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Peaks and valleys.
on 23 June 2003
Curious trend this, whereby italian operas in major centres are now commonly cast without a single italian singer, at least in the main roles. Whether that obeys to an acute scarcity of competent, world-class Italian singers remains to be seen, maybe globalisation arrived to the arts with its full impact. Any way, this release is typical of its source, very well produced and with interesting and pertinent supplementary material, a feature other publishers ought to imitate.
The end result is uneven, though, in spite of the stunning Moshinsky production for The Royal Opera, a significant improvement over his previous Australian effort which has been variously broadcast over world television and seen in many countries. The main problem lies with Cura's Manrico, caught here in a problematic evening none the less the loud cheering and applause at the end courtain calls; visually he certainly looks the part. I can't say whether he's going through recurrent vocal problems or if this was an isolated incident, but what we have here is a very wobbly vocal production that to me marred an otherwise wonderful night at the opera (London, 3rd May 2002), where with "tricks of the trade" Cura tried, sometimes more successfully than others, to conceal the fact that his vocal instrument was in substandard condition; alarm lights up for the listener from the very "Deserto sulla terra" moment. Top honours are shared by Hvorostovsky and Naef, in their respective roles of the Count and Azucena. The siberian's is one of the most effective impersonations of the Count I've ever seen, acted with utter conviction and bravado, sung with impeccable and effectively nuanced vocal production, velvety when it calls for, full voiced when pertinent; no wonder then that "Il balen del tuo sorriso" brings the house down -I'd add that young italian baritones aspiring to tackle the rôle ought well study this portrayal-. Nor less can we say about the Azucena, the part chosen by Naef to show her proficiency at the ROH for the first time. Looking perhaps youngish for the part, especially in her scenes when she shares the stage with Cura, her powerful mezzo voice soars majestically over the Covent Garden stage, bringing memories of earlier, italian famous exponents of the part. Villarroel's voice is perhaps not strong enough for Leonora but she in the end acquits herself quite successfully, not a great Leonora perhaps but satisfactory all round none the less; her pianissimi are exquisite. The Ferrando equals Cura in wobbliness, the Inés seems cool and detached. The chorus and orchestra are in top form, Rizzi's tempi in the fast side, sometimes unnecessarily so, or maybe uncalled for (I went back to Carlo Maria Giulini's essay on the subject of this work's suggested tempi, originally marked by Verdi himself on his score, which the illustrious Italian conductor studied closely whilst preparing his excellent audio-only recording made in Rome some 20 years ago for DG; the essay is published in the booklet that accompanies it and is recommended reading for those who own the album).
In sum: peaks and valleys, but an all-round satisfactory experience, well directed for television by Brian Large and very well recorded, sound-wise, like most BBC Opus Arte releases I've come across. If you happen to live in a city which is a major opera centre, you may well experience the work live and in a similarly good -or even better- performance sometime or the other, with even perhaps at least some of these same singers and thereby doing without this album perfectly well. But if, like most of us, you don't, you won't go wrong by ordering this DVD, which for a fraction of the price of a decent seat at the Metropolitan Opera or the Chicago Lyric Opera -and certainly at Covent Garden, where the performance was recorded and good tickets go over the £PRICE barrier-, renders all round satisfaction, with the caveats referred to above.