Recordings & Reviews ............................. [from Adrina Lecouvreur to Anna Bolena]


[from Adrina Lecouvreur to Anna Bolena]

Adriana Lecouvreur [Live]


Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli
Oliviero de Fabritiis
Leyla Gencer (Adriana); Amadeo Zambon (Maurizio); Antonio Zerbini (Il principe di Bouillon); Bruno Lazzaretti (La principessa di Bouillon); Enzo Sordello (Michonnet); Franco Ricciardi (l'Abate)
Bonus Tracks
13.01.1962 TURANDOT
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli
Oliviero de Fabritiis

Udovich (Turandot); Gencer (Liu); Corelli (Calaf)
Signore ascolta / Il nome che cercate... / Tu che di gel sei cinta
GAO – 2 CDs

CILEA Adriana Lecouvreur. PUCCINI Turandot: Excerpts2. • Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Adriana); Adriana Lazzarini, mezzo-soprano (Princesse de Bouillon); Amedeo Zambon, tenor (Maurizio); Enzo Sordello, baritone (Michonnet); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples; Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Liù); Lucilie Udovich, soprano (Turandot); Franco Corelli, tenor (Calai); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples. • BONGIOVANNI/THE GOLDEN AGE OF OPERA GAO 143/44 [ADD]; two monaural discs: 67:31, 74:03. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: January 13, 1962 (2. LIVE performance: Naples; December 17, 1961
Premiered at Milan's Teatro Lirico in 1902, Adriana Lecouvreur is a diva's opera, with passionate exchanges for soprano and tenor, a fatal rivalry between soprano and mezzo, and an extended death scene for the heroine, who succumbs to the scent of a poisoned bouquet. Rosa Ponselle's decision to retire may have been fed by Edward Johnson's refusal to mount a Met production for her in the late 1930s. Cilea's choice for a 1951 revival was Magda Olivero, who emerged from a ten-year retirement to please the composer (who unfortunately died some months before the performances took place). Olivero's searing portrayal is preserved in an exciting 1959 broadcast from Naples, with Corelli, Simionato, and Bastianini, on Melodram. Renata Tebaldi and Joan Sutherland can be heard in studio recordings on London. The preferred stereo account features Renata Scotto with Domingo, Milnes, and (the weak link) Obraztsova under Levine's direction, on CBS Masterworks/Sony Classical (reviewed by me in Fanfare 13:5; note that CBS's libretto lacks crucial stage directions). Mirella Freni, who may be seen on a video from La Scala's 1989-90 season, brings her portrayal to New York this March.
The present performance should please fans of Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer—well known to collectors of underground discs—and of the opera itself. The sound is noisy, limited in range, and further marred by blasting at climaxes and occasional, ill-placed dropouts. Gencer has some telling opportunities to demonstrate her ravishing trademark pianissimos (as at “La promessa terrò” at Maurizio's act II exit) and fully exploits the role's expressive content; she's particularly effective in her third act Phèdre recitation, and at the start of act IV, as she moves from remorse to chest-inflected tones of vengeance and then once more to despair. You can also hear a striking example of her guttural attack, coupled with a dramatic gasp, on “E finito!” at the end of “Poveri fiori” (unfortunately, a jarring break in the original tape separates the aria from the preceding passage). Tenor Amedeo Zambon—whoever he might be—is so good that I can't find anything in his performance to fault; “Il russo Mencikoff,” the opera's only tenor solo typically to encourage specific comment, is terrific. And then, in their final duet, he proves almost Gencer's equal in matching her ability to build, shape, and sustain a line softly. Together they convey the sense that this music is, for them, a living thing, rather than a remnant of some long-gone style in need of recapturing. The same is true of de Fabritiis's conducting. Just listen to the fourth-act prelude, which conveys all the poignancy and tension of what has preceded and what is to come. Enzo Sordello—famous for being fired from the Met at Maria Callas's instigation—is an engagingly sympathetic Michonnet, even if not responsive to every textual detail. As the Princess, Adriana Lazzarini isn't strong enough at the end of act II (boy do Olivero and Simionato make that scene work!), but she's very good in her dialog with the Abbé at the start of act III. The prompter is occasionally audible, but not damagingly so. Gencer offers poised vocalism as Liù in the murky-sounding Turandot excerpts that conclude the second disc. 

Recordings of Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilea are surveyed in the following publications:
HARRIS p.15; Opera on Record 2 p.292; CELLETTI p.160; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.155p.126; MET p.82; MET(VID) p.41; PENGUIN p.60; Opera on Video p.214; GIUDICI p.134 (2) p.221; Opéra Internatonal novembre 2000 No.251 pp.60-61
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Fanfare - Vol.17 No.3 January-February 1994 p.161
Opéra International - No.183 September 1994 p.70
Comments: Recording of a performance at Teatro di San Carlo (see Opera April 1967 p. 292). The CDRs issued by «The Opera Lovers» are listed on the website


1994 April 

Agnese di Hohenstaufen [Live]


Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale di Fiorentino
Riccardo Muti
Leyla Gencer (Agnese); Joy Davidson (Irmengarda); Veriano Luchetti (Enrico II Palatino); Nicola Martinucci (Filippo); Walter Alberti (Enrico il Leone); Dan Jordachescu (Duca di Borgogna); Mario Petri (Enrico VI); Ferruccio Mazzoli (Arcivescono); Ottavio Taddei (Teobaldo)
House of Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of Agnes von Hohenstaufen by Gaspare Spontini are surveyed in the following publications: CELLETTI p.773

Aida [Live]

04.08.1963 AIDA

Orchestra e Coro dell'Arena di Verona
Tullio Serafin
Leyla Gencer (Aida); Gastone Limarilli (Radames); Giulietta Simionato (Amneris); Giangiacomo Guelfi (Amonasro); Bonaldo Giaiotti (Ramfis); Antonio Zerbini (Il Re); Silvana Tumicelli (una sacerdotessa); Ottorino Begali (un messaggero)
Stage Director: Herbert Graf ve Carlo Maestrini
Sceen and costume design: Pino Casarini
House of Opera – 1 DVD


Recordings of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:

High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.98, October 1963 Vol.13 No.10 p.146; HARRIS p.17; Opera on Record p.304; CELLETTI p.815; MARINELLI p.190; Opera on CD(1) p.57 (2) p.64 (3) p.72; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.4 p.114; MET p.643; MET(VID) p.400; PENGUIN p.461; Opera Quarterly Vol.2 No.4 p.68; GIUDICI p.1012 (2) p.1636; Opéra International No.258 juin 2001 p.22
Comments: Video recording of Acts 1 to 3 of a performance in the Arena di Verona (4 August 1963). Act 4 was not performed because of bad weather.


16.07.1966 AIDA

Teatro alla Scala di Milano
Zubin Mehta
Leyla Gencer (Aida); Fiorenza Cossotto (Amneris); Carlo Bergonzi (Radames); Anselmo Colzani (Amonasro); Bonaldo Giaiotti (Ramfis); Franco Pugliese (Il Re); Ottorino Bengali (un messaggero); Ambra Vespasiani (una sacerdotessa)
GDS – 2 CDs

FANFARE MUSIC MAGAZINE                        


VERDI Aida. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Aida); Fiorenza Cossotto, mezzo-soprano (Amneris); Ambra Vespasiani, soprano (Priestess); Carlo Bergonzi, tenor (Radames); Anselmo Colzani, baritone (Amonasro); Bonaldo Giaiotti, bass (Ramfis); Lino Puglise, bass (King); conducted by Zubin Mehta. • HISTORICAL RECORDING ENTERPRISES HRE V824-3 (three discs, mono; recorded live 1966), $24.00 [distributed by Lyric].

With characteristic reticence, HRE neglects to provide the full provenance of this addition (No. 22) to its Complete Verdi Cycle. Perhaps readers better acquainted with such arcane matters can cast more light on the matter than I can. Yet I can and will, in due course, speculate on the matter.

Four of the participants here—Bergonzi, Cossotto, Giaiotti, and Mehta—have confided to tape and disc their contributions to this opera. Gencer and Colzani have not, at least not in commercial studio form. Under these circumstances, this release at best might be valued as a documentation of their performance in Aida.

Leyla Gencer here shows a voice of limited and uneven range. Its top, especially from the top of the stave to C, has considerable brilliance and thrust. Below that it has a darker mezzo quality that fades into an almost parlando at the bottom of the stave. Colzani's voice is, here at least, a light and flexible baritone, somewhat lacking in the paternal authority required of it in the Third Act. Both singers seem well-routined in their roles. I emphasize the “seem” because the sound and overall performance are among the very worst I have ever heard on records.

To begin, the sound can be best described as “sub-acoustic,” with a distinctly pre-electric quality that makes the given date of 1966 rather incredible. The records are labeled “stereo,” but the cramped sound is completely mono. I strongly suspect an inept amateur member of the audience as the source. Much of the time a highly fragmented orchestra covers the singers, who fade in and out as they move, noisily, about the stage. The orchestra produces no coherent sound, but rather a few prominent instruments in random fashion. Ensemble within the orchestra and between pit and stage is coincidental at best. The cramped sound is badly distorted and surrounded by a great deal of noise.

I find the attribution of this performance to Zubin Mehta completely incredible. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut conducting Aida on 29 December 1965, and remained with it there through January and February of 1966. This is not anything like Mehta's conducting at that time at the Met, where I recall an intense, if anything too fast, performance, as opposed to the tentative lethargy on these records.

Whatever the source or circumstances, these records are a total disgrace and discredit to their perpetrators. I have discussed them at this length only to warn our readers of the existence of this kind of flagrant dishonesty.

09.08.1966 AIDA

Orchestra e Coro dell'Arena di Verona
Franco Capuana
Leyla Gencer (Aida); Fiorenza Cossotto (Amneris); Carlo Bergonzi (Radames); Anselmo Colzani (Amonasro); Bonaldo Giaiotti (Ramfis); Franco Pugliese (Il Re); Ottorino Bengali (un messaggero); Adalina Grigolato (una sacerdotessa)
Herbert Graf, regia
Pino Casarini, scena e costumi
Hardy – 1 DVD


16.07.1966 AIDA

Orchestra e Coro dell'Arena di Verona
Franco Capuana
Leyla Gencer (Aida); Fiorenza Cossotto (Amneris); Carlo Bergonzi (Radames); Anselmo Colzani (Amonasro); Bonaldo Giaiotti (Ramfis); Franco Pugliese (Il Re); Ottorino Bengali (un messaggero); Adalina Grigolato (una sacerdotessa)
GDS - 2 CDs

FANFARE MAGAZINE                                                                                         

VERDI Aida. • Franco Capuana, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Aida); Carlo Bergonzi, tenor (nacrâmes); Fiorenza Cossotto, mezzo-soprano (Amneris); Anselmo Colzani, baritone (Amonasrd); Bonaldo Giaiotti, bass (Ramfis); Franco Pugliese, bass (The King); Chorus & Orchestra of the Arena, Verona. • GIUSEPPE DI STEFANO RECORDS GDS 21032 [AAD]; two discs: 72:05, 65:25. (Distributed by Qualiton.)

The Prelude sounds clear as well as outdoorsy, but once the “curtain” goes up, one realizes that it must have been spliced in from some other performance. The voices of Bergonzi and Giaiotti sound gargley, as if the performance had been recorded on a warped transcription disc—there's even a brief skip in “Celeste Aida.” Things gradually improve and, before long, the recording is quite passable. By that time, one may be so immersed in the performance that it won't matter. Franco Capuana may have been an ordinary general, but he commands first-class troops who give the performance its considerable distinction. It could hardly fail, given that Cossotto, Bergonzi, and Giaiotti are in their vocal primes and Gencer and Colzani not far past theirs—and, of course, though hardly immune from nitpicking, they were all good singers.

If laurels must be awarded, they go to Cossotto, who drives her voice to its limits to thrilling effect. At this time (1966), incipient vocal problems were a mere cloud off on the horizon. While not shortchanging the more subtle aspects of the role, she fills its athletic ones in a way one always hopes to hear (for example, in the powerful declamation of the Judgment Scene) but seldom does. Anyone who never heard Bergonzi in person might be fooled into thinking him a dramatic tenor. He would often meet heroic roles on his own terms, sparing his voice (he's still hanging in there) but also disappointing you when it was time to just plant his feet and bang out some forte high notes. Perhaps inspired by Cossotto, he holds little back here (or maybe it was the thought of filling the Verona Arena that did it) but never strays outside of himself; if it's possible to belt out a role tastefully, he manages it. He phrases well; he acknowledges the meaning of text; he's in fine voice. At this time, at the Met, he used to take the final note of “Celeste Aida” softly; not here, probably figuring this was no time for subtlety.

I used to wonder why Giaiotti's career never really took off: the voice was beautiful from top to bottom, and he had the requisite dignified appearance for the sort of roles his kind of voice usually sings, but less well-endowed singers seemed to do better. Someone told me he had trouble learning roles and he was a stolid, unimaginative singer, but the voice remains nearly the personification of a basso cantante and in 1966 it was about as good as it would become. Colzani got his break at the Met when Leonard Warren died, rising to the occasion and doing stalwart service for about a decade, especially when Cornell MacNeil, Warren's logical successor, began to have vocal problems. He's not wonderful here, but he's certainly better than almost anyone who might have been the performance's Amonasro (except, probably, MacNeil): when he declaims “Non sei mia figlia! Dei Faraoni tu sei la schiava!” the Arena crowd bursts into applause. Franco Pugliese doesn't stand out in this company, but he does compare with the average bass who sings the King.

I have saved Leyla Gencer until last, but not because she is least. She's not the star of the performance but the efforts of her colleagues wouldn't count for nearly as much without a good Aida. Some of the beauty of her top notes had faded by 1966, but, though they have an edge here, they're never strident and the unfailing flair for Italian opera that made her a cult figure (but, oddly, never a star) doesn't fail her. Anyone who admires her will have no reason to wince. Like Calks, she didn't have super top notes (I think Gencer's were actually better), but like Callas, she didn't make top notes the point of her performances. When some singers blow a top note, it's the ruination of all that has gone before; with Gencer, it's merely an unfortunate flaw.

As I implied earlier, there are sonic problems. In addition to the truly bad first ten minutes or so after the Prelude, there is occasional (very) light crosstalk and sometimes odd squeaks and thumps whose origin mystifies me. There are thirty-one cues distributed through the performance. The sidebreak occurs just before Radames's “O Re, pei sacri Numi” in act II. Sometimes the orchestra is a shade too loud; sometimes the singers seem to fade off mike, though they're usually quite loud. Franco Capuana's conducting is, well, very competent. With major people in all the principal roles, that's good enough to make this one of the better Aidas on records. The libretto is Italian, only. 


Recordings of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.98, October 1963 Vol.13 No.10 p.146; HARRIS p.17; Opera on Record p.304; CELLETTI p.815; MARINELLI p.190; Opera on CD(1) p.57 (2) p.64 (3) p.72; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.4 p.114; MET p.643; MET(VID) p.400; PENGUIN p.461; Opera Quarterly Vol.2 No.4 p.68; GIUDICI p.1012 (2) p.1636; Opéra International No.258 juin 2001 p.22
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
(The) Gramophone - January 2004 p.85, p.87 [AB]
Opera News - June 1996 p.52 (video); November 2003 p.68 (DVD) [IS]
Fanfare - Vol.14 No.5 May/June 1991 pp.306-307 (audio) [JM]
Orpheus - Januar 1997 S.63; März + April 2004 S.78 (DVD) [IW]
Opéra International - novembre 1996 No.207 p.49 (video)
Diapason - No.506 septembre 2003 p.134 [MP]
Classical Express - Issue No.80 November 1996 p.7 (video)
American Record Guide - November/December 2003 Vol.66 No.6 p.271 (DVD) [CHP]
International Record Review - February 2004 p.92 [MVA]
VERDI DAL VIVO - p.25 (audio)
L'opera (Milano) - Anno X - N.101 - ottobre 1996 p.88 (video)
Musica (Milano) - No.101 Anno 21 - dicembre 1996-gennaio 1997 p.147 (video)
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - No.23 marzo-mayo 1997 p.71 (video)
Musica (Milano) - N.154 marzo 2004 p.102 (DVD) [SH]

Comments: Audio and video recordings of a performance (or of performances) in the Arena of Verona (3 August 1966). According to OPERA (Festival Issue 1966 pp.105-106) Gencer took over the role of Aida from the indisposed Eleanora Ross. It is stated incorrectly on the H.R.E recording that the conductor is Zubin Mehta. The date given on the Hardy video is 9 August 1966 (or 16 July 1966)


2005 September 



19.07.1970 AIDA

Orchestra e Coro dell'Opera di Roma
Terme di Caracalla
Francesco Cristofori
Leyla Gencer (Aida); Franca Mattiucci (Amneris); Angelo Mori (Radames); Mario Sereni (Amonasro); Ivo Vinco (Ramfis); Carlo Miaclucci (Il Re)
Premier Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications: High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.98, October 1963 Vol.13 No.10 p.146; HARRIS p.17; Opera on Record p.304; CELLETTI p.815; MARINELLI p.190; Opera on CD(1) p.57 (2) p.64 (3) p.72; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.4 p.114; MET p.643; MET(VID) p.400; PENGUIN p.461; Opera Quarterly Vol.2 No.4 p.68; GIUDICI p.1012 (2) p.1636; Opéra International No.258 juin 2001 p.22

Comments: Recording of a performance in the Terme di Caracalla (July 1970). The CDRs issued by Premiere are listed in «Premiere Opera New CD Releases 2004». The partial cast listed above is that given «Leyla Gencer - romanzo vero di una primadonna» by Franca Cella p.505 and in the online chronology of performances by Leyla Gencer. This differs slightly from the partial cast announced in OPERA August 1970 p.748. Premiere lists Guelfi and Raimondi as cast members.


07.07.1973 AIDA

Orchestra e Coro dell'Arena Sferisterio
Arena Macerata
Carlo Franci
Leyla Gencer (Aida); Maria-Luisa Nave (Amneris); Giorgio Lamberti (Radames); Giangiacomo Guelfi (Amanasro); Carlo Cava (Ramfis); Antonio Zerbini (Il Re); Gabriella Onesti (una sacerdotessa); Mario Ferrara (un messaggero)
House of Opera - 2 CDs

Albert Herring [Live]

Teatro all Scala di Milano, Piccolo Teatro
Piero Bellugi
Leyla Gencer (Lady Billows); Laura Zannini (Florence Pike); Kate Gamberucci (Miss Wordsworth); Orazio Mori (Mr. Gedge); Carlo Gaifa (Mr. Upfold); Giorgio Surjan (Superintendent Budd); Elip Padovan (Sid); Oslavio di Credico (Albert Herring); Helga Müller Molinari (Nancy); Wilma Borelli (Mrs. Herring); Margherita Vivian (Emmie); Maria Grazia (Cis)
House of Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of Albert Herring by Benjamin Britten are surveyed in the following publications: CELLETTI p.130; GIUDICI p.102 (2) p.160; American Record Guide July/August 1998 Vol.61 No.4 p.67

Comments: Recording of a performance at the Piccolo Scala (5 January 1980). The performance on 19 December 1979 is reviewed in OPERA March 1980 pp.253-254.


27.05.1966 ALCESTE

Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale di Fiorentino

Vittorio Gui
Leyla Gencer (Alceste); Angelo Loforese (Admeto); Antonio Pietrini (Evandro); Renza Jotti (Ismene); Giovanni Antonini (Apollo); Ernest Blanc (Il Sommo Sacerdote); Giovanni Antonini (un araldo); Slavska Taskova (una corifea); Biancarosa Zabinelli (una corifea)
House of Opera – 2 CDs


07.03.1967 ALCESTE

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
Vittorio Gui
Leyla Gencer (Alceste); Mirto Picchi (Admeto); Giuseppe Baratti (Evandro); Renza Iotti (Ismene); Maurizio Piacenti (Apollo); Luigi Roni (La voce dell'Oracolo); Attilio d'Orazi (Il Sommo Sacerdote); Guido Guarnera (un araldo); Lidia Nerozzi (una corifea); Fernanda Cadoni (una corifea)
Opera d’Oro – 2 CDs


GLUCK Alceste • Vittorio Gui, cond; Leyla Gencer (Alceste); Mirto Picchi (Admète); Renza Jotti (Ismene); Rome Opera House O & Ch • OPERA D'ORO OPD-1356 (2 CDs: 134:09) 
GLUCK Alceste • John Eliot Gardiner, cond; Anne Sofie von Otter (Alceste); Paul Groves (Admète); Dietrich Henschel (Le Grand-Prêtre d'Apollon/Hercule); Monteverdi Chorus, English Baroque Soloists • PHILIPS 289 470 293-2 (2 CDs: 134:57)
This bumper crop of Gluck recordings is a boon for a Gluck lover like me. While some of the recordings may range into the ridiculous, the music is always sublime. I'll begin this survey with the performance I cherish above all others.
Alceste, like Orfeo, exists in two versions. In fact, the two versions of Alceste, Vienna 1765 and Paris 1776, are radically different operas, with even the plot and characters altered. So vast were these differences that there was never any necessity to combine the two versions, unlike the case of Orfeo, and no attempt has ever been made that I'm aware of. The original Alceste continued Gluck's intention to "reform" opera—the published score contains his famous "manifesto" written by his brilliant collaborator, the librettist Calzabigi. It is the more lyric work, written for a spinto soprano. When Gluck reset Alceste in 1776 with the help of another talented librettist, Du Roullet, he rewrote it as a much more dramatic work, and reset the music for opera's first heroic soprano, Rosalie Levasseur. Despite an occasional revival of the earlier work, it is the 1776 version that has remained in the repertoire ever since its premiere. It is the version used in Vittorio Gui's 1967 broadcast.
This broadcast does not find Leyla Gencer, so beloved of diva cultists, in very good form. I can't imagine why it was released. The sound is poor and the performances worse. It's fun to argue about which is the best Alceste on records, but this is my vote for the worst. The best? For the Vienna version there is Östman's superlative recording on Naxos. Still unchallenged as the best French version in modern sound is Serge Baudo's outstanding recording with Jessye Norman and Nicolai Gedda on Orfeo (a confusing label for a Gluck opera!). The Norman recording, made in good digital sound in 1982, already sounds like an operatic lifetime ago. The dramatic power of Jessye Norman at the peak of her career cannot be gainsaid—not even Flagstad, Callas, or Farrell made a more impressive sound. She is paired with Nicolai Gedda, long past his prime, but still the best Admète on records by a long shot. The conducting by Baudo is sound and most of the ballet music has been included, save the concluding grand ballet. Baudo's 1982 performance came just before the vogue of "original instruments" and the quest for "authenticity," and may be labelled by some as "dated." Unfortunately, so, if the new Alceste recording on Philips is typical of more modern norms—Baudo presents the opera in all its majesty while the Gardiner version, cut and fatally altered, is quite a small-scaled performance.
In a general sense, Gardiner's Alceste is typical of many opera performances now current. Why have we come to deserve these pedantic, academic expositions in which the singers are drained of personality, even vocal skill, in deference to the single-minded vision of an ego-driven conductor, with more musicology than artistry? Is anyone else bored by these pursuits of a conceptual "originality" or "authenticity"? Such efforts don't aim for the stars, but for the bookshelves. Their aim seems so low that their goals ought easily to be reached; paradoxically, the goals are really chimerical, and their achievement is, in fact, impossible. (Ironically, the Gardiner performance at the Barbican evolved out of his participation in the Robert Wilson-designed staging at the Chatelet in 1999. Because of Wilson's powerful vision, the balance of power shifted from the pit to the stage— it's Wilson's and not Gardiner's show. This fascinating and rewarding, albeit vocally flawed, performance is available on Image DVD. I recommended it heartily in my Fanfare review and still do. But a recording forces us to concentrate strictly on the music and those who sing it.)
Poor Anne Sofie von Otter—this superb mezzo-soprano, unequaled in "pants" roles, is out of her depth in a role as vocally demanding as Norma or Briinnhilde. After failing to sing "Divinités du Styx" adequately in the Paris performances, in this recording von Otter sings the Vienna version aria, translated from the Italian as "Ombres larves." It may lie more easily for her voice, perhaps, but the unfortunate fact is that von Otter's considerable abilities are not suited to Gluck's grandest dramatic heroine. Max Loppert, in Opera on Record 2 succinctly sums up what is required of an Alceste: "a heroic soprano, tireless (especially so for the Paris vocal line) at the top of the stave, noble in declamation, warm and clear of tone, chastely passionate in inflection . . .. " While von Otter meets the requirement for being "chastely passionate," she cannot at all be said to be "heroic" or "tireless at the top of the stave." It was cruel to put her in a role in which she was doomed to fail. (This comes right on the heels of her bizarre turn as Carmen at Glyndeboume. I wonder what's next for von Otter - Kundry, Ortrud? Azucena?)
The Alceste aside, this disappointingly cold, perfunctory performance is one of Gardiner's poorest Gluck efforts. His booklet essay about the challenges he faced in adapting the score to his needs is more impassioned. But even if other listeners disagree about the quality of the performance, there can be no argument that the recording as issued is inaccurately labeled. Although clearly billed on the cover and in the booklet as the Paris version of 1776 with the famous libretto by Du Roullet, it is in fact a mishmash, with a nod to Berlioz. A French Alceste without "Divinités du Styx" is like encountering Fidelio without Abscheulicher, Madama Butterfly without "Un bel di" or Tosca without "Vissi d'arte." In Alceste, as in those Beethoven and Puccini works, it is the single aria alone that unambiguously forms its dramatic heart. I believe that anyone familiar with Alceste will be shocked and disappointed by its omission.
Deliberately leaving out "Divinités du Styx" is but one of the several changes the conductor has affected for what he calls his own "current version." His booklet notes, in fact, would lead one to believe he doesn't particularly care for the opera as Gluck wrote it. He decries, by way of Berlioz, Gluck's "laziness, compounded by his copyist mistakes" as well as the work's "irritating monotony." We learn that Gardiner, while "enchanted by much of the music" is "irked by his [Gluck's] technical sloppiness." The conductor also laments "Gluck's sometimes unimaginative use of his instruments," the "lack of éclat in Gluck's orchestra," and warns of being "too slavish and literal in the interpretation of Gluck's notation." He has preferred, he writes, to let "Berlioz ... be a wonderful guide," referring to the score that the French composer made for the 1861 Paris revival. This may have been Gardiner's inspiration for making further transpositions and cuts in the process, though the suspicion that he is accommodating his beleaguered star remains. But if this is the "Gardiner Version of 1999" or even the Berlioz (it isn't), why is it billed the "Paris version of 1776"?
In performing Gluck's Alceste in 2002 there is no need for Berlioz's or anyone else's help as a "wonderful guide" towards a solution or a compromise version. The Alceste that Gluck crafted in 1776 is just as completely performable today as, say, Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. There's no castrato part to contend with in Alceste (unlike Orfeo ed Euridice for which the title role must be adapted for modern usage, a task which Berlioz managed masterfully). No need in Alceste to make changes, no need for key shifts. If you want the Italian version, fine. Record it. If you want the French, go right ahead. What is important is that Gluck himself would have barely recognized his collaboration with Du Roullet in Gardiner's presentation—and would have been flabbergasted at the elimination of the only really famous aria in the score.
If the Gardiner Alceste is decidedly not recommended, one must have the Callas Alceste (again the French version in Italian), even though the sound is too poor for easy listening. The only Alceste to include all of the ballet music was a 1951 recording made in Paris by Rene Leibowitz with Ethel Semser, an idiomatically French, if not very distinguished Alceste, but with incomparable flute playing by the renowned Marcel Moýse. One hopes for a CD reissue. Before I let Alceste go, I'd like to put in a word for the fabulous performance Janet Baker gave in her 1981 Covent Garden farewell. This performance, ably led by Charles Mackerras, was available on a bootleg tape at one time, but I have not found it issued on CD, an omission that I hope will be rectified. The heroic struggle by Dame Janet to conquer "Divinités du Styx," and conquer it she did, is not easily forgotten.
In Gluck, the most passionate of the late Baroque, early classical composers, we return to the performances that bravely put everything on the line with emotions laid bare. Like the tides and seasons, musicological fads and follies come and go. What's in today will be out tomorrow, no doubt condemned as "dated." Performances by sovereign artists like Toscanini, Furtwängler, Callas, Ferner, Baker, Gedda, and Norman belong to the ages. 


Recordings of Alceste [Vienna] by Christophe Willibald Gluck are surveyed in the following publications:

Opera on Record 2 p.59; CELLETTI p.275; Opera on CD (1) p.13 (2) p.16 (3) p.18; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.73 p.98; PENGUIN p.105; Opéra International No.179 avril 1994 p.22; GIUDICI p.259 (2) p.442; Répertoire No.99 février 1997 p.11
This recording is reviewed in the following publication:
Fanfare - Vol.26 No.3 January/February 2003 pp.102-103 [JC]
Comments: Recording of a performance in Rome (March 1967; see OPERA June 1967 p.504). Vittorio Gui's own version was used. In this the first two acts follow mainly the Paris version (translated into Italian) and the last act incorporates material from the Vienna version. The cast also included Guido Guarnera, Renza Jotti, Maurizio Piacenti



27.04.1972 ALCESTE

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala
Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Leyla Gencer (Alceste); Giorgio Casellato Lamberti (Admeto); Attilio d'Orazi (Il Sommo Sacerdote); Domenico Trimarchi (Apollo); Giampaolo Corradi (Evandro); Josella Ligi (Ismene); Giovanni Antonini (un araldo); Ubaldo Carosi (La voce dell'Oracolo)
Romano Gondolfi - Maestro del coro
Foyer – 2 CDs


Recordings of Alceste [Vienna] by Christophe Willibald Gluck are surveyed in the following publications:

Opera on Record 2 p.59; CELLETTI p.275; Opera on CD (1) p.13 (2) p.16 (3) p.18; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.73 p.98; PENGUIN p.105; Opéra International No.179 avril 1994 p.22; GIUDICI p.259 (2) p.442; Répertoire No.99 février 1997 p.11
This recording is reviewed in the following publication:
Opéra International - No.170 juin 1993 p.70
Comments: A recording of a performance at La Scala (27 April 1972) The performance on 20 April 1972 is reviewed in OPERA September 1972 p.814. Vittorio Gui's version was used. In this the first two acts follow mainly the Paris version (translated into Italian) and the last act incorporates material from the Vienna version.

Anna Bolena [Studio]

11.07.1958 ALCESTE

Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della RAI di Milano
Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Leyla Gencer (Anna Bolena); Giulietta Simionato (Giovanna Seymour); Plinio Clabassi (Enrico VIII); Aldo Bertocci (Lord Riccardo Percy); Silvio Majonica (Lord Rochefort); Anna-Maria Rota (Smeton); Mario Carlin (Sir Hervey)
Nuova Era – 2 CDs


DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Anna Bolena); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna); Plinio Clabassi, bass (Enrico Vili); Aldo Bertocci, tenor (Percy); Anna Maria Rota, mezzo-soprano (Smeton); Chorus & Orchestra of RAI Milan, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. • REPLICA RPL 2407/9 (three discs, mono), $32.94 (distributed by IBR).
DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Maria Callas, soprano (Anna Bolena); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna); Nicola Rossi Lemeni, bass (Enrico VIII); Gianni Raimondi, tenor (Percy); Gabriella Carturan, mezzo-soprano (Smeton); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. • REPLICA ARPL 32493 (three discs, mono), $32.94 (distributed by IBR).
There are those who feel that Anna Bolena is Donizetti's finest tragic opera, and the more I hear ¡t the more I find myself agreeing. It has the melodic inspiration of Lucia, but in addition it has depth of characterization and dramatic shadings that far exceed anything in the more popular Lucia. The confrontation scene between Anna Bolena and Giovanna Seymour is one of the very greatest scenes in all of Donizetti. As the emotions and the psychological dynamics of the scene change, the music reflects the changes thoroughly. No operatic record collection can be considered complete without at least one recording of Anna Bolena. 
There have been two studio recordings issued commercially. Both take four discs, and both are uncut. The London effort features a strident Elena Suliotis, her voice in ruin after only a few years of singing, along with some limp conducting from Silvio Varviso. The ABC recording, now available on MCA ATS20001, is much finer. Beverly Sills is in fine voice, and probes deeply into the role. The rest of the cast (especially Shirley Verrett) supports her well, and Julius Rudel conducts with pacing and insight. Because both of the Replica releases under consideration here are heavily cut, the Sills performance belongs in all serious collections. 
All the above aside, if I were only going to own one Anna Bolena, it would have to be the Callas performance of 1957 now in its sonically finest release yet. It is one of the classic Callas performances, and frankly stands as one of the greatest operatic portrayals I have ever heard. It can serve as a lesson to any singer on how to marry the music to the drama to the benefit of both and the detriment of neither. 
Note that Gavazzeni conducts both performances (the Gencer is a 1958 RAI broadcast), and he does so with passion and authority. Sadly, he also brought his scissors along for both performances, and engaged in widespread cutting. Smeton's role is diminished into insignificance, with both arias shortened to the point of becoming brief ariosos. Cabalettas, choral numbers, even the overture, are all removed. Despite the weak defense printed in the Callas set booklet, this is butchery, and butchery of a magnificent score. 
Despite those cuts, no opera lover will want to be without the Callas recording. I could take 10 pages of Fanfare detailing the magic she brings to this performance. First of all, she is in magnificent vocal condition here. I have been able, over the years, to use this performance to convert those who thought they didn't like the Callas sound. Everyone I have played it for has been taken by the beauty, the poignancy, the passion, and the intensity of this portrayal. Her shaping and sustaining of the line at “lo sentii sulla mia mano” in Act I are pure magic.
The range of color, dynamics, and emotional intensity of the final scene is beyond description. At “Ah! segnata è la mia sorte” in the finale of Act I, Callas raises goosebumps with the powerful crescendo she produces. It isn't just a case of the sound getting louder; she changes the color of the note, increasing the intensity and pungency of the tone itself so as to bring out all the anger and despair of Anna on one single note.
Leyla Gencer, whose career never took off in the way she deserved, sings beautifully in her recording. Hers is a more traditionally bel canto performance, more classically molded. She is certainly responsive to the drama, and sings with insight and élan. Those as fond of this opera as I am are going to want her recording as well as Callas'. 
Simionato's performance on both recordings is superb. She sings with abandon, but always within the vocal framework of the Donizetti line. In their great confrontation scene, she and Callas create one of the magic moments in all of opera: this is the stuff of which legends are made. Simionato and Gencer are also potent in the 1958 recording—but not quite on the incandescent level of Simionato and Callas. 
The only other significant difference between these two performances is that Gianni Raimondi's Percy is more attractively sung than the dry-voiced Bertocci. Other roles are performed to varying degrees of decency (but not sung as well as one would have hoped given the level of the two leading ladies on each recording) in both sets. As total performances, by the way, both have a theatrical sweep and drive that one does not find in studio recordings; the galvanic leadership of Gavazzeni is responsible for a lot of the momentum, to be sure. 
If you already own the Callas performance on any of its previous incarnations (I have three different ones myself), a replacement is in order. The Replica sound is startlingly richer and fuller than any prior issue, and this performance deserves the best it can get. A direct A-B comparison with the prior releases underlined the significant superiority of Replica's recording. Both performances come with brief notes in a variety of languages (the English being poorly translated) and an Italian-only libretto. Surfaces are quiet.
The Callas performance is one of the most important Donizetti productions given in our time, and its preservation is something for which we should be extremely grateful. The Gencer performance also deserves preservation, and the specialist will want to get to know it well. Without any question, Replica is among the most responsible of all the companies that release live operatic performances. 



DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Anna Bolena); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna Seymour); Plinio Clabassi, bass (Enrico Vili); Aldo Bertocci, tenor (Lord Riccardo Percy); Anna Maria Rota, mezzo-soprano (Smeton); Chorus of Orchestra of RAI, Milan. • NUOVA ERA 6713-DM [ADD]; two discs: 64:48, 67:28. (Distributed by Qualiton.) 

I had been waiting and waiting for this release and now that it has arrived, I'm feeling a bit let down. Taken from a live (but without audience) RAI broadcast in 1958, the digital remastering of the original has robbed it of any atmosphere it ever had—and it always leaned toward the slightly sterile. My other complaints are about the number of cuts—almost a half-hour's worth in each act—and Gavazzeni's tempos. They are only marginally faster than those he used in the same work with Callas a year earlier, but the lack of audience interplay makes what was intense then seem rushed here. And yes, I'm taking into account the fact that Gencer is not Callas—but she's as close as one can get, and Simionato is in shining, thrilling form.
If I'm giving the impression that this is a washout, I don't mean to. Gencer is wonderful, acting wronged and indignant, and sounding far better than a few years later when the voice had been (rather interestingly) shattered into three separate pieces. Her Anna is the real ticket—a woman swept along by nastiness out of her control. Simionato, as mentioned above, is stellar, acting and singing with utter conviction—another character without control. Aldo Bertocci's Percy is half a performance—much of his role has been cut and he avoids almost all of the high notes—but he does sound involved. He's a lightweight, emotionally, next to the women, but his heart seems to be in the right place. Clabassi is not of as dark a sound as I like as Enrico VIII but he infuses his lines with menace. 
The whole show just seems to go by too quickly, without impact or tension. This is a grand, long, complicated work and it lacks expansiveness here. It's interesting—individual moments are effective if played separately, but the entire drama adds up to less. It's whitewashed (could be the sound again—that ambience is a real fake) and left me cold. The Anna-Giovanna duet in act II is a case in point: Neither singer can be faulted for either exclamation, pitch, or involvement, but when it's over, it's over. 
The booklet comes with an Italian libretto and a list of the many cueing points. What can I say? I wouldn't want to be without Gencer's Anna, but I don't consider this opera a success unless I feel bowled over at its close. And I don't. 



VERDI La forza del destino • Antonino Votto, cond; Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Aldo Protti (Don Carlo); Giuseppe di Stefano (Don Alvaro); Cesare Siepi (Padre Guardiano); Enrico Campi (Fra Melitone); Franco Calabrese (Marchese); Gabriella Carturan (Preziosilla); Teatro alla Scala Ch & O • MYTO MCD 001 215 (3 CDs: 212:00)

DONIZETTI Anna Bolena: Scenes • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond; Leyla Gencer (Anna); Giulietta Simionato (Jane Seymour); Plinio Clabassi (Henry Vili); RAI Milano O • MYTO MCD 001 215

It was a front-line assemblage that represented La Scala at a guest appearance in Cologne on May 5, 1957, in a performance captured in acceptable but certainly limited sonics. Some of the principals recorded their roles commercially around the same period under good studio conditions (di Stefano under Previtali; Siepi under Molinari-Pradelli), but neither of these worthy recordings is listed in the current Schwann. Because of the audio limitations, I cannot recommend this MYTO set as anyone's primary choice, but it does create, with minor warts, an idiomatic Italian image of this rich and rewarding opera in that period. 
The novelty here is Leyla Gencer, who was a famous Leonora in Milan but has never been captured fully in this role, certainly not on CD. As her other pirated recordings indicate (she was unjustly neglected by all "legitimate" labels), she was a fascinating but uneven singer. We could always depend on her dramatic involvement and nuanced inflections, which could illuminate moods and passions without exaggerated emphases. In the big ascending phrase "deh, non abbandonar" of her first aria, she floats a beautiful legato and observes the morendo indication exquisitely. But, even here, the notes above A do not come easily, nor do the Bbs in the Monastery Scene always land on target. Her "La Vergine degli angeli," however, is ethereal, and, when it's all over, we know that we've been listening to a major artist. 
Don Alvaro was probably one of the roles that contributed to Giuseppe di Stefano's early decline. But he delivers it excitingly in 1957 (when he was only 37), and gets a deserved huge applause after his third-act aria. He and Protti milk their wonderful duets to the full, leaving a few note values unobserved, but no emotional highs unexplored. The baritone, a frequently recorded artist in the 1950s, was never in Gobbi's or Bastianini's league, but his sturdy and dependable vocal-ism is here again in evidence. Cesare Siepi is a warm-toned, philosophical, somewhat restrained Guardiano; Campi a light-voiced, able Melitone, and Carturan a bright and vibrant Preziosilla. Franco Calabrese's Marchese is not given the audio presence that fine bass deserves. 
Except for the "Scena e Duetto" in act III ("Sleale! Il segreto fu dunque violato"), and a few minor snippets, the opera is given complete, and conductor Votto holds everything firmly together. There are a few imprécisions in the chorus, but the orchestra is in fine fettle, with outstanding contributions by the solo violin and clarinet. Disc 3 contains important scenes from Donizetti's Anna Bolena centred on the hapless queen—the extended act II duet with Jane Seymour (the great Simionato) and the celebrated finale with chorus. Deriving from a Milan Radio broadcast of 1958, the sound is far superior to the Forza portion in clarity and forward presence, and there is no applause to interrupt the continuity. Gavazzeni's leadership leaves no doubt about his reputation as an eminent Donizetti authority, and Gencer reveals her subtle dramatic art, exceptional agility, and exquisite pianissimo?  

Recordings of Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record 3 p.52; CELLETTI p.190; MET p.99; PENGUIN p.72; GIUDICI p.169 (2) p.275; Opéra International mars 1997 No.211 p.14; International Opera Collector Summer 1998 No.8 p.18
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Opera Now - March 1994 p.52
Fanfare - Vol.24 No.1 September/October 2000 p.300 (highlights) [GJ]
Classical Express - September 1995 p.3
CD COMPACT (Barcelona) - No.84 enero 1996 pp.38-39

Comments: Probably recorded on 11 July 1958 and broadcast on 17 July 1958 (see «EJS Discography» by William Shaman, William J. Collins, and Calvin M. Goodwin p.91)



Gencer is shining in the new record.
The story of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena is full of sensational events.  The spectacular production of Visconti in 1957 with Callas as the protagonist was a big success at La Scala. There aren’t so many big and striking scenes in the whole opera such as the last scene that Visconti and Callas realized perfectly. In the last scene, the Callas version of the queen was so ardent that it was rather too much and it destroyed the nobility, pride, equanimity and the melancholy that the role required. 
During those performances, a very young primadona succeeded in her debut at La Scala and was casted as a second cast of Callas for the role of the queen. Leyla Gencer worked very hard on the role and by using her intelligence and artistic talents, interpreted a very different version than Callas.
First of all, Leyla Gencer eliminated the Bel Canto embellishments. Not because she couldn’t do them technically, but because she believed that all those artificial elbellishments contradicted Donizetti’s dramatic style. (How could the embellishments help a queen who’s about to be hung?) Therefore, we hear the vocality of a real, noble queen which is pure, simple and most importantly: “proud”…
Maestro Gavazzeni was so impressed by her interpretation that he prefered Gencer as the protagonist for the Anna Bolena concert that would be broadcasted on RAI. And that spectacular interpretation was recorded under the Replica label and it became one of the most precious historical recordings.  



L'OPERA IN CD E VIDEO                                                                     



THE ASSOLUTA VOICE IN OPERA                                 

MUSICAL CRITICISIM                                           

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, which enjoyed a successful premiere in 1830, appears to have vanished into obscurity some time during the second half of the nineteenth century. It was performed at the Gran Teatre Del Liceu in December 1947 to celebrate the centennial of the theatre, which had opened in 1847 with the same opera. However, it appears there were little or no further performances until 1956, when it was given in Bergamo. Maestro Gianandrea Gavazzeni was at the Bergamo performance, clearly saw the work’s merits not only in and of itself, but also as a vehicle for the talents of Maria Callas, and a production by the great Luchino Visconti was duly opened with Callas in the title role and Gavazzeni conducting at La Scala, Milan, in 1957. 

Gavazzeni continued to champion the piece after this famous production and the present recording was made live the following year using the Milan RAI forces with Giulietta Simionato as Giovanna, as she had been in Barcelona in 1947 and at La Scala in the Visconti production, but with Leyla Gencer in the title role. Gencer is affectionately known as the ‘Queen of the Pirates’ because she made almost no commercial recordings, and yet countless live performances were captured and have been preserved on disc for her vast legion of admirers. It is difficult to say why Gencer was largely ignored by recording companies during her career, although the fact that she was something of an idiosyncratic interpreter, coupled with the fact that her repertoire overlapped with artists who were more of a safe commercial bet, such as Callas and Caballé and, to a lesser extent, Tebaldi and Sutherland, may have something to do with it. At her best, Gencer was incisive and compelling, in an utterly unique way. Her death in May 2008 has renewed interest in her recorded legacy, and may have prompted this release. 

Welcome though further Gencer releases always are, this one presents less cause for excitement than is often the case. Given that the performance at La Scala from 14 April 1957 is widely available on EMI, and that it has Gavazzeni and Simionato in common with the RAI performance, as well as the bass Plino Clabassi albeit in a different role, comparisons are inevitable, and one may as well wade right in with the two Annas. Callas had one of the single greatest triumphs of her whole career at the premiere of the Visconti Anna Bolena, and it is this performance which EMI has issued. There is an often-repeated story about Callas using a situation in the opera to win over the famously merciless La Scala loggionisti with great success, and what comes over on the recording is absolutely white heat. It represents Callas at her very finest from all points of view – pure singing, musicianship, interpretation and dramatic engagement. 

Gencer has proven herself to be capable of equally gripping operatic art, for instance in her 1965 La Scala Norma which is so arresting that I am never able to listen to just excerpts from it – one’s attention is seized from the outset and retained for the considerable length of the piece. But this Anna was not one of those occasions for her. The fact that she was in a radio studio and may not have had an audience probably partly explains it, stage animal that she was, as may the fact that she was relatively near the beginning of her career and was still some years off her prime. Gencer gives a well sung, idiomatic account of Donizetti’s heroine and proves herself the match for all of its vocal challenges, but it never quite catches fire. The famous Gencer glottal is not in evidence, and although some may consider it an undesirable mannerism, it always seemed to feature in her singing when she was so involved and she had so much to express that she was almost seeking to get beyond the boundaries of her own voice. There is no such feeling here and the whole lacks excitement as a result. 

The effect of Callas on both Gavazzeni and Simionato, or perhaps the effect of the general atmosphere on all three of them, is palpable in the La Scala recording. Everybody appears to rise to the occasion and give about as inspired a performance as it was possible to give. So whilst Gavazzeni and Simionato with Gencer are high quality, displaying intimate knowledge of the style and rock solid commitment, with Callas they raise their games and the result is electrifying, with the audience unable to resist breaking out into tumultuous applause before the music has ended in each act. 

There is very little to choose between the orchestral playing and chorus when comparing La Scala in 1957 to RAI in 1958. Similarly, given that Gavazzeni is at the helm on both occasions, the cuts are, if not identical, virtually so. The remaining cast is broadly superior at La Scala. Clabassi was entrusted the small role of Lord Rochefort in the opera house, but was promoted to Enrico VIII in the radio studio. He suffers from comparisons with Nicola Rossi Lemeni who sang Enrico opposite Callas. 

All of which leaves the question of sound. The radio performance is, unsurprisingly, superior, but not to a degree that should make a significant difference. I would venture that those who think the live EMI set has intolerable sound would not be satisfied with the RAI set either. It surprises me that the radio recording is as boxed in and opaque as it is, but for those of us who got over the typical sound quality on many of these 1950s releases long ago, it isn’t in the least problematic. 

Any Gencer aficionado will not want to be without this recording. And of course, there are many opera lovers who cannot get along with Callas, but who may still wish to own an account of the great Simionato in one of her finest roles, for whom this release will be ideal. But this is not representative of Gencer at her most inspired, and those in the market for a live Anna Bolena who are neutral or positive about Callas would do far better to get the 1957 EMI set.

Anna Bolena [Live]


11.06.1965 ANNA BOLENA

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Leyla Gencer (Anna Bolena); Patricia Johnson (Giovanna Seymour); Carlo Cava (Enrico VIII); Juan Oncina (Lord Riccardo Percy); Maureen Morelle (Smeton); Don Garrard (Lord Rochefort); Lloyd Smith (Sir Hervey)
Arkadia – 2 CDs

FANFARE MAGAZINE                                                                                        

DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Anna Bolena); Juan Oncina, tenor (Percy); Carlo Cava, bass (Enrico VIII); Patricia Johnson, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna Seymour); Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. • MELODRAM 458 (3) (three discs, mono; live performance: Glyndebourne, June 13, 1965), $32.94 

Neither ease nor expediency prompted me to pair these releases in a single review. I did so because they have so much in common. Both are bel canto operas; both fell out of favor for a time; both owe their modern exhumation to the efforts of prominent conductors (the very ones, in fact, leading the performances at hand); both have the same basic plot (a tyrant, intent on dissolving a once advantageous marriage, ruthlessly attempts to rid himself of a virtuous wife on trumped up charges); and finally (and perhaps most important), both title roles were created by Giuditta Pasta, a description of whose talents seems, at this point, appropriate in light of the roles' vocal and dramatic requirements. Grove describes Pasta's voice as “rebellious,” and goes on to note that though it was not “free from imperfection, the individuality of her impersonations and the peculiar and penetrating expression of her singing made the severest critics forget any faults ... in the sympathy and emotion she irresistibly created.” Further, “the dignity of her face, form and natural gestures fitted her eminently for tragedy, for which she (possessed) the necessary fire and energy.” It is worth noting that before she created Beatrice, Pasta had performed like service for Bellini in La Sonnambula and Norma, an informational tidbit I offer not to titillate trivia enthusiasts but to suggest that the composer really intended his latest heroine to combine the appealing sweet vulnerability of an Amina (a mature one, admittedly) with the ferocity and righteous indignation of his Druid priestess. (Cailas' interpretation of Anna Bolena all but proves that much the same can be said to describe that heroine as well, though the opera preceded all three of the others. A pity she never got around to Beatrice!)

All of which is an unduly roundabout way to explain why, after hearing Gencer's Beatrice, I feel I may have been overly harsh in my criticism of the opera the last time I had occasion to review it in these pages (Fanfare VI:6). Had that recording (and, for that matter, any of the other performances of the work to which I'd been exposed, both “live” and recorded) been sung with the dramatic eloquence Gencer brings to it here, I would surely have been more favorably disposed toward it. In my defense, I did imply that the problem with both Beatrices then under discussion was a too placid and passive interpreter (Sutherland), and I expressed interest in the Beatrice the more theatrically compelling Kabaiwanska, who sings Agnese in one of them, would have provided. Bolena, on the other hand, I have always considered Donizetti's finest tragic opera.

The two are #6 and #8 respectively in Melodram's third series of “interpretazioni liriche indimenticabili,” and both are here expertly sung and acted by Gencer, who for too many years was unfairly dismissed as a “Callas manqué,” but who deserves to be recognized in her own right as a singing actress on the grand scale, and whose name, fortunately, recurs with ever-increasing frequency in these pages. Her voice can, at times, be as hard as Callas', but it is more secure in alt, and though her runs and scales are not as impeccable as Sutherland's, she is capable of exquisite high pianissimi and commands sufficient flexibility to encompass most of the roles' more florid passages. Finally (and again, perhaps most important as respects the works under discussion), she is a most involved participant in the drama: one who delivers the texts intelligently and tellingly.

Would she have had better support in these performances! Neither husband possesses the beauty of tone or flexibility his music requires, but Cava's rough-voiced Henry is, at least, more fearsome than the Visconti of Zanasi, whose light-textured baritone projects a less than formidable adversary to a Beatrice of Gencer's mettle. The same tenor, Oncina, is, coincidentally, the “lover” in both, and, though certainly more than adequate, I admired him more in the lighter tenore di grazia parts he had by this time more or less abandoned. Though his prior experience in such roles stands him in good stead in the second-act Beatrice concertato, one can only guess how (or if!) he might have survived “Vivi tu” in Anna Bolena had Gavazzeni chosen not to cut it, for, from all reports, Rubini, who created the role of Percy, pulled out all vocal stops when he sang it. (This is, I suppose, as good a place as any to deplore the numerous, slashing cuts both conductors inflict on these works. As the operas' prime champions, one would think they might have had greater faith in their integrity as musico-dramatic entities.) Both of the “other women” roles are soprano parts, though Seymour is frequently taken by a mezzo. (Agnese, in fact, doubles Beatrice's vocal line up to a B in the second act quintette, “Al tuo fallo.”) As Agnese, Sgourda tends to wobble until she warms up, while Johnson would be more acceptable a Seymour did she not have to vie with memories of Simionato.

As “true believers,” not only in the works they are conducting but in the theatrical viability of the genre to which they belong, both Gavazzeni and Gui are fully aware of the need to balance dramatic intensity with a free-flowing melodic line. I was, however, surprised that the latter seemed to play down the power and vigour of the Beatrice “Quintette” (which Verdi surely had in mind when he composed the Macbeth concertato following Duncan's murder)—the very power and vigor he brings to so many pages of his recording of Norma, Beatrice's immediate predecessor.

Surfaces are so-so; sound decent enough given its age. No notes in either set; Italian text only in both. Both include sections not sung and omit sections that are! Most curious in this regard is the Beatrice libretto, which at one point and in a glaringly different type-face reproduces the text of a duet for Agnese and Beatrice which Bellini had sketched out, which Gui has scored . . . but which is not included in the recording. Nor is, for the record, the cabaletta with which Sutherland concludes that opera in the London “complete.”

The Bolena to get is the live 1957 La Scala performance with Callas, Simionato, and Rossi-Lemeni conducted by Gavazzeni, a performance that literally sparked the current bel canto revival. I reviewed the Foyer recording (FO 1014, three discs, mono) in Fanfare VII:3, but it is to be found in virtually every pirate's catalog. Beware, however; the Foyer set I received for review contained two copies of Sides 5 and 6, though one was labeled 3 and 4! I can't be as definite as respects my Beatrice of choice. Much as I admire “La Stupenda,” her lack of fervor in either of the only other two recordings of this piece I've heard is a real liability, but on London, at least, she enjoys the support of Cornelius Opthof (Visconti) and Luciano Pavarotti (Orombello), and the sound is a lot better than on any competing version. 

FANFARE MAGAZINE                                                                                        

DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Anna Bolena); Patricia Johnson, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna Seymour); Carlo Cava, bass (Enrico Vili); Juan Oncina, tenor (Percy); Anna Maria Rota, mezzo-soprano (Orsini); Glyndebourne Festival Chorus & Orchestra, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. • HUNT PRODUCTIONS CD 554 (two compact discs [AAD]; 67:08, 68:26). LIVE performance: Glyndeboume, June 11, 1965.

DONIZETTI Lucrezia Borgia. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lucrezia Borgia); Mario Petri, bass (Alfonso); Giacomo Aragall, tenor (Gennaro); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro San Carlo, Naples, conducted by Carlo Franci. • HUNT PRODUCTIONS CD 544 (two compact discs [AAD]; 65:29, 47:24) [distributed by Qualiton]. LIVE performance: Naples, January 29, 1966.

When it comes to the “big soprano stars” of the Italian bel canto revival, Gencer (with all due apologies to those others who might feel unfairly shunted aside) remains the not-so-distant-fourth after (in alphabetical order) Caballé, Callas, and Sutherland. She could not compete in sheer vocal beauty and technique with either the first or third, and was thoroughly overshadowed by the second though she was a steadier and more secure vocalist and a riveting actress in her own right. The record moguls, unfortunately, concentrated on the “big three” (and, from time to time, inexplicably settled for #5, 6, and 7!) for their bel canto projects, but thanks to the efforts of MRF, HRE, BJR, and EJS among others, Gencer came to be fairly well known to aficionados, and Hunt, a label new to me, has taken it upon itself to issue a number of her performances on CD. These are the first of the company's releases to come my way and both are welcome.

Bolena, composed in 1830, is the earlier of the two operas, and was the one which, when performed at La Scala in 1957 by Callas, Simionato, Gianni Raimondi, and Rossi-Lemeni, sparked the Donizetti (some say the entire bel canto) revival. Gavazzeni, who prepared the much-truncated performing edition and thereby established the practice of a mezzo Seymour rather than the soprano Donizetti intended, was the conductor on that occasion as well. Recordings of that performance have proliferated and 1 am surely not alone in considering it the Bolena of choice, notwithstanding a number of commercial studio and/or more complete recordings which followed . . . and despite its deficiencies. These I cited in my review of Melodram's CD edition last year (Fanfare 11:1): mainly an inordinate number of cuts and the difficulties of the two principal male singers in negotiating their vocal lines.

The issue at hand preserves the Glyndeboume Festival production which served as the opera's rentrée to the British stage after an absence of nearly a century. It's decent enough as performances go, but Gencer apart (her musico-dramatic interpretation of the title role is second only to Callas' in my book), a rather tame affair. Neither the Seymour nor (especially) the Henry comes across as the larger-than-life characters projected by Simionato and Rossi-Lemeni on the older set. Johnson is too placid and, though Cava is vocally steadier than Rossi-Lemeni, he does not convey the king's menace as frighteningly as most I've heard, either on disc or on stage. Oncina sounds marginally more comfortable than Raimondi, but he too has his vocal shortcomings, and a tone which tightens and becomes unattractive in alt. Gavazzeni, the knowledgeable conductor, observes the same cuts as heretofore, which total some 45 minutes of missing music.

Gencer is slightly below her best form in the Lucrezia Borgia performance which followed some seven months later and doesn't quite hit her stride until the opera's first act (which is actually the second since the authors decided to call the first a Prolog!), but from the very beginning, she invests the role with her accustomed skill, both vocal and dramatic. The opera, premiered three years after Bolena and not quite its equal in overall quality and theatrical effect, is a potent one nonetheless, and someone (I don't remember who) aptly called it a “halfway house” between the bel canto era and the more vigorous Verdi operas which followed. Its libretto, like Rigoletto''s, is based on a Hugo play and its parallels are obvious. In both, a parent unwittingly brings about the death of her/his child amidst a venue of licentiousness and blood lust. Musically, too, is it a mere coincidence that the brief interchange between Astolfo and Rustighello, two of the opera's less savory characters, presages musically the Sparafucile-Rigoletto duet?

Aragall, as the son ignorant of his true parentage, is excellent. He was later to sing the role on London OSA 13129 as well (actually, not as well, for he is in far better voice on the discs at hand than he was to be a dozen years later opposite Sutherland under Bonynge). Petri, on the other hand is quite poor. I suspect this was more than a mere case of off-night-itis: he sounds unduly out of vocal sorts (dry and hollow-sounding) and at one point during the lengthy duet with Gencer in the first act, all too audibly clears his throat to prepare for his entrance. The Alfonso-Lucrezia confrontation may not be the equal of the one between Anna and Henry in Bolena, but it is highly dramatic and misses the mark on this recording, principally because of Petri's indisposition. Rota is a rather small-scaled Orsini who does well enough by her first act (whoops . . . Prolog!) solo but lacks the panache for the “Brindisi.” The comprimarii (a quartette of likeable womanizing topers and a trio of spies and cutthroats) are excellent.

Apart from a less than precise rapport between stage and pit during the ensemble of merrymakers in the prolog and the chorus of brigands in the second act, and a few horn bobbles in the intro to “M'odi, ah! m'odi,” Lucrezia's final (at least in this performance) aria, the Naples forces acquit themselves quite well and Franci again demonstrates his expertise in this repertoire. The performance ends with the so-called “Finale Nuovo” which Donizetti prepared for the 1840 La Scala production. Thus, it dispenses with the concluding cabaletta which he was forced to write for Méric-Lalande, who created the title role (and who refused to make her first entrance wearing a mask lest her fans not recognize her and withhold their applause!), but adds an extremely grateful solo for the dying Gennaro. While on the subject, the only commercial recording other than the aforementioned London one (RCA LSC 6176, with Caballé and Alfredo Kraus under Jonel Perlea) uses the original ending. London's includes both Lucrezia's concluding cabaletta and Gennaro's dying solo, as well as a second tenor aria which Donizetti composed for Ivanov, which information may well tip the balance in favor of one or another of the various recordings of Borgia technically available. Personally, I prefer Caballé, vintage '66 to Sutherland '79 (and, vocally at least, even to Gencer in the performance at hand), and either Kraus or Aragall on the discs at hand to the latter on London. I also prefer a basso in Alfonso's music, so RCA's Ezio Flagello (as good as Petri is inadequate) gets the palm over baritone Ingvar Wixell on London. London can, however, boast a better conductor (Perlea is much too limp), and a more complete edition, and a bravura Orsini in Marilyn Horne (though RCA's Shirley Verrett is no slouch). This is, in effect, a classic example of “You pays yer money and takes yer choice,” but if you choose CD I'm afraid you'll have to settle for the recording at hand, for neither the RCA nor the London is available in that format, and considering the way most stores are currently stocked, not readily in any! 

Good sound. Booklets for both sets contain notes in Italian, translated into stilted English, and a complete libretto in Italian only. The latter obviously come from stock, for they do not coincide with the text as sung. For example, Bolena's includes the words of Smeaton's second solo, though it is a casualty of Gavazzeni's edition and Lucrezia Borgia's ignores the fact that the performance ends with the Finale Nuovo, for it prints the text of the original one. One side per act for Bolena with an adequate number of access points: 22 and 16 respectively. The length and act division of Lucrezia Borgia make a mid-act break a foregone conclusion and the producer opts for one right after the Lucrezia-Alfonso duet. Had he shifted the last 15 minutes of the first disc to the beginning of the second, the side break would coincide with the set change, a preferable alternative. Again, an adequate number of tracks (eight) per act. In both instances, the tracks are numerically keyed to appropriate places in the libretto. One last not-so-minor cavil: why can't producers leave more (some?) breathing space between scene changes and acts? 


Recordings of Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record 3 p.52; CELLETTI p.190; MET p.99; PENGUIN p.72; GIUDICI p.169 (2) p.275; Opéra International mars 1997 No.211 p.14; International Opera Collector Summer 1998 No.8 p.18
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Fanfare - March/April 1986 Vol.9 No.4 pp.127-128 [ADC]
Opera Quarterly - Vol.6 No.3 Spring 1989 pp.135-137 [WA]

OPERA MAGAZINE                                          

1974 January 

07.04.1977 ANNA BOLENA

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
Gabriele Ferro
Leyla Gencer (Anna Bolena); Boris Christoff (Enrico VIII); Maria-Luisa Nave (Giovanna Seymour); Pietro Bottazzo (Lord Riccardo Percy); Anna di Stasio (Smeton); Robert Amis El Hage (Lord Rochefort); Gino Sininberghi (Sir Hervey)
On Stage – 3 CDs


Recordings of Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record 3 p.52; CELLETTI p.190; MET p.99; PENGUIN p.72; GIUDICI p.169 (2) p.275; Opéra International mars 1997 No.211 p.14; International Opera Collector Summer 1998 No.8 p.18
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Orpheus - Februar 2001 S.60 [SL]
Opéra International - No.263 décembre 2001 pp.69-70 [SS]

Links from OPERA NEWS Archives related with Leyla Gencer's Performances


Video > Opera News > The Met Opera Guild
... Leyla Gencer, tottering atop platform shoes (but a majestic presence nonetheless),
is more lirico than spinto, pushing her glottal, dark, backwardly placed ...
Reunion: Elinor Ross > Opera News > The Met Opera Guild
... I had a bis [encore] every time I opened my mouth. But Leyla Gencer's boyfriend
was running the whole operation, and she and I did the same roles.
Aida > Opera News > The Met Opera Guild
... distinction. Cossotto and Bergonzi also feature in the 1966 black-and-white
Verona performance opposite Leyla Gencer. The Japanese ...
Opera News - A Tale of Two Queens
... screen. Maria Callas, Leyla Gencer and Beverly Sills have sung her at La
Scala, Glyndebourne and New York City Opera. David McVicar's ...
Opera News - Metropolitan Opera Live in HD Broadcast: Anna Bolena
... Anna Bolena has since proved irresistible to a number of important sopranos, including
Montserrat Caballé, Leyla Gencer, Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills ...
Opera News - Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: Anna Bolena
... half of the twentieth century, Anna Bolena proved irresistible to a number of important
sopranos, including Montserrat Caballé, Leyla Gencer, Joan Sutherland ...


Abbreviations of operadis
(STU), "STUDIO" Recording
(SE), "STUDIO" Recording of Excerpts
(STC), Composite "STUDIO" Recording made up from more than one source
(SCE), Composite "STUDIO" Recording of Excerpts from more than one source
(LI), "LIVE" Recording
(LE), "LIVE" Recording of Excerpts
(LC), "LIVE" Composite Recording from more than one performance
(LCE), Excerpts from more than one "LIVE" Performance
(RA), A Radio Performance
(RE), Excerpts from a Radio Performance
(RC), Composite Radio Performance from more than one broadcast
(RCE), Excerpts from more than one broadcast performance
(FI), Film or/and sound track of a film
(FE), Excerpts of an opera from a film or/and the sound track of a film
CELLETTI, Il Teatro d'Opera in Disco by Rodolfo Celletti - Rizzoli - 1988
EJS Discography, EJS: Discography of the Edward J. Smith Recordings - The Golden Age of Opera, 1956-71 by William Shaman, William J. Collins, and Calvin M. Goodwin - GreenwoodPress - 1994
GIUDICI, L'Opera in CD e Video by Elvio Giudici - il Saggiatore Milano - 1995. Second Edition - 1999 - is indicated by (2)
HARRIS, Opera Recordings - A Critical Guide by Kenn Harris - David and Charles - 1973
MARINELLI, Opere in Disco by Carlo Marinelli - Discanto Edizione - 1982
MET, The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera - edited by Paul Gruber - Thames and Hudson - 1993
MET(VID), The Metropolitan Guide to Opera on Video - edited by Paul Gruber - W.W. Norton & Co. Ltd. - 1997
More EJS, More EJS: Discography of the Edward J. Smith Recordings by William Shaman - William J. Collins - Calvin M. Goodwin - Greenwood Press 1999
NEWTON (Verdi), Verdi - Tutti i libretti d'opera edited by Piero Mioli
PENGUIN, The Penguin Guide to Opera on Compact Discs by Edwin Greenfield - Robert Layton - Ivan March - Penguin Books 1993
Discos Gramófono (Barcelona), Compañía del Gramófono Sociedad Anónima Española
Gramófono (Barcelona), Compañía del Gramófono Sociedad Anónima Española