on 30 June 2001
Closer to Bel Canto, this neglected Verdi masterpiece has so many beautiful moments of exceptional value. I can't understand why it's so rarely performed. On this set you might not experience extreme dramatic performances (especially by Caballe-Bergonzi) but the singing really doesn't get any better than this. First and foremost the true diva, my beloved Montserrat gives one of her vocally most ravishing performances. She sounds even fresher than in some of her earlier recordings! The coloratura is perfect, effortless high powerful notes and her trademark, unbelievable pianissimo. You really can't find such a soprano today! Her dramatic outbreaks are few but sincere and heartfelt. She is here accompanied by the sublime Carlo Bergonzi, a verdian expert. His beautiful, stylish singing is ideal for the role. I'm thinking: did perhaps Verdi himself coach this tenor? How does he do it?!!! This is one of the few recordings we have with him with Caballe and it's a must. You also get to hear two other wonderful artists: Cappuccilli and Raimondi. They capture both drama and music. I especially admire Cappuccilli. Maestro Gardelli conducts this dream cast and completes this supreme recording of a less popular but thrilling Verdi opera.
I am always intrigued by the way some of Verdi's earlier operas have remained comparatively neglected both on stage and in the recording studio, although a little close listening and thought will sometimes provide an - if not the - answer.
"I Masnadieri" - Verdi's eleventh, "London" opera - has a lot going for it. Both the two studio recordings so far made are top quality and the opera has many armchair adherents, but the culminating absurdity of our hero stabbing his beloved to spare her the agony of losing him to the bandits (to whom he has sworn eternal fealty) is just too much to swallow. The soprano has much beautiful music written expressly for the vocal talents of Jenny Lind; consequently there is a lot of delicate coloratura and scope for the top end of the voice, but none of those gutsy plunges into the lower register that stiffen the sinews and give a little starch to a rather pale and passive heroine.
As I have said, both recordings are wonderful, if different. One might expect to hear frailties in both Sutherland's and Bergonzi's singing, she being in her mid and he in his early fifties at the times of recording (1982 and 1975 respectively), but both are superb; in fact she is more animated and has a better trill than Caballé and he is more stylish and nuanced than the stentorian Bonisolli. Both sound great, even if he is occasionally a little dry and a hint of a beat obtrudes in Sutherland's top - but these recordings represent the best of their late work. Bonisolli is certainly more exciting than Bergonzi, too; a curiosity is that he and Sutherland are allowed by Bonynge to take ringing top C's (and even a C sharp, in his case) whereas Gardelli has his singers take the rather tame lower, written options all the time. Both baritones are top class, although I prefer Manuguerra's more biting tone to Cappuccilli's woollier production; both basses are splendid: Raimondi sounds much more the starved, weakened old man but Ramey's voice is intrinsically more rotund. (Apparently credibility was strained in the first London performance, as the part of Massimiliano was taken by the celebrated and notoriously rotund bass Lablache.) Both choruses and orchestra are unimpeachable - although in the overture the Welsh National Opera's concertante cellist plays more affectingly and with more tender phrasing than his New Philharmonia counterpart. Conversely, Caballé and Bergonzi make a more moving job of their lovely duet "Ma un'iri di pace".
So I cannot separate these two recordings: the Decca is more exciting, the Philips more beautiful in its restraint. I am glad to own both.