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Format: Audio CD
Abbado liked this opera so much he staged and recorded the live performance twice within eight years. Once thought lost and the music only partly salvaged by Rossini having adapted about half of it for his later opera "Le Comte Ory" it was successfully reconstructed 150 years after its last performance for the coronation of Charles X and discovered to be a joyful comic masterpiece to rival "Die Fledermaus" or "Orpheus in the Underworld". The plot is wholly inconsequential; it's just an operatic spoof employing the same device as the "Canterbury Tales" whereby a disparate bunch of travellers bicker, intrigue, flirt and entertain each other with a "party scene" as the finale.
There can surely never have been such a concatenation of effervescent musical invention as Rossini provides here; one sparkling number succeeds another. All you need to do it justice, to paraphrase Caruso, is not four but the ten greatest singers in the world. Neither version quite provides that but I don't think the choice is as straightforward as some other reviewers claim. First of all, if you had either it would not be worth jettisoning it to acquire the other as both are superb. Secondly, although the difference in sound might favour the later Berlin performance, the live Pesaro version is just fine with the singers virtually always in focus and very few distracting stage noises. Thirdly, and more controversially, some claim that the Berlin Philharmonic is markedly superior to the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. It is true that individual Berlin instrumentalists such as the flautist might be better but I think them too refined compared with the gusto of the COE. However, in the end, this being a showcase for superlative Rossini singing it is for me the cast which tips the balance in favour of the earlier recording.
Naked nymphomaniacs waving bundles of negotiable currency could not induce me to prefer William Matteuzzi over Francisco Araiza as the Conte di Libenskof. I have never understood how anyone tolerated his wretchedly weedy tenorino in any music let alone bravura Rossini and thankfully in the Pesaro version he is relegated to a single utterance in the minor role of Gelsomino. While I am no great fan of Araiza's rather constricted tone and aspirated divisions, I see him as a god compared with Matteuzzi. Other great advantages are the casting of Katia Ricciarelli still in creamiest voice as Madama Cortese and Cecilia Gasdia rather than Sylvia McNair as Corinna (although both are excellent). Lella Cuberli is definitely preferable to Luciana Serra as the Contessa. However, I concede that Argentinean tenor Raul Gimenez is a more refined and pleasing of voice than his Spanish counterpart and namesake Edoardo and as Leo Nucci as Don Alvaro was already beginning to sound rocky in 1984 Lucio Gallo might be preferable in 1992.
Otherwise the cast for both performances has five big names in common and although Raimondi might by 1992 have introduced yet more subtlety into his tour de force patter-song it is already hilarious in 1984. Samuel Ramey's beautiful, flexible basso cantante is a joy in both, as are Valentini Terrani's agile oboe tones; Enzo Dara is the seasoned comic in both sets. The highlight must be the "Gran pezzo concertato a 14 voci" but Raimondi and Ricciarelli in the Tirolese yodelling song (!) are sheer, unadulterated joy.
My preference thus remains for the earlier version but you cannot go wrong with either - if you can endure Mr Matteuzzi...