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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great performance of a great opera., 21 Jan 2004
Mr. P. H. Murray "Tsaraslondon" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Donizetti: Anna Bolena (Audio CD)
Well, let's get over the caveats first. The performance is heavily cut and this is a live performance from 1957, so the sound is certainly lo-fi, though not completely unacceptable. Otherwise, this is a treasurable account of a historic and absolutely thrilling night at La Scala. The cast is not totally ideal; Rossi-Lemeni as Enrico has great authority but his tone is woolly and leaks air at every emission; Raimondi doesn't have the florid technique for Percy (and consequently much of his role is cut), but he does have the requisite italianate tone. The rest is pure gold. Simionato as Giovanna shows just how exciting a singer she was on the stage; her studio recordings do not do her justice. A high point of the set is the duet with Anna, Callas and Simionato first striking sparks off each other and then blending in sublime harmony. As for Callas, this captures her at the absolute height of her interprative powers in a role that was absolutely right for her at this stage of her career. From the gentle, plangent tone she uses in the first aria, through the fire and brimstone of the Act 1 finale, to the exquisite pathos of the final mad scene, she is sublime. A high point of the set is her voicing of "Guidici ad Anna!" just before the Act 1 finale, where all Anna's queenly outrage is brought to bear with almost unbearable intensity. The finale is capped with a ringing high D and the audience quite rightly goes mad. But it is also in quiet moments that Callas is unique. The ovation she receives after the cavtina in the mad scene is the natural outcome from an audience quite obviously unable to hold its breath any longer - and remember this opera was almost completely unknown at the time. Though EMI did not record Callas in many of her greatest roles, it is good to see that they are now repairing the omission with the official release of some of these live performances. Not to be missed.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A record of a unique occasion, 20 Mar 2008
This review is from: Donizetti: Anna Bolena (Audio CD)
As the previous review of this set indicates, the quality of the sound here is very poor - it must have come from an AM radio recording with occasional interference from other stations. Rossi-Lemeni is atrocious - in fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that I have rarely heard such poor quality bass singing, phrases just barked with little attempt to stick to the pitch or rythm. Raimondi is barely acceptable and the cuts are many. However. HOWEVER, I must confess that I was totally transfixed by Callas's singing here. I am not normally an uncritical Callas fan - I find that her tendency to sing sharp and her tone to assume an acidic quality detract from her unparalleled ability to infuse musical phrases and words with meaning. But this is one of the occasions when the voice was doing exactly what she was asking it to do. And, in truth, she was asking it to do incredible things which invariably come off. It is a tremendous performance, culminating in a death scene that had me in tears and sent the audience of La Scala into wild paroxysms. It is hard to imagine what this performance must have been like in the flesh, but this recording suggests the magical heights an artist can reach when she has the 'flow'. Simionato is pulled along by Callas to give one of her greatest performances, rising to match Callas in their magnificent duet. This is a recording that truly makes one understand why opera can hold some of the most intense experiences in a person's life. A treasure.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Famous live performance from La Scala, 11 Sep 2010
L. E. Cantrell (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Donizetti: Anna Bolena (Audio CD)
Live performance from the opening night of the new Visconti production of "Anna Bolena" at La Scala in Milan, April 14,1957.

By current standards, the mono sound is boxy and limited. By the standards of Callas' recorded live performances, it is well above average. Voices are generally well-caught in a sort of AM radio-ish way, the orchestra slightly less so. The audience at La Scala that opening night was unusually quiet for an Italian crowd. Perhaps they were a little awed by the occasion. Certainly, they were unfamiliar with the opera. Their recorded responses are positive, generous and at more or less the appropriate spots. All that aside, anyone who listens to this "Anna Bolena" should do so for the performance, not the sound reproduction.

ANNA BOLENA, Queen of England - Maria Callas (soprano)
ENRICO VIII, King of England - Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bass-baritone)
GIOVANNA SEYMOUR, lady-in-waiting to Queen Anna, king's mistress and next Queen of England - Giulietta Simionato (mezzo-soprano)
PERCY, a nobleman dangerously in love with Anna - Gianni Raimondi (tenor)
SMETON, a young page and musician idiotically in love with Anna - Gabriella Carturan (soprano)
LORD ROCHEFORT, Anna's brother who has a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time - Plinio Clabassi (baritone)
LORD HERVEY, a courtier who is acutely aware that his career will not be advanced by being Anna's friend - Luigi Rumbo (baritone)

Gianandrea Gavazzeni with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala, Milano.

Libretto with English translation. Short history of the opera and brief summary of the plot.

This was the second major production of "Anna Bolena" in the modern bel canto revival. There are substantial cuts, from which the role of Percy is the greatest sufferer. Many reviewers clearly suffer the vapors at the very thought of losing a single bar of the golden legacy. I am not among their number. Sometimes, less actually is more. I have seldom found note-complete performances, especially those with pseudo-bel canto ornamentations created on the spot, to offer a markedly improved artistic experience. Sometimes, as in the horrifying example of Wagner-length "complete" "Tales of Hoffmann," it can be a dismal downer. In this case, the shortened text of "Anna Bolena" works well enough.

"Anna Bolena" premiered at La Scala on December 26, 1830. It was the big hit that catapulted the 32-year old composer into the great bel canto triad with Rossini and Bellini. For all its success, the opera shared in the general collapse of bel canto fortunes and lay dormant until the 1950s. The post-World War II era saw a revival of the bel canto repertory, largely driven by the presence of Maria Callas and the subsequent development of a group of divas who combined enormous power with extraordinary vocal agility.

(Here in the Twenty-first Century, we find ourselves amid a drought of such divas once again. Where is the next great Medea, Lucia, Norma or Anna Bolena to be found? Almost certainly not among the troops of Handel specialists who come pouring out of today's academies.)

The libretto of "Anna Bolena" rests only lightly on the dreary historical facts. Anne Boleyn is conceived as a fairly typical bel canto heroine, even to the extent of being granted a short mad scene. The reputation Henry VIII is completely slagged in librettist Romani's telling of the tale. The king hasn't a single vestige of honor, generosity or loyalty. He lacks even the self-awareness that makes Shakespeare's monstrous Richard III so entertainingly charming.

It is a part of the received lore among opera fans that the role of Anna is a voice killer. Why this should be when Norma, say, and Turandot and Isolde are not, I can't say. Whatever the dangers, the voice of Callas in 1957 was more than a match for them. Fans of La Divina quite properly regard this as one of her great triumphs. Critics, on the other hand, profess to detect the earliest cracks in the noble vocal facade. Perhaps that is so, but I for one do not choose to ignore the virtues of a performance while searching for its faults.

Callas is better supported by the rest of the cast than is often the case with her live recordings. Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, with his somewhat wooly voice, was not one of the great singers of the Twentieth Century, but he was a good one, nevertheless. I saw him in San Francisco a couple of times toward the end of his career. He was a solid performer who could carry an audience with him. Simionato was very much an A-list singer and sounds like it here, despite the oddly offhand dismissal to be found in the review published by the Good Grey Gramophone Magazine. (Years later she described this "Anna Bolena" as the highlight of her career.) Gianni Raimondi sounds fine to me in what remains of the part of Percy, although some would doubtless argue that his is not the proper type of voice for the role. (The very same argument could be made about Callas herself, despite the too-confident insistence of fans that the remarks of the critic Stendahl about the first Anna, Giudita Pasta, show her to have been something of a Nineteenth Century pre-iteration of Callas.) The singers in the smaller roles, the orchestra, the chorus and the conducting all uphold the reputation of La Scala.

A famous live performance in decent sound with Callas in full La Divina-mode--five stars, of course!
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