono. Subtitles are available only in English. Essential for lovers of Norma.
The legion of fans of tenor Franco Corelli (1925-2003) will surely wish to have this splendid performance of Andrea Chénier, one of his finest roles. He recorded it commercially and there exists a live Vienna performance from 1960 in which he is partnered by Renata Tebaldi. Some collectors also have the Philadelphia Orchestra Gala Concert performance of the final scene in which Montserrat Caballé is Maddalena. On this Italian Radio Television film dating from 1973 Corelli's partner is the little-known Celestina Casapietra, who a year earlier recorded the soprano part in Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 2 with Kurt Masur conducting. Casapietra doesn't disappoint, but Corelli deserved better. Capuccilli is heard in one of his best roles, Gérard, and the rest of the cast is fine. The performance was obviously recorded first, filmed afterwards, and there are some lip-sync problems. The opportunity to see Corelli (52 at the time of the recording, but looking like 30!) as Chénier, with that unbelievable outpouring of rich, vibrant sound—and his handsome stage appearance—should not be missed. The film's color isn't quite as vivid as it might be but surely acceptable, sound is well-balanced mono, and subtitles are provided in English, French and Italian. Both Norma and Chénier are pricey, but worth the $$$$.
The Marriage of Figaro has been featured in forty-six of the eighty summers of the Salzburg Festival with leading conductors at the helm, including Bruno Walter, Josef Krips, Herbert von Karajan, Wilhem Furtwängler and, more recently, Lorin Maazel, Riccardo Muti and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The first time Karl Böhm conducted the opera at Salzburg was 1941, the last time was this 1966 production directed by Gunther Rennert with set and costume design by Ludwig Heinrich. In 1957 the production featured the star-studded cast of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Irmgard Seefried, Christa Ludwig, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Erich Kunz. The 1966 production might not have had those lustrous names, but it did have a uniformly strong cast and Böhm presiding over the proceedings with his usual mastery. Performed in the most intimate Kleines Festspielhaus, this is a total delight musically, presented in front of a highly enthusiastic (and righfully so!) audience that applauded after each number. The Austrian Television did this taping with relatively primitive equipment, so there is no color and the sound is mono (but very good). There are two CDs in the set, the first with 31 tracks, the second with 34.
The disappointment in this group is the performance of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux devised and directed by Tito Capobianco, recorded live in 1975. Beverly Sills was famous for her portrayals of Donizetti's heroines beginning in the late '60s, so well known that she was on the cover of Time magazine in 1971. She recorded Roberto Devereux in 1969, Lucia di Lammermoor in 1970, Maria Stuarda in 1971, and Anna Bolena in 1972. Even at the time of those recordings Sills' voice was beginning to lose its agility and control, and by 1975 there was considerable additional degeneration in vocal quality. Often in this performance she is off-pitch, rather distressing to hear; if you wish the Sills Roberto Devereaux experience, get her commercial audio recording.
R.E.B. (December 2003)