Having recently reviewed the Opera Rara edition of this opera, I was tempted by the cast to buy a cheap Marketplace copy of this live performance from the 1986 Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, his birthplace. Prices for this now deleted set on Ricordi Fonit Cetra label can vary enormously but as the Opera Rara set is expensive, you could do worse than find a cheaper copy of this one.
Its disadvantages are the live sound, which results in singers coming onto and going off mike, requiring some volume fiddling on the part of the listener, some quite numerous but not too important stage cuts and - although this is just my judgement - a less homogeneous and refined cast than that offered by Opera Rara.
The greatest pleasure for me was the plangent, luscious voice of Katia Ricciarelli, still in finest voice twenty-five years ago; here is the vocal heft and star-quality that is lacking in Majella Cullagh's otherwise commendable performance as Bianca. Marilyn Horne's singing is a mixed bag: some startlingly agile and complex runs which occasionally threaten to go off course, a suitably masculine lower register and some coarse tone and loose vibrations at the top of the voice; too often she sounds more of a harridan than a hero. She and Ricciarelli do not blend as well as the velvet-smooth-voiced Jennifer Larmore and Cullagh; similarly Chris Merritt, although characterful and adept, is not as elegant a Rossinian as Opera Rara's Barry Banks. Giorgio Surjan is fine as Capellio but Ildebrando d'Arcangelo's luxurious bass is more of a treat.
The studio recording is conducted more energetically and expressively by David Parry than Donald Renzetti in this live recording and obviously the studio set provides much more detailed and balanced sound - although I find the live performance perfectly listenable.
On balance, the Opera Rara edition is preferable unless you are a fan of either or both of the leading ladies here but both sets provide a satisfactory way of getting to know one of Rossini's best, and still neglected operas, full of wonderful trios and quartets and providing an opportunity for a sustained tour de force of singing for mezzo-sopranos of the quality of Horne or Larmore.
This set of a live performance of one of Rossini's most beguiling opera seria is incredible value for money. (There is another pressing available on Amazon, of the SAME PERFORMANCE, for £128! Now how can that be?) The performance comes from 1986 at the Pesaro Festival (the composer's birthplace) and the sound is good with minimal audience interruption (apart from , deservedly, at the end of some of the more outrageous arias where applause is unbounded).
Marilyn Horne sings the trouser role of Falliero with astounding abandon (and sometimes loses the plot in her over-complicated decorations) and is superb in the more reflective moments of the role. She is a vocal phenomenon, her range and agility staggering. Katai Ricciarelli is a pleasing, sweet-toned Bianca and a good partner for Horne. The high tenor, Chris Merrit, does his usual outrageous high notes at the end of his numbers - and all concerned have a ball. This is inconsequential stuff in some respects, but as an outing for fabulous vocal excess and early 19th century bel canto brio, it is wonderfully entertaining.
The cast is superb, the only reason I can give it only 4 stras is the audio quality. This is 1986 live recording, but the audio is slightly muted (as if coming from behind a light curtain) and sometimes volume level deviates - for example check the Horne-Ricciarelli duet at the end of the Act I (Divisi noi). There is another pressing available (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bianca-E-Falliero/dp/B000025B24/) and it makes me wonder if it contains the same audio (remaster?)