Opern-Gala with Franco Bonisolli and Mirelli Freni
Arias and duets from La traviata, Aida, Rigoletto, La bohème, Otello, Luisa Miller, La Juive, Il trovatore, I pagliacci, Manon Lescaut, Faust, Turandot, La favorita, Madama Butterfly, Gianni Schicchi, and Manon.
Franco Bonisolli, tenor, Mirella Freni, soprano (also Edda Moser, soprano, in I pagliacci). Staatskapelle Berlin, Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, Pfälzische Philharmonic, Lamberto Gardelli, Leone Magiera, and Bruno Weil, conductors.
Andy Classics 250 562 (F) (ADD) (2 CDs) TT: 2:04:44

Recently I reviewed a disc of excerpts from a 13 March 1988 concert in Munich, starring the controversial Italian tenor, Franco Bonisolli. That disc, issued by Andy Classics in Germany, is (or should soon be) available from www.amazon.com.

Now from Andy Classics here's another release starring Franco Bonisolli. This two-disc set, Opern-Gala, features several recordings that Bonisolli made for the Acanta label in the 1970s. He is joined on many of the excerpts with the exquisite Italian soprano, Mirella Freni, who is also featured in several arias. I should mention that this set does replicate numerous items that are, or have been, issued on CD. For example, all of the excerpts with Freni (both solo and duet) are also included on a recent Arts Archives release (43008-2). The excerpts from La traviata are from the 1973 complete Acanta recording. “La donna è mobile” is likewise excerpted from a 1977 Acanta complete Rigoletto. Also, while the liner notes list the “Ah si, ben mio” as being conducted by Leone Magiera, I believe it is actually from the 1975 Eurodisc Il trovatore, conducted by Bruno Bartoletti. All told (by my count) 15 of the 28 tracks have made an appearance, at one time or another, on other compact discs.

However the Opern-Gala set does, to the best of my knowledge, constitute the first CD reissue of the entire contents of an early-70s Acanta recital disc, featuring Bonisolli and the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, conducted by Leone Magiera. To my ears, it is one of the finest tenor operatic recital discs from that era. The recording captures Bonisolli in his youthful prime, with a voice of greater sweetness, beauty, and focus than the one encountered in the impressive 1988 Munich recital. In this early-70s recital, Bonisolli sings with a winning combination of passion, elegance and style (both in Italian and French) with, of course, a wealth of glorious high notes—written and unwritten. As these recordings were made in the studio, the occasional vocal slip is nowhere to be found. Yet, there remains the kind of spontaneity and communication often lacking in studio recordings. Again, I think this is a superb disc, certainly competitive with the best of the more famous “Three Tenors.” I might even argue that it surpasses their work, at least in term of sheer intensity and visceral excitement.

Mirella Freni, here recorded in her prime, is in gorgeous voice on all of her excerpts. The lovely Italian soprano also seems to bring out Franco Bonisolli’s most elegant side, producing some truly memorable work in their duets from La bohème, Otello, Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, and Gianni Schicchi.

Opern-Gala also includes two excerpts from an EMI recording of I pagliacci that I have never encountered before. It sounds as if the recording was made a bit later than the Acanta excerpts, but still features Bonisolli in excellent, passionate form. Edda Moser is Bonisolli’s worthy partner in the opera’s final moments.

If you don’t already own the excerpts featured on this disc, I recommend purchase, and without hesitation. Even if you do have the material issued on CD, I still think this Opern-Gala is worth the price for the superb Bonisolli Acanta solo recital.

All of the recordings are from the original master tapes, and feature excellent sound. As in the case of the Bonisolli Munich recital, Opern-Gala should be available from www.amazon.com.

K.M. (October 2003)