Recordings & Reviews ............................. [from La Forza ... to Lucrezia Borgia]


[from La Forza ... to Lucrezia Borgia]
La forza del destino [Live]

Bühnen der Stadt, Köln
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala
Antonino Votto
Franco Calabrese (Marchese di Calatrava); Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Aldo Protti (Don Carlo di Vargas); Giuseppe di Stefano (Don Alvaro); Gabriella Carturan (Preziosilla); Cesare Siepi (Padre Guardiano); Enrico Campi (Fra Melitone); Stefania Malagu (Curra); Angelo Mercuriali (Mastro Trabuco); Alfredo Giacomotti (un alcade); Franco Piva (un chirurgo)

Urania – 3 CDs


VERDI La forza del destino. • Antonino Votto, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Leonora); Giuseppe Di Stefano, tenor (Don Alvaro); Aldo Protti, baritone (Don Carlo); Gabriella Cartaran, mezzo-soprano (Preziosilla); Cesare Siepi, bass (Padre Guardiano); Enrico Campi, bass (Fra Melitene); Chorus & Orchestra of La Scala, Milan. • MELODRAM MEL 37010 [AAD]; three discs: 70:05, 68:00, 68:25. (Distributed by Qualiton.) 
I suppose I would save a lot of space by merely suggesting that Gencer fans buy this recording, but I could have said that without even listening to it so I'll at least try to prove I did the work. The performance, recorded live in Cologne in 1957, is marred by various small cuts, most of them so stupid and inexplicable that I suppose they have to be attributed to "tradition." The Mahler and Toscanini definitions certainly seem to apply here. Leyla Gencer, a soprano of Turkish origins, had an odd career. Since she's always turning up on "pirate" recordings, she was obviously getting lots of engagements and lots of people were interested in recording her performances, but she had no commercial recording career and no career in the United States beyond an occasional appearance . . . and yet, she's usually the only reason for acquiring her various "pirate" recordings, and such is pretty much the case here despite the presence of some well-known names. Back in 1957, even when her voice was in pretty good shape, it tended to turn strident as it went up as well as thin out. But vocal problems never stopped Callas and they don't really stop Gencer, either. Even though she lacks sheer power, she's forceful enough to suggest it, and, with the ability to cut it down almost to a whisper, she uses her voice quite shrewdly and tastefully. Without the ideal sound for the aria, she does a lovely "Pace, pace, mio Dio." Whoever did this remastering left everything on: applause, the orchestra tuning up, so we get a sense of how the audience reacted. Gencer's "Pace, pace, mio Dio," the best thing in the performance, gets close to the least applause, while the audience goes crazy over Di Stefano's free-wheeling, sweet "O tu che in seno agli'angeli (except for the very top, he's in voice, so that might be an additional reason for buying this version). Protti is a capable but dull (the operative adjective in almost any of his performances) Carlo, Campi, a Melitone who nearly exhausts the buffo repertoire of mannerisms, and Siepi is missing his low notes . . . they're unusually weak here. I nearly forgot to mention Gabriella Carturan, an adequate Preziosilla but not one with any particular flair. The performance, as a whole, is crude and clumsy, but the general effect is there, and Gencer, who slipped through the cracks with Callas, Tebaldi, Price, and others on the scene, remains a fascinating singer. Was there only room for one Callas-type back then? Filling out the third CD are some Gencer performances of excerpts from II trovatore (her "Tacea la notte placida ... Di tale amor," with its clean attacks and floating pianissimos, yields to few), Macbeth, and Don Carlo. The excerpts from the last two operas come from 1968 when her voice was a bit tattered and had developed a slight beat. Lady Macbeth's "La luce langue" suffers less than Elisabetta's "Tu che la vanita," which could have been a great performance. There's adequate cueing and an Italian-only Forza libretto. As I suggested, for Gencer fans. 

VERDI La forza del destino • Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond; Antonietta Stella (Leonora); Giuseppe Di Stefano (Alvaro); Ettore Bastianini (Carlo); Giulietta Simionato (Preziosilla); Walter Kreppel (Padre Guardiano); Karl Dönch (Fra Melitone); Vienna St Op O & Ch • ORFEO 681 0621, mono (2 CDs: 151:19) Live: Vienna 9/23/1960
VERDI La forza del destino • Antonino Votto, cond; Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Giuseppe Di Stefano (Alvaro); Aldo Protti (Carlo); Gabriella Garturan (Preziosilla); Cesare Siepi (Padre Guardiano); Enrico Campi (Fra Melitone); La Scala O & Ch • URANIA 315, mono (3 CDs: 189:44) Live: Cologne 7/5/1957 

I have a kind of proprietary interest in the Dimitri Mitropoulos recording, since I saw one of the six performances of La forza del destino that he conducted in Vienna back in 1960. The one on these Orfeo CDs was the first in the sequence; I went to a later one in which Jean Madeira sang Preziosilla. These Forzas were the last opera performances he conducted—I wonder if mine, which came in October, was the last of all. Both Mitropoulos and Antonino Votto make several cuts in the score, many of them identical, some of them brief “standard” ones that are often used in live performances. Going a bit further, Mitropoulos, for some reason, cuts the opening bars of act III, going directly to the clarinet solo—and he also makes heavier cuts in the Camp Scene (but I don’t miss Trabuco). There is little reason to be more specific—both of these recordings are fan oriented and neither should be one’s only Forza.

The Mitropoulos performance starts out with an interesting editorial choice: instead of the familiar loud brass chords that announce the overture, we go directly to scene 1, which is how the opera originally began when it was first heard in St. Petersburg. The overture follows. Then comes a slightly shortened Inn Scene and we’re back on track. The Met was also using this option at the time, but used to omit the entire Inn Scene and go directly to the Convent Scene. I have read that Mitropoulos had adequate rehearsal time (by repute, not all of Vienna’s guests do), but the performance is still rather untidy. The singers may have had trouble following him and he may have occasionally acted on impulse—sometimes he zigs and they zag. His tempos occasionally strike me as unreasonably fast, forcing the singers to swallow their notes or even lag slightly behind his “beat” (such as it was). Most of the performance seems itchy with nervous energy, but even though a few parts of it are little more than mad scrambles, the total package comes off, and the audience obviously gets swept along with it (as I was a few weeks later). Once she warms up, Antonietta Stella is in good voice. She may not have been the most imaginative singer, but she leaves no doubt about her qualifications. Her voice fills the house. In her day, she had to compete with, among others, Zinka Milanov, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, and Leontyne Price. She was obviously born 40 years too soon; nowadays, when operas like this one are difficult to cast, she would be a more valued performer. Actually, one could make the same claim for Leyla Gencer, who faced the same competition; but Stella, at least, managed to make six complete opera recordings. It’s remarkable that so talented a performer as Gencer had such a nothing recording career. Her reputation rests almost completely on broadcasts and the unauthorized in-house recordings that her fans were enthusiastic enough to make—they keep her art alive now. Her Leonora comes from a visit the La Scala company made to Cologne in 1957. It’s a very clear recording, but the sound is slightly skewed in favor of the orchestra with the singers sounding like they are on stage, behind it. Both sopranos have the vocal goods, but Gencer actually sounds despairing or desperate or frightened or angry when she should—it is not such a farfetched thing to compare her to Callas. 

In the role of Don Alvaro, we have Giuseppe di Stefano competing with himself. Anyone familiar with him should know what to expect: warm, impassioned, characterful singing with rather raw, effortful top notes. He did get to record this role for RCA with Milanov and Leonard Warren and he isn’t any better live. The more distant Vienna recording is a bit more flattering to his sound, but Cologne’s is usually clearer and Votto’s more expansive (and precise) conducting gives all the singers more room for expression. Partly because of this, even Aldo Protti, a generic-voiced, un-enterprising baritone, is a passable Don Carlo. On the Mitropoulos set, Ettore Bastianini is equally bland; but his dark, powerful voice (he was a bass who “moved up”) is anything but generic. Walter Kreppel is a very respectable Guardiano with more than enough power, but his voice is on the dry side and he can’t match the noble, mellow waves of sound that issue from Votto’s Cesare Siepi. Both Melitones are capable: Campi is the grouchier of the two and Dönch, the more comical. As Preziosilla, Gabriella Garturan has a strong enough voice but lacks Giulietta Simionato’s agility, and the “Rataplan” is one case where Votto pushes the tempo along too fast for his soloist to properly execute the notes. When somebody in the La Scala performance cuts loose with a really loud high note, there is just a bit of fuzziness to the sound, but it is minimal enough that anyone who wants this recording is unlikely to be particularly bothered by it. 

The Orfeo set wins on production values, with photographs and extensive annotations; it is also the best sounding of the various issues (at least four) of this performance that I have heard (but it’s not, Orfeo to the contrary, stereo). Thanks to fast tempos and cuts, it fits on two very well-filled CDs. The Urania just gives a cue list and, since Votto’s tempos did not allow the performance to be squeezed onto a pair of CDs, the company provides a nice little bonus: some recordings Giuseppe Di Stefano made during World War II when he was younger and sounded like it. They were probably done at Radio Lausanne, Switzerland. A few have noisy surfaces. He sings the expected arias from L’elisir d’amore, The Pearl Fishers, Manon, Werther, La bohème, and “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca An anonymous baritone joins him for the Pearl Fishers duet. Only “Pourquoi me révellier” is not sung in Italian. “Che gelida manina” is taken down a half tone. The performances are mostly about Di Stefano’s (then) ability to sing extended diminuendos on high notes (not necessarily when requested by the composer). The voice is bright and fresh, but had deteriorated within several years, though I think he remained, at the very least, an interesting and dramatically involved singer. His entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera pretty much nails it: “As he began to take on heavier parts his singing became rougher and less elegant, and the voice larger and less pure.”               


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 centered 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 La forza del destino by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.96, October 1963 Vol.13 No.10 p.60; Opera October 1962 p.655; HARRIS p.128; Opera on Record p.277; CELLETTI p.906; Opera on CD (1) p.55 (2) p.62 (3) p.70; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.126 p.118; MET p.632; MET(VID) p.393; PENGUIN p.481; GIUDICI p.980, (2) p.1573; NEWTON (Verdi)p.169; l'opera (Milano) Anno XII - N.124 dicembre 1998 - Speciale Scala - Stagione 1998/99 p.42, p.104; Opéra International No.268 mai 2002 p.16; Gramophone April 2003 p.36; Opera News March 2006 p.34
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Fanfare - Vol.12 No.4 March/April 1989 p.320 [JM]; Vol.24 No.1 September/October 2000 p.300 [GJ]; Vol.30 No.6 July/August 2007 pp.252-254 [JM]
Orpheus - März 1997 S.59 (mention)
American Record Guide - November/December 2000 Vol.63 No.6 p.311 [LM]
Répertoire - No.85 novembre 1995 p.80
Musica (Milano) - No.99 Anno 20 Agosto-Settembre 1996 p.144
Classical Express - Issue No.121 p.4 [MT]

Comments: Recording of a performance in Cologne during a tour by La Scala (5 July 1957)



Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli
Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Piero Cappucilli (Don Carlo di Vargas); Carlo Bergonzi (Don Alvaro); Michele Casato (Marchese di Calatrava); Adriana Lazzarini (Preziosilla); Carlo Cava (Il padre Guardiano)
House of Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of La forza del destino by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.96, October 1963 Vol.13 No.10 p.60; Opera October 1962 p.655; HARRIS p.128; Opera on Record p.277; CELLETTI p.906; Opera on CD (1) p.55 (2) p.62 (3) p.70; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.126 p.118; MET p.632; MET(VID) p.393; PENGUIN p.481; GIUDICI p.980, (2) p.1573; NEWTON (Verdi)p.169; l'opera (Milano) Anno XII - N.124 dicembre 1998 - Speciale Scala - Stagione 1998/99 p.42, p.104; Opéra International No.268 mai 2002 p.16; Gramophone April 2003 p.36; Opera News March 2006 p.34


Orchestra e Coro del Arena di Verona
Franco Capuana
Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Piero Cappucilli (Don Carlo di Vargas); Gianfranco Cecchele (Don Alvaro); Gianni Foiani (Marchese di Calatrava); Adriana Lazzarini (Preziosilla); Ivo Vinco (Il padre Guardiano); Renato Capecchi (Fra Melitone); Piero de Palma (Maestro Trabucco)

House of Opera – 3 CDs


Recordings of La forza del destino by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.96, October 1963 Vol.13 No.10 p.60; Opera October 1962 p.655; HARRIS p.128; Opera on Record p.277; CELLETTI p.906; Opera on CD (1) p.55 (2) p.62 (3) p.70; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.126 p.118; MET p.632; MET(VID) p.393; PENGUIN p.481; GIUDICI p.980, (2) p.1573; NEWTON (Verdi)p.169; l'opera (Milano) Anno XII - N.124 dicembre 1998 - Speciale Scala - Stagione 1998/99 p.42, p.104; Opéra International No.268 mai 2002 p.16; Gramophone April 2003 p.36; Opera News March 2006 p.34

La Gioconda [Live]

19.09.1967 LA GIOCONDA
Orchestra and Chorus of San Francisco Opera
Giuseppe Patané
Leyla Gencer (Gioconda); Renato Cioni (Enzo); Grace Bumbry (Laura); Chester Ludgin (Barnaba); Maureen Forrester (La Cieca); Ara Berberian (Alvise); Allan Monk (Zuane); Clifford Grant (Monk)
House of Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli are surveyed in the following publications:
HARRIS p.137; Opera on Record 3 p.192; CELLETTI p.572; GIUDICI (2) p.935; Opera on CD (1) p.84 (2) p.92 (3) p.103; MET p.374; MET(VID) p.212; PENGUIN p.285; Opera Now May 1993 p.36; American Record Guide September/October 2000 Vol.63 No.5 pp.73-83; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.232 p.88

25.01.1970 LA GIOCONDA
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Massimo, Palermo
Antonino Votto
Leyla Gencer (Gioconda); Gianni Raimondi (Enzo); Franca Mattiucci (Laura); Piero Cappucilli (Barnaba); Anna di Stasio (La Cieca); Agostino Ferrin (Alvise); Guido Malfatti (Zuane); Glauco Scarlini (Isepo); Luciano Prati (Un cantore)
House of Opera – 4 CDs


Recordings of La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli are surveyed in the following publications:
HARRIS p.137; Opera on Record 3 p.192; CELLETTI p.572; GIUDICI (2) p.935; Opera on CD (1) p.84 (2) p.92 (3) p.103; MET p.374; MET(VID) p.212; PENGUIN p.285; Opera Now May 1993 p.36; American Record Guide September/October 2000 Vol.63 No.5 pp.73-83; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.232 p.88

Comments: Recording of a performance in the Teatro Massimo di Palermo (25 January 1970). The CDRs issued by Premiere Opera (Italy) are (were?) listed on the website It is stated here «Good in-house recording except for the tape hiss».

17.03.1971 LA GIOCONDA
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
Bruno Bartoletti

Leyla Gencer (La Gioconda); Franca Matiucci (Laura); Anna di Stasio (La Cieca); Gianni Raimondi (Enzo Grimaldo); Giangiacomo Guelfi (Barnaba); Ruggero Raimondi (Alvise Badoero); Tito Turtura (Zuane); Gabriele de Julis (Isepo); Giorgio Onesti (un pilota); Paolo Dari (un barnabotto); Athos Cesarini (una voce interna)
Melodram – 3 CDs


Recordings of La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli are surveyed in the following publications:
HARRIS p.137; Opera on Record 3 p.192; CELLETTI p.572; GIUDICI (2) p.935; Opera on CD (1) p.84 (2) p.92 (3) p.103; MET p.374; MET(VID) p.212; PENGUIN p.285; Opera Now May 1993 p.36; American Record Guide September/October 2000 Vol.63 No.5 pp.73-83; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.232 p.88
This recording is reviewed in the following publication:
Opéra International - No.171 juillet-aoüt 1993 p.78

07.01.1971 LA GIOCONDA
Orchestra e Coro del Grande Teatro La Fenice
Oliviero de Fabritiis
Leyla Gencer (La Gioconda); Maria-Luisa Nave (Laura); Ruggero Raimondi (Alvise Badoero); Mirna Pecile (La Cieca); Umberto Grilli (Enzo Grimaldo); Mario Zanasi (Barnaba); Paolo Badoer (Zuane); Giovanni Antonini (un cantore); Giovanni Antonini (un banabotto); Guido Fabbris (Isepo); Uberto Scaglione (un pilota)

Corrado Mirandola, maestro del coro
Mondo Musica – 3 CDs


PONCHIELLI La Gioconda • Oliviero de Fabritiis, cond; Leyla Gencer (Gioconda); Umberto Grilli (Enzo); Mario Zanasi (Barnaba); Luisa Bordin Nave (Laura); Ruggero Raimondi (Alvise), O. & Ch of Teatro la Fenice • MONDO MUSICA MFOH 10081, mono/analog (161:08) Live: Venice 1/7/71 

Leyla Gencer collectors may feel that they need this, but despite my enthusiasm for the Turkish soprano I'd be hard put to recommend it to anyone else. The performance as a whole doesn't really take flight, it has more than its share of ensemble lapses, and some of the other principals do not fall easily on the ear. Grilli's hard, metallic tenor might be tolerable if he sang with any semblance of grace or variety of timbre—but he doesn't. Zanasi was always an elegant and noble singer, but his Barnaba could use a bit more of an edge. Nave's Laura is ordinary—a bit thin-toned but certainly listenable. Raimondi's Alvise seems generalized, though warmly vocalized. Mirna Pecile is a tremulous La Cieca. 

That leaves Gencer's Gioconda. Unfortunately, 1971 was a bit later than ideal in the Gencer career, and the voice was beginning to unravel (though not yet to a serious degree). The registers, never smoothly blended, are even more distinct and separate than usual here, and intonation is questionable on more than one occasion. Despite all that, Gencer was always an involving, fascinating singer, one who never phoned in a performance. Hers is a committed, impassioned Gioconda, with those trademark pianissimos magically floating over everyone, and we'd kill for her likes today. Her only other Gioconda (virtually all of her recordings are taken from live performances) is from two months later in Rome. The supporting cast is better, the conducting (Bartoletti) is equally idiomatic, but Gencer is in somewhat shakier voice, and the sound is more constricted and far less distinct than is the case here. 

Mondo Musica gives us a good monaural transfer (there is some compression and constriction in the broadcast sound, but basically its is quite listenable), and a nice booklet with far more interesting and engaging notes than is the norm for this kind of material. No text is included There are so many finer overall performances of La Gioconda available that it is impossible to recommend this one. Of the studio recordings, I'm partial to Callas's 1959 set for EMI, and the London recording from 1958 with Cerquetti, Del Monaco, Bastianini, Simionato, and Siepi. If you are willing to explore various live performance sets (some may only be available by mail order from abroad), look for the great 1962 Met broadcast (Farrell, Corelli, Merrill, Dunn, Tozzi) on Grand Tier or the 1946 classic also from the Met (Milanov, Tucker, Warren, Harshaw, Stevens; issued by the Met itself as a fund-raiser, but also circulating in Europe on other labels). 


Recordings of La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli are surveyed in the following publications:
HARRIS p.137; Opera on Record 3 p.192; CELLETTI p.572; GIUDICI (2) p.935; Opera on CD (1) p.84 (2) p.92 (3) p.103; MET p.374; MET(VID) p.212; PENGUIN p.285; Opera Now May 1993 p.36; American Record Guide September/October 2000 Vol.63 No.5 pp.73-83; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.232 p.88
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Fanfare - Vol.22 No.1 September/October 1998 p.277 [HF]
Orpheus - Mai 1998 S.57 [IW]
Opéra International - juin 1998 No.225 p.56 [SS]
Classical Express - Issue 97 April 1998 p.3 [MT]
American Record Guide - November/December 1998 Vol.61 No.6 p.319 [MM]
Répertoire - No.112 avril 1998 p.58 [PT]
L'opera (Milano) - Supplemento al n.119 maggio 1998 p.30 [GL]
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - junio-agosto 1998 No.28 p.100 [MC]

16.07.1972 LA GIOCONDA
Orchestra e coro del Teatro Sferisterio di Macerata

Giuseppe Patané
Leyla Gencer (La Gioconda); Maria Luisa Nave (Laura Adorno); Fedora Barbieri (La Cieca); Carlo Cava (Alvise Badoero); Carlo Bergonzi (Enzo Grimaldo); Cornell MacNeil (Barnaba); Guiseppe Morresi (Zuane); Athos Cesarin (Isepo); Ledo Freschi (un barnabotto); Elvio Marinangeli (un pilota)
House of Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of La Gioconda by Amilcare Ponchielli are surveyed in the following publications:
HARRIS p.137; Opera on Record 3 p.192; CELLETTI p.572; GIUDICI (2) p.935; Opera on CD (1) p.84 (2) p.92 (3) p.103; MET p.374; MET(VID) p.212; PENGUIN p.285; Opera Now May 1993 p.36; American Record Guide September/October 2000 Vol.63 No.5 pp.73-83; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.232 p.88

La prova di un’opera seria [Live]

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice di Venezia

John Fischer
Leyla Gencer (Corilla); Patrizia Dordi (Violante Pescarelli); Luigi Alva (Federico Mordente); Mario Bolognesi (Fischietto); Francesco Signor (Maestro campanone); Giancarlo Luccardi (Poeta Pasticci)
Mondo Musica – 2 CDs

La Traviata [Live]

08.08.1964 LA TRAVIATA
Orquesta y Cor del Teatro Municipal, Rio de Janeiro
Nicola Rescigno
Leyla Gencer (Violetta Valery); Flaviano Labó (Alfredo Germont); Piero Cappuccilli (Giorgio Germont); Ana Maria Martins (Flora Bervoix); Carmen Pimentel (Annina); Nino Crimi (Gastone); Antonio Lembo (Barone Douphol); Hamilton Moreira (Marchese D'Obigny); Eraldo de Marco (Dottor Grenvil); Eraldo de Marco (Giuseppe); Eraldo de Marco (un domestico di Flora); Sergio di Napoli (un commissionario); Vladimir De Kanel (un messaggero)

Golden Age – 1 CD


Recordings of La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
The Gramophone April 1957 p.402; High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.95, October 1963 Vol.13 No.10 p.52; HARRIS p.278; Opera on Record p.240; CELLETTI p.1022; Opera on CD (1) p.51 (2) p.57 (3) p.64; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.51 p.136,mise à jour p.2 (mars 2000); MET p.606; MET(VID) p.376; PENGUIN p.503; The Absolute Sound Issue 96 p.168; Opera Now June 1995 p.40; GIUDICI p.935 (2) p.1511; «Musica 99» p.70; Répertoire No.96 novembre 1996 p.88; Classic CD June 1997 p.52; Gramophone August 1999 p.22, October 1999 p.6 (letter); Opéra International No.255 mars 2001 p.14; CD Compact No.163 marzo 2003 p.16

Comments: Recording a performance in the Teatro Municipal, Rio de Janeiro (7 August 1964; see OPERA October 1964 pp.675-676). According to «Memórias Glórias de um Teatro» by Edgard de Brito Chaves Jr. pp.379-380 the cast also included Vladimir de Kanel, Sergio Napoli. The CDRs issued by «The Opera Lovers» are listed on the website (hyperlink in CLORLINK.HTM). It is described as «Rare in house recording. Slightly abridged, Gencer only Violetta»

La Vestale [Live]

04.12.1969 LA VESTALE
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Massimo di Palermo
Fernando Previtali
Roberto Merolla (Licinio); Leyla Gencer (Giulia); Renato Bruson (Cinna); Agostino Ferrin (Pontifex Maximus); Franca Mattiucci (gran sacerdotessa); Enrico Campi (consul); Segrio Sisti (Aruspice)

Memories – 2 CDs


Recordings of La Vestale by Gaspare Spontini are surveyed in the following publications:
CELLLETTI p.774; GIUDICI p.785 (2) p.1296
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Opéra International - No.288 mars 2004 p.80 [JC]
International Record Review - November 2002 pp.75-76 [JTH]
Classica Répertoire - No.59 février 2004 p.102 [PT]






Leyla Gencer’s Great “La Vestale”

Leyla Gencer, soprano (Giulia); Renato Bruson, baritone (Cinna); Franca Mattiucci, mezzo (La Gran Vestale); Robleto Merolla, tenor (Licinius); Augusto Ferrin, bass (La Gran Sacerdote); Enrico Campi, bass (Un Console); Sergio Sisti, bass (Chief Aruspice); Teatro Massimo di Palermo Chorus & Orch.; Fernando Previtali, conductor / Living Stage LS 4035163 or available for free streaming on Internet Archive (live: Palermo, December 4, 1969)

Gaspare Spontini has to be the unluckiest important opera composer who ever lived. In an era where every piece of garbage that Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini ever wrote is rescued from it deserved oblivion, staged and then recorded and issued on CD and/or DVD, poor Spontini gets very little respect. Of his 11 surviving operas, of which the first two were, by his own admission, junk written for the Italian market, only six have been recorded, and only four of those with good casts, complete, and in their original language.

Unfortunately, La Vestale, his first really important opera and one of the most influential works in the history of the art form, is not one of them. Yes, there is a note-for-note complete recording in the original French with good conducting by Riccardo Muti, but the vocal cast was woefully inadequate to project the towering drama that the music calls for. There is another recording in French, but it’s incomplete and the soprano in that version, Michèle le Bris, is only marginally better than Muti’s soprano, Karen Huffstodt.

This leaves us with the “pirate” performances, all of them incomplete and most in Italian. The most famous of these is the 1954 La Scala production with a superb cast—Maria Callas, Ebe Stignani, Franco Corelli, Enzo Sordello and Nicola Rossi-Lemeni—but the sound is so distorted that it’s difficult to listen to with any pleasure.

Thus, when I ran across this live Palermo performance from 1969, I was delighted. Although the sound is typical for an Italian broadcast of the period, being rather dry mono, the performance is absolutely superb, and the sound is clear enough to give one a good impression of how this music should be sung and conducted.

Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer didn’t have the most beautiful voice in the world, and by 1969 she had picked up a flutter (not quite a wobble) which she retained for the rest of her career, but she understood the tempestuous nature of Giulia’s character as well as Callas did and her supporting cast is nearly as good. The one little-known singer on here is tenor Robleto Merolla. He had a large, cutting spinto voice, not too dissimilar from that of Mario del Monaco, but he was far less crude and blustery in his delivery. His singing can also be heard on the excellent live Norma (the opera that took over Vestale’s place by using an almost identical plot) with soprano Cristina Deutekom. Apparently, he retired at the height of his career, without having made any commercial recordings, in order to teach. The others—mezzo Franca Mattiucci, baritone Renato Bruson and bass Augusto Ferrin—were well-known and respected Italian singers of their day. and their contributions to this performance are superb.

Yet since the original CD issue of this recording is out of print, and its upload on YouTube is marred by poor sound as well as the annoying introductions to each act by operatic drag queen James Jorden (under the pseudonym of “La Cieca”), I have done all of my loyal readers a favour and uploaded my cleaned-up version of this recording on the Internet Archive. Just click on the link in the header, and you will be whisked by magic carpet to the site of this operatic marvel

© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

27.05.1973 LA VESTALE
Orchestra e Coro dell’Opera di Roma
Carlo Franci
Roberto Merolla (Licinio); Leyla Gencer (Giulia); Carlo Cava (Pontifex Maximus);
Biancamaria Casoni (gran sacerdotessa)
Opera Depot – 2 CDs

L’Ange de Feu [Live]

26.06.1959 L’ANGE DE FEU

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Verdi di Trieste
Istvan Kertész
Leyla Gencer (Renata); Rolando Panerai (Ruprect); Stefania Malagù (Landlady); Anna Maria Canali (Fortune Teller); Raimondo Botteghelli (Jakob Glock); Florindo Andreolli (Agrippa von Nettesheim); Mario Carlin (Mephistopheles); Mario Borriello (Faust); Gabriella Carturan (Mother Superior); Enrico Campi (Inquisitor); Antonio Boyer (Mathias); Arturo La Porta (Innkeeper)
House of Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of The Fiery Angel by Sergei Prokofieff are surveyed in the following publications:
CELLETTI p.580; Opera on CD (1) p.134 (2) p.148 (3) p.167; PENGUIN p.291; GIUDICI p.573 (2) p.956; l'opera (Milano) Anno XII - N.124 dicembre 1998 - Speciale Scala - Stagione 1998/99 p.109; American Record Guide May/June 2003 Vol.66 No.3 pp.54-63

Le Nozze di Figaro [Live]

Glyndebourne Opera Festival
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Silvio Varviso 
Leyla Gencer (Contessa); Heinz Blankenburg (Figaro); Mirella Freni (Susanna); Gabriel Bacquier (Count Almaviva); Edith Mathis (Cherubino); Carlo Cava (Bartolo); Johanna Peters (Marcellina); Hugues Cuenod (Don Basillio); John Kentish (Don Curzio); Derick Davies (Antonio); Maria Zeri (Barbarina); Patricia McCarry (Bridesmaid)
Myer Ferdman, chorus master
Glyndebourne – 3 CD


MOZART Le nozze di Figaro • Silvio Varviso, cond; Heinz Blankenburg (Figaro); Mirella Freni (Susanna); Gabriel Bacquier (Count Almaviva); Leyla Gencer (Countess); Edith Mathis (Cherubino); Carlo Cava (Bartolo); Johanna Peters (Marcellina); Hugues Cuénod (Don Basilio); Royal PO; Glyndebourne Festival Ch • GLYNDEBOURNE FESTIVAL OPERA 1-62, mono (3 CDs: 162:10) Live: Glyndebourne 6/9/1962 

Every opera house that recorded its productions live during an earlier period when such things weren’t the norm, has its own story to tell about an intrepid enthusiast who prodded the authorities until they gave in. Most (with the notable exception of Lionel Mapleson) are long forgotten, but the story of Glyndebourne’s John Barnes is still remembered. A passionate sound-recording enthusiast, he approached the opera house’s general administrator in the late 1950s, and made his first tests on professional equipment in 1960. The aged John Christie, Glyndebourne’s founder, heard the first act of Falstaff in this fashion, and pronounced it “a disgusting noise.” Fortunately, Barnes and the opera’s administrators persevered, and recorded a large number of performances at the opera house. We owe the preservation of this live Le nozze di Figaro to John Barnes, then, and both he and Glyndebourne are to be thanked for making it available to the public. 

The late Leyla Gencer remains best known for her dramatically convincing portrayals of a series of Verdi, Donizetti, and verismo heroines in an RAI broadcast series from around this period. But she also had this fine Countess in her, notable for its beautifully floated legato lines in “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono,” though both—the latter in particular—are sped along so much as to obliterate a fair amount of their majestic, heartfelt effect. Gencer gives us a more assertive Rosina than is usually the case. As emotionally self-obsessed as her brat of a husband, Gencer makes this Countess his equal in obduracy. She finds her match in Bacquier, who also makes a more formidable (and therefore, more interesting) opponent to Figaro than is usually the case. His Count is angry but not blunt, smoothly sexual and adept at changing his manner to suit the needs of the moment—an adroit manipulator, whose “Crudel, perchè fin’ora” for once comes across as a grieved lover rather than as a pouting child. Bacquier is a lighter sounding Almaviva than is usually the case, and his bright timbre makes a nice contrast with Blankenburg’s darker tone. 

As for Blankenburg, he has never received his full due: a rich voice, a fine actor, and a stylish interpreter, who’s Italian and German could pass for native. Here he starts a bit slowly and withdrawn, but steadies himself after the first scene. If his “Non più andrai” is a little impersonal, it’s because of Varviso’s hurried pacing. “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi” is better, though even this usually fast aria feels pushed a bit. This may have been to provide more contrast with Freni’s very leisurely “Deh, vieni.” She’s certainly smart enough to profit from the gift Varviso hands her, caressing every phrase, and lavishing all her creamy tone on it.

Edith Mathis is perhaps best known for her later assumption of Susanna, but I always preferred her sleek tone and excellent interpretative abilities as the impulsive Cherubino. She was excellent in the part in the 1964 commercial Figaro made in East Germany, in German, with the Dresden forces led by the amiable Otmar Suitner, and she makes the transition to Italian without any difficulties. Her “Voi che sapete” is if anything better, here, the open Italian vowels letting her voice bloom in a way that the German translation didn’t. 

On the second tier, there’s little to note of Johanna Peters save that she sings competently. Carlo Cava comes across as meticulous and commendably less blustery than most Bartolos on recordings, but his cavernous voice sounds unfocused. Cuénod presents a finely etched portrayal. It’s a pleasure to hear each quickly delivered yet precisely outlined note of his chortling lines, “Così fan tutte le belle/non c’è alcuna novità!” in the act I trio. Basilio’s amusing aria is restored in this production, and he does a fine job with it. 

My main criticism, as you’ve no doubt determined, lies with Varviso. A fine conductor, alive to the score’s wit, he also pushes tempos too hard at times. Ensembles such as the act II finale and the act III sextet receive a more genial and appropriate treatment, while the “Non la trovo” section of the act IV finale is actually taken slower than usually is the case. Perhaps Varviso thought that these pieces carried enough dramatic movement to support more relaxed pacing, and that the arias, being static, needed to be hurried along, especially if they opened or closed the curtain. Whatever the reason, the Jekyll-and-Hyde effect is unwelcome, despite fine playing from the orchestra. 

John Barnes insisted upon the use of fine equipment in his recordings, and if this is any sample, it’s obvious that the results have been well preserved over the years. Frequency response is excellent, with no dropouts, crosstalk, or speed problems. Microphone placement could have been bettered; while close and attractively balanced for the orchestra, the soloists appear at a bit of a distance sonically, each losing some of his or her unique coloration.

For the rest, an article by David Cairns gushes over the opera, as many of us (including myself) are wont to do, and makes obvious points. A number of performance and behind-the-scenes photographs are included, as well the original libretto with French, German, and English translations—all in fairly large print, explaining the size of the set. 

Varviso’s tempos to one side, this is a treasurable performance. I wouldn’t suggest it before Kleiber (London Legends 466369), Giulini (EMI Classics 58602), or Solti (Decca 410150), but for those who already know the opera and are looking for something different, the performances of Bacquier, Gencer, and Cuénod should more than suffice. 


Recordings of Le nozze di Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity November 1960 Vol.10 No.11 p.125: November 1965 Vol.15 No.11 pp.68-71; Opera on Record p.55; Orpheus April 1983 S.394; CELLETTI p.506; Opera on CD (1) p.17 (2) p.21 (3) p.23; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.135-136 p.168, mise à jour janvier 2003; MET p.286; MET(VID) p.163; PENGUIN p.247; The Opera Quarterly Vol.1 No.2 p.142; Répertoire de Disques Compacts No.61 septembre 1993 p.12; Opera on Video p.21; GIUDICI p.424 (2) p.734; Classic CD March 1998 p.48; BBC Music Magazine December 2000 p.55; American Record Guide January/February 2002 Vol.65 No.1 pp.55-56
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
(The) Gramophone - July 2008 p.89 [JBS]
Opera - June 2008 pp.721-722 [RM]




2008 June


“Like Covent Garden, Glyndebourne is now delving into its rich archive of recordings, but these are in-house affairs, and the sound quality of this Figaro from 1962 is vastly superior to Covent Garden’s Don Giovanni under Solti from the same year. Two singers are common to both sets: the miraculous Mirella Freni, a Susanna in a thousand, and the recently deceased Turkish diva Leyla Gencer, as a grand Countess. It is the ensemble under Varviso’s inspired baton that counts here: one can only dream of a cast including Edith Mathis’s delicious Cherubino and Heinz Blankenburg’s feisty, resonant Figaro at Glyndebourne today. This production crackles with theatricality, and the orchestra is superb.”


2008 July

Listening to this performance of Figaro, recorded 46 years ago, one feels that it is 'historic' but in almost no respect 'historical'. The sound is miraculously clear and full. The conducting of Silvio Varviso is a wonder of lucidity and grace… the cast is uniformly first-rate. No matter how many Figaros you have, this is an essential addition, with fresh insights bubbling to the surface every few moments.” 

“Glyndebourne and Figaro: they go together like Christmas and mistletoe. Except, of course, that at Glyndebourne you hope for a lovely summer evening. That vintage year of '62 was the one which saw the return of Carl Ebert to produce not only this Figaro but also Glyndebourne's first Pelléas. The young Silvio Varviso also made his Glyndebourne debut as conductor of Figaro. Count (Gabriel Bacquier) and Countess (Leyla Gencer) were other newcomers and Mirella Freni was singing Susanna for the first time anywhere. As heard here, everything takes its place with a delightful combination of freshness and assurance, and the audience clearly (and more audibly after the interval) responds appreciatively.

The recording seems to catch the stage action almost as well as if it were a DVD, though the women's voices are apt to acquire that bright hard edge which is the accursed associate of digital remastering: still, not as badly as some.


2008 July

“A memorable night in the summer of 1962: it’s Glyndebourne at its best. As heard here, everything takes its place with a delightful combination of freshness and assurance.”  






2008 November



Even dear old Hugues Cuénod is endowed with a pricklier forte than he surely ever had in his voice live. At least the two baritones are unaffected, and their performances, both as pure singing and as 'expression', are delightful. Gencer's vibrant, almost tragic tone distinguishes her Countess, and as (nearly) always at Glyndebourne the ensemble work is a model of stylish efficiency.”



“The early 1960s were a golden age for Glyndebourne and this is a true ensemble performance...with Mirella Freni's delightful Susanna and Edith Mathis's coltish Cherubino - how much better it is to have a soprano, not a mezzo, in the part! - there are no grounds for complaint. As the Countess, the underrated Leyla Gencer produces a nice pianissimo in the reprise of "Dove sono".” 


Glyndebourne Opera Festival

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Glyndebourne Chorus
Silvio Varviso
Leyla Gencer (Contessa); Heinz Blankenburg (Figaro); Michel Roux (Count Almaviva); Carlo Cava (Bartolo); Edith Mathis (Cherubino); Liliane Berton (Susanna); Rosa Larghezza (Marcellina); Hughes Cuenod (Don Basilio); John Kentish (Don Curzio); Derek Davies (Antonio); Maria Zeri (Barbarina)
House of Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of Le nozze di Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity November 1960 Vol.10 No.11 p.125: November 1965 Vol.15 No.11 pp.68-71; Opera on Record p.55; Orpheus April 1983 S.394; CELLETTI p.506; Opera on CD (1) p.17 (2) p.21 (3) p.23; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.135-136 p.168, mise à jour janvier 2003; MET p.286; MET(VID) p.163; PENGUIN p.247; The Opera Quarterly Vol.1 No.2 p.142; Répertoire de Disques Compacts No.61 septembre 1993 p.12; Opera on Video p.21; GIUDICI p.424 (2) p.734; Classic CD March 1998 p.48; BBC Music Magazine December 2000 p.55; American Record Guide January/February 2002 Vol.65 No.1 pp.55-56

Comments: Recording of a concert performance given by the Glyndebourne company at a PROM in the Royal Albert Hall, London (22 July 1963). This performance was broadcast by the BBC Home Service. See Radio Times Issue Dated July 20-26 1963 p.24. A recording was broadcast by the BBC Music Programme on 14 October 1965. See Radio Times Issue dated October 9-15 1965 p.58. The CDRs issued by House of Opera are included in the list of new releases added to their website in December 2003 «03/12/22» where the date of the performance is given as 28 June 1963 and the place as London. The CDRs issued by «The Opera Lovers» are listed on the website The date of the performance recorded is also given here as 28 June 1963.

Les Martyrs [Live]


22.09.1975 LES MARTYRS
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo
Adolfo Cammozzo
Leyla Gencer (Pauline); Renato Bruson (Severe); Mario Di Felici (Polyeucte); Luigi Roni (Felix); Vincenzo Sagona (Callisthenes); Renato Cazzaniga (Nearque); Ambrogio Riva (Le Grand Pretre)

House of Opera - 2 CDs


Recordings of Les Martyrs by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opéra International No.219 décembre 1997 p.18
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Opera News - October 1997 p.43 [CJL]
Orpheus - August-September 1997 S.77
Opera Quarterly - Vol.14 No.3 Spring 1998 p.179 [RP]
Opéra International - décembre 1997 No.219 p.18, p.59 [SS]
Classical Express - Issue No.87 June 1997 p.4
American Record Guide - September/October Vol.60 No.5 p.120 [DA]
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - No.25 septiembre-noviembre 1997 p.89 [MC]


18.06.1978 LES MARTYRS
Orchestra e Coro del Grande Teatro La Fenice
Gianluigi Gelmetti
Leyla Gencer (Pauline); Ottavio Garaventa (Polyeucte); Ferruccio Furlanetto (Felix); Renato Bruson (Severe); Franco Signor (Callisthenes); Oscar di Credico (Nearque); Giovanni Antonini (Le Grand Pretre); Mario Guggia (un chretien); Anna Lia Bazzani (una donna, confidente de Pauline)
Ior – 2 CDs


Recordings of Les Martyrs by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opéra International No.219 décembre 1997 p.18
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
(The) Gramophone - October 1994 p.188 [JBS]
Orpheus - August-September 1994 (Heft 9) S.40
Opéra International - No.182 juillet-aoüt 1994 p.70
L'Avant Scène Opéra - No.161 p.142
Répertoire - No.71 juillett/aoüt 1994 p.37
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - No.85 noviembre 2005 p.83 [MC]

L’Incoronazione di Poppea [Live]

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala
Bruno Maderna
Grace Bumbry (Poppea); Giuseppe di Stefano (Nerone); Leyla Gencer (Ottavia); Alberto Rinaldi (Ottone); Carlo Cava (Seneca); Gloria Lane (Arnalta); Carla Otta (Drusilla); Maria Casula (Valletto); Maria Maddalena (Nutrice); Regolo Romani (Mercurio); Mirella Fiorentini (Pallade); Edith Martelli (Amore); Maddalena Bonifaccio (una damigella); Lorenzo Testi (Liberto); Alfredo Giacomotti (Lorenzo); Piero de Palma (primo soldato); Mario Carlin (secondo soldato); Walter Brighi (Lucano); Angelo Mercuriali (Petronio); Leonardo Monreale (Tigellino); Laura Londi (la Fortuna); Emma Renzi (La Virtu)

Myto – 2 CDs 


MONTEVERDI L'incoronazione di Poppea: Excerpts. • Bruno Maderna, conductor; Grace Bumbry, soprano (Poppea); Giuseppe di Stefano, tenor (Nerone); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Ottavia); Alberto Rinaldi, baritone (Ottone); Glora Lane, mezzo-soprano (Arnaltä); Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala. • MYTO RECORDS 1 MCD 905.31 [ADD]; 77:51. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: Milan; January 27, 1967. 

Let us suppose that you represent the management of a nation's leading opera house and that, in an anniversary year, you want to do homage to one of your country's greatest opera composers. Suppose, however, that that composer lived long ago when opera was new and that your clientele, if it knows of him at all, thinks of his music as at best esoteric and at worst as boring. How do you deal with the problem of how to sell enough seats to stave off financial disaster? 

This was evidently what the Teatro alla Scala had to figure out in 1967, a year that marked the fourth centenary of Claudio Monteverdi's birth. La Scala had produced in its whole history only two Monteverdi performances (one each of L'Orfeo and l'incoronazione di Poppea in 1937 and 1953 respectively). The decision was evidently to get a conductor who knew something about such music (Maderna did a realization of L'Orfeo that same year), flesh the cast out with a few box-office draws, and not worry about “authenticity.” 

The “stars” were as listed above—or almost. Di Stefano, in the event, came up indisposed, and sang only the final performance, preserved here forever. The reviewers didn't think much of the effort, but the singers threw themselves into the piece (to judge from this disc) as though it were Trovatore, and the audience responded deliriously—at least to the Bumbry-di Stefano scenes of passion. 

Should you purchase this memento? Were it well recorded, I might suggest that you acquire it as a historical curiosity. But it ain't. Once again, we have a microphone poorly placed (obviously smuggled in by a patron). The noises of an apparently restive audience are in the foreground. The orchestra forms a sonic screen between listener and singers, frequently obscuring them. Even di Stefano cannot shout down his accompanying trombones. When the singers can be heard their voices sound harsh and edgy. Bumbry's suffers particularly. (Oddly Ottavia sounds richer and deeper than Poppea and I had to check to make sure that Myto hadn't got Bumbry and Gencer confused. 

Of course, no attempt has been made to carry out the composer's vocal intentions. Nerone and Ottone should be soprano and alto respectively and Arnalta should probably be a tenor. As far as I can make out, modern instruments are used. (The score is a 1937 editing by one Giacomo Genuti of the Venice manuscript.) Finally the recording gives us only the scenes that feature the stars, the point being to appeal to their fans and to hell with Monteverdi's opera. Unless you are a masochist, I say leave it alone.


Recordings of L' incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record p.20; MARINELLI p.3; CELLETTI p.430; Opera on CD (1) p.2 (2) p.3 (3) p.3; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.115 p.154; MET p.264; PENGUIN p.218; Opera on Video p.3; GIUDICI p.392 (2) p.686; Opéra International No.297 janvier 2005 p.31; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.224 p.134


Lo Straniero [Live]

22.02.1969 LO STRANIERO
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro San Carlo di Napoli
Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Giampaolo Corradi (Lo straniero); Carlo Cava (Il re patriarca Hanoch); Leyla Gencer (Maria); Trimarchi Scedeur (genero di Hanoch Domenico)
House of Opera – 2 CDs


Comments: Recording of a performance in the Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli (February 1968). The year of the performance recorded is given incorrectly as 1961 in Omega's online catalogue.

Lucia di Lammermoor [Live]

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale G. Verdi di Trieste
Oliviero de Fabritiis
Leyla Gencer (Lucia Ashton); Giacinto Prandelli (Sir Edgardo di Ravenswood); Liliana Hussu (Alisa); Nino Carta (Lord Enrico Ashton); Lorenzo Sabatucci (Lord Arturo Bucklaw); Antonio Massaria (Raimondo Bidebent); Raimondo Botteghelli (Normanno)
Adolfo Fanfari, meastro del coro
Bonus Tracks
Verdi Il Trovatore
Orchestra e coro del Teatro Verdi di Trieste
Olivero de Fabritiis
Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Mario Filippeschi (Manrico); Ettore Bastianini (Conte di Luna)
Bongiovanni – 2 CDs


DONIZETTI Lucia di Lammermoor • Oliviero de Fabritiis, cond; Leyla Gencer (Lucia); Nino Carta (Enrico); Giacinto Prandelli (Edgardo); Lorenzo Sabatucci (Arturo); Antonio Massaria (Raimondo); Liliana Hussu (Alisa); Raimondo Botteghelli (Normano); Vincenzo Bellezza, cond;1 Mario Filippeschi (Manrico);1 Leyla Gencer (Leonora);1 Ettore Bastianini (Di Luna);1 O & Ch Del Teatro Verdi di Trieste • BONGIOVANNI 1198 (2 CDs: 121:22) Live: Trieste 11/30/1957 

The 1959 broadcast from Covent Garden featuring Joan Sutherland was first released on records (LP) by HRE. The CD release was on the Giuseppe di Stefano label and was reviewed in Fanfare 14:1 by Robert Levine [Fanfare]. This performance elevated Sutherland into star status, and is a historical event worth any opera-lover’s attention. As Levine pointed out, Sutherland in this performance is quite girlish, as the character should be, and she is technically superb. The supporting cast is not up to her level. Joâo Gibin is competent; John Shaw is loud and vulgar, certainly not a bel canto singer; Joseph Rouleau is adequate. Serafin conducts with his usual brilliance. The tenor/baritone duet is cut, and the usual cuts in the mad scene are observed. However, the Lucia/Raimondo duet that is often also cut is sung in the performance. 

Sutherland also made two commercial recordings, and the stereo with Pavarotti is complete. On this Royal Opera House Heritage Series recording there is a bonus interview where Sutherland talks about her preparation for this performance and meetings with Zeffirelli who produced the opera, and also with Serafin. The sound is excellent. The booklet contains notes and a libretto with English translation. Highly recommended. 

A highlight disc from this live performance featuring Leyla Gencer was released on the Melodram label in 1989 and reviewed in Fanfare 12:6 by Robert Levine [Fanfare], who admitted that he was a great fan of Gencer, and declared that on this recording she was in absolutely great voice. Although, as Levine stated, one might wish for greater dramatic involvement, Gencer’s vocal brilliance is well evidenced in this recording. The supporting cast is fine. Giacinto Prandelli was a fine lyric tenor, and is, if not really great, quite acceptable. Nino Carta understands the bel canto tradition and sings well. Antonio Massaria is a good, if not great, Raimondo. His role is subjected to the usual cut of the duet between Raimondo and Lucia, and also the tenor-baritone duet is missing. The mad scene is, however, complete. De Fabritiis is an experienced conductor and supports the singers well. The bonus tracks, worth the price of the recordings, feature the last of the great Italian baritones, Ettore Bastianini, a species that unfortunately has vanished, and a fine dramatic tenor, Mario Filippeschi, along with Gencer in finales to acts I and II. The booklet contains notes only, and the sound is quite good for the period. Gencer enthusiasts should not hesitate in acquiring this set. 

Highlights from the performance of Lucia in Vienna in 1972 were previously issued on a Golden Age of Opera CD featuring Jaime Aragall, a two-disc recording of selections from various operas. Sonja Poot sang mostly in Europe, and was known for her performances of Lucia. However, she is not in the class of either Sutherland or Gencer. Her mad scene is very carefully sung, slowly and without any semblance of madness, although she manages to sing a lovely high F at the conclusions of both sections and the audience shows its appreciation. Her tone lacks firmness and is somewhat hollow most of the time. Aragall had a beautiful voice, but was usually criticized for having pitch problems. His Edgardo is well sung and worth hearing. Vincenzo Sardinero is a strongly violent Enrico, and Thomas O’Leary is adequate in the role of Raimondo. The usual cuts of the period are observed, no duet between Lucia and Raimondo, and of course the scene containing the duet between Edgardo and Enrico is not performed, although the mad scene, the slowest mad scene I have ever heard, is complete. Quadri supports the singers. He gives Poot time to breathe and hit her notes in the slow mad scene. I can understand the inclusion of applause in the Sutherland set, for historic purposes, and am not annoyed by the Gencer recording where the applause is not cut. In this recording it is also included, and the Vienna audience seemed to like it, so that there is long applause. Thank goodness for remote controls and banding so that one does not have to listen to the clapping hands that go on and on and on! The bonus tracks, which are not on the GAO recording, contain the aria “Ah, fuyez douce image” and the Saint Suplice scene. In a review in Opera, Joseph Wechsberg stated, “Pilou was magnificent and also convincing.” He also praised Aragall. I totally agree. The bonus tracks are probably the best reason to acquire this set. Pilou is a wonderful Manon and Aragall uses his mezza-voce to excellent effect. Short notes and acceptable sound are provided. 

There have been many good recordings of Lucia and I have reviewed some in the past. Maria Callas is deservedly given the credit for restoring the popularity of the opera, but unfortunately her recordings, a must for all lovers of this opera, use the traditional cuts of the Raimondo/Lucia duet, the Wolf’s crag scene, and cuts in the mad scene. Sutherland fortunately recorded a complete version with Pavarotti, and Sills with Bergonzi. Those two are my favorites, along with the Karajan-led Callas version. The historical importance of the first Sutherland version makes that set a must. Gencer fans will enjoy her recording, and a qualified recommendation to Aragall admirers, especially for the bonus Manon material. 


Recordings of Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera February 1959 p.86; HARRIS p.150; Opera on Record p.184; CELLETTI p.223; MARINELLI p.114; Opera on CD (1) p.34 (2) p.39 (3) p.43; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.55 p.110, No.233 p.114; MET p.113; MET(VID) p.64; PENGUIN p.78; Opéra International janvier 1995 No.187 p.19, juillet- aoüt 1997 No.215 p.10; Opera on Video p.57; GIUDICI p.190 (2) p.312; Répertoire No.107 novembre 1997 p.9; American Record Guide September/October 2000 Vol.63 No.5 pp.73-83
This recording is reviewed in the following publication:
Fanfare - Vol.5 No.3 January/February 1982 p.98 (highlights) [HF]; Vol.31 No.1 September/October 2007 pp.91-92 [BR]

Comments: Recording a performance in the Teatro Verdi di Trieste (13 December 1957 or 30 November 1967)


The publication some years ago of a selection from this Lucia di Lammermoor staged at the Teatro Verdi in Trieste during the 1957/58 season represents one of the landmarks of live recordings. ln fact it allows fans and experts to examine Leyla Gencer's art in Lucia, a role which the soprano dealt with in an almost casual manner and which constituted a Unicom in her career. ln fact Walter Scott’s tragic heroine entered the singer’s repertoire in a totally unexpected manner in 1957. ln September, Maria Callas, having just returned from a tournée with the company from the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, to the Edinburgh Festival, unexpectedly cancelled her American engagements. The War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco suddenly found itself without a protagonist for Lucia di Lammermoor and Macbeth. And there were only ten days left in which to find a solution. The management of the California theatre engaged the Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek to be the substitute for the Verdian Lady and asked Leyla Gencer to take the part of Lucia di Lammermoor. After her debut the previous year in Francesca da Rimini in the “Golden Gate” city the Turkish soprano was well known in the USA. On the 19th of September she had appeared at the War Memorial Opera House in the Traviata and there was very little time left before the debut in Lucia (27th September 1957). As Franca Cella wittily wrote “of the opera Leyla Gencer knew only “the madness”. Crazier than ever she learnt it in one week and had a triumph”. Returning to Italy two months later Leyla Gencer inaugurated the Verdi season in Trieste as Leonora in the Trovatore. As a comic Deja-vu, even here the protagonist of the subsequent opera Lucia, the soprano Eugenia Ratti had to cancel due to health reasons. Like the conductor from San Francisco, Kurt Herbert Adler, - in fact taking courage from the precedent - the directors of the Julian Theatre asked Leyla Gencer to once again attempt the role by Donizetti. With strength in the Latin proverb Repetita iuvant the soprano took up the role of Lucia and as this recording demonstrates once again had a great success. The merit was due to the artiste’s intelligence and to the conductor Oliviero De Fabritiis (the same conductor who had accompanied her in her American debut in Zandonai’s opera the previous year). De Fabritiis re-opens a traditional view in the madness scene S’avanza Enrico which having a dramatic impression helps the protagonist to understand both her character and the scenic situation in general better. The rest of the singing company (and this unfortunateéy applies also to Giacinto Prandelli’s dgardo) are not up to the standard of the protagonist who therefore towers over them undisturbed in a prospective almost like singing in a recital. Moving away from the Callas model, Leyla Gencer depicts an adolescent Lucia, using as an instrument the agility singing in the chords of a light soprano. In this approach by Leyla Gencer we probably hear the lessons of an extraordinary singing teacher like Giannina Arangi-Lombardi. If not for another Lucia in Venice (February 1959) the artiste would not have returned to the role of the young girl from Highlands. In the course of her career Leyla Gencer’s name was destined to be tied to other more darkly dramatic characters of the Donizetti repertoire. Therefore, this recording in Trieste preserves a moment in the career of an artiste which could have marked a turning point but which instead was not to be. Like an elegant domino worn with grace once and then put aside forever.



Under the sign of Leyla
Saturday 30 November 1957. Documents such as this are history before they turn into music, so before the curtain goes up let us remember the significance of this date. Because it was on 30 November 1957 that the voice of Beniamino Gigli was silenced forever. A wave of grief swept through those who saw Gigli as the voice that symbolized Italy and through those in Trieste who, a mere three years earlier in the huge surroundings of the Castle of San Giusto, had applauded one of his last performances in concert and who would now commemorate him with the Lucia of which he had be so fond. This document provides no indication of the emotion which must have been felt by operagoers with memories of what had gone before. Yet the little that remains of that evening still has the power to roll back time and conjure up once more one of the great highlights at the Teatro Verdi during the 1957/58 season, featuring Leyla Gencer who had returned by public demand following Der Freischütz conducted by Mario Rossi. That Giuseppe Antonicelli was an organizer with exceptionally high standards is readily apparent merely from looking at the programme for that season. The ten events being staged were hardly among the easiest to produce, including as they did Mefistofele, Boris Godunov and Tristan und Isolde, two of the conductors - Thomas Schippers and Lorin Maazel - were of the new generation and the soloists included the older, established Rubinstein and Kempe and the young, up-and-coming Accardo, Gulli and Pollini. Audiences were accustomed to beauty, which kept their aesthetic awareness heightened and listening to these rare documents years later, we are likely to be surprised at what passed for wild applause and enthusiastic ovation because, by today’s paroxystic standards, the audience reaction seems positively contained. Yet it could not be otherwise, since excellence was then the norm. Even so, the 57/58 season had begun with a stunningly significant instance of how to approach Verdi with a style guaranteed to make audiences sit up. This staging of II Trovatore was conducted by Vincenzo Bellezza and featured Leyla Gencer’s outstanding notturno alongside the stalwarts Mario Filippeschi and the younger Ettore Bastianini, who had been so impressive in Thais in ’54. And a couple of astonishing excerpt from this Trovatore can be heard on this CD. Which explains why the edition of Lucia di Lammermoor featuring Gencer had aroused such expectations. After Leonora, all moonlight with the majestic voice of Arangi-Lombardi, (this Leonora being the stylistic opposite of her partnering singers in a version of the opera which was, in other respects, something of a warhorse), Lucia was even more of a challenge. The first reason was that the role was still in the grip of the “light” approach favoured by singers before and during the second world war. The second reason was Maria Callas, shoes presence loomed large at the Teatro Verdi after singing Norma there three seasons earlier that had become the stuff of legend, (Votto, Corelli, Nicolai, Christoff). Meanwhile, the legendary status of this Lucia, conducted by de Fabritiis with a solid sense of balance and respect for convention, centres on Gencer’s great achievement in using only musical means to create what would become a model for interpreting this role. Gencer does this through the sensitivity of her phrasing, her control of legato and the introspective nature of sound while keeping emotion alive and imbuing her approach with romantic lyricism. Her renowned control, the purity of her flute-like sounds and the way she modulated her tone colour were never merely effects but the live essence of the soul of the character, torn by events and on the verge of losing her mind yet constantly sustained by a powerful sense of femininity. With a vocal approach of this sort, the intensity of the drama could only rise like a mounting wave. Gencer conveyed intoxication, ecstasy and torment with crystalline purity; good instances of this are the flights of ultra-staccato, pinpoint-like semiquavers in Quando rapita in estasi, the stellar puntatura in the duet with Enrico Il pallor funesto, orrendo, all those sounds that seemed to float on the ether and the many notes in the upper treble which Gencer could produce with astonishing ease, as though by magic. The present recording has historic evening for opera-lovers on CD, with its unforgettably great mad scene. Music which should remain forever in a Louvre Museum of opera, as well as in our minds. Gencer’s charisma was clearly infectious, since outstanding performances are also provided by Nino Carta as Enrico (baritone and later a teacher of great worth, after whom Moncalieri named a singing competition) and Giancinto Prandelli as an ideally noble Edgardo, with just the right amount of spleen underlining the character’s class and lordly attitude. 



Arriva in cd l'archivio del «Verdi»

In Breve Dopo l'incisione dei «Puritani» di Bellini nella memorabile edizione del 1957 al Teatro Verdi di Trieste (con Virginia Zeani, Mario Filippeschi, Aldo Protti), l'editore Bongiovanni di Bologna pubblica adesso un'altra leggendaria edizione triestina: quella della «Lucia di Lammermoor» di Donizetti andata in scena sotto la direzione di Oliviero De Fabritiis, protagonista Leyla Gencer.

Con questo straordinario documento prende corpo la collana discografica dedicata dall'editore bolognese all'archivio storico del Teatro Verdi. È in preparazione un cd dedicato alla figura e all'arte del grande violinista triestino Franco Gulli.

13.12.1957 LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR (Highights)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale G. Verdi di Trieste
Oliviero de Fabritiis
Leyla Gencer (Lucia Ashton); Giacinto Prandelli (Sir Edgardo di Ravenswood); Liliana Hussu (Alisa); Nino Carta (Lord Enrico Ashton); Lorenzo Sabatucci (Lord Arturo Bucklaw); Antonio Massaria (Raimondo Bidebent); Raimondo Botteghelli (Normanno)
Arkadia – 1 CD


DONIZETTI Lucia di Lammermoor: Highlights. • Leyla Gencer, sop (Lucia); Giacinto Prandelli, ten (Edgardo); Nino Carta, bar (Enrico); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Verdi di Trieste, conducted by Oliviero de Fabritiis. • REPLICA RPL 2486 (mono, recorded live Dec. 13, 1957), $10.98 (distributed by IBR). 

Of the various companies releasing live performance material from the past, Replica seems to me to be the best. Not only is their packaging highly professional, but their sound quality is uniformly good (whenever they have released a performance that exists on some other label, Replica's sound is superior). They press their discs on good vinyl, and they choose their material with good taste. 

Leyla Gencer is a Turkish soprano whose career spanned the fifties, sixties, and seventies. I have encountered her in a variety of roles (Norma, Leonora in Trovatore, the title role in Pacini's Saffo, Lucretia Borgia, etc.), and she always brought something special to them. Why her international career didn't really catch fire is beyond me, since this kind of highly personal singing, based on a secure vocal technique, is just what we've had a shortage of in the past few decades. Here we have a full-voiced, richly sung, and beautifully phrased Lucia; and since the excerpts are chosen to focus on all of the soprano's scenes, this disc is very valuable. Prandelli's lyric tenor strains at times, and there are all kinds of ensemble problems. But Gencer soars through this music in a way that all opera lovers will find satisfying. There are real goosebumps here.



DONIZETTI Lucia di Lammermoor: Excerpts1 Mad Scene2. • Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor; Leyìa Gencer, soprano (Lucia); Giacinto Prandelli, tenor (Edgardo); Nino Carta, baritone (Enrico); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Verdi, Trieste 1; Alfredo Simonetta, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lucia); RAI Orchestra, Milan 2. • MELODRAM MEL 15003 [AAD]; 76:07. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performances: Trieste, December 13, 19571; Milan, February 10, 19582. 

This generous disc of highlights, which presents virtually all of Lucia's music (a few recitatives aside), is somewhat of a disappointment. As readers of Fanfare no doubt know by now, I am a great fan of Leyla Gencer's, whether she's in good voice or poor, mostly because of her distinctive quality, style, and involvement. Here she is in absolutely great voice—perhaps the finest I've ever heard her, but I was left unmoved by the performance. 

Gencer's voice is all of a piece here; this was before the shattering occurred. She is in absolute control of every register, at every dynamic level. Her remarkable pianissimi extend up to high C, her fioriture and divisions are fluent and accurate, the very top notes are perfectly in place. Unfortunately, she seems to be detached from the drama—a rarity for her. She makes little of her opening aria and cabaletta—mood pieces if ever there were two—and while she articulates the text with her usual care, she never takes that extra step needed to make Lucia the tragic figure she is. Gencer is the generically upset-soprano here, and while one can admire her singing, one would be hard-pressed to get emotionally involved in Lucia's plight. I hate to say it, but it might be true that as the voice declined the artistry increased.

The rest of the cast is fine, if hardly distinguished, and the orchestra, chorus, and leadership are fine, too. The extra Mad Scene, from a couple of months later (and shorn of “Spargi d'amaro pianto' '), is a carbon copy of the other—and that, my friends, is the problem. Jewel box with insert listing the nineteen cueing points. 

Lucrezia Borgia [Live]


Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli
Carlo Franci
Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Mario Petri (Don Alfonso, duca di Ferrara); Jaume Aragall (Gennaro); Anna-Maria Rota (Maffio Orsini); Franco Ricciardi (Rustighello); Emilio Salvoldi (Astolfo); Giuseppe Moretti (Jeppo LIVErotto)
Michele Lauro, maestro del coro

Arkadia – 2 CDs 


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.

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. 

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 Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record 3 p.68; CELLETTI p.241; MET p.108; MET(VID) p.60; PENGUIN p.81; GIUDICI p.184 (2) p.297; Opéra International mars 1984 No.68 p.19; avril 1997 No.212 p.22
This recording is reviewed in the following publication:
Opera Quarterly - Vol.6 No.3 Spring 1989 pp.135-137 [WA]






Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Francesco Molinari-Pardelli
Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Ruggero Raimondi (Don Alfonso, duca di Ferrara); Renato Cioni (Gennaro); Anna-Maria Rota (Maffio Orsini); Giuseppe Moretti (Jeppo LIVErotto); Franco Romano (Don Apostolo Gazella); Salvatore Catania (Ascanio Pertucci); Fernando Jacopucci (Oloferno Vitellozzo); Silvio Maionica (Gubetta); Sergio Tedesco (Rustighello); Mario Borriello (Astolfo)
House of Opera - 2 CDs


Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo
Adolfo Camozzo
Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Umberto Grilli (Gennaro); Anna-Maria Rota (Maffio Orsini); Gianfranco Casarini (Don Alfonso, duca di Ferrara); Bruno Sebastian (Rustighello); Gianfranco Manganotti (Jeppo LIVErotto); Alfredo Giacomotti (Don Apostolo Gazella); Paolo Cesari (Ascanio Pertucci); Walter Gullino (Oloferno Vitellozzo); Federico Davia (Gubetta); Dino Mantovani (Astolfo)
Bonus Tracks
Lucrezia Borgia 12.03.1970
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano
Ettore Gracis
Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Gianni Raimondi (Gennaro); Luigi Roni ( Duca Alfonso); Anna Maria Rota (Orsini); Gianfranco Giocometti (Don Alfonso); Lorenzo Testi (Ascanio Petrucci); Walter Gullino (Oleferno Vitellozzo); Franco Ricciardi (Rustighello); Dino Montovani (Astolfo); Giovanni De Angelis (un coppiere)
Myto – 2 CDs 


DONIZETTI Lucrezia Borgia • Adolfo Camozzo, cond; Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Umberto Grilli (Gennaro); Anna Maria Rota (Orsini); Gianfranco Casarini (Don Alfonso); Bruno Sebastian (Rustighello); Gianfranco Manganotti (Liverotto); O & Ch of the Donizetti Theater, Bergamo • MYTO MCD 013.246 (2 CDs: 142:57) Live: Bergamo, 1971 

The year 1833 was an exceptionally busy one for Donizetti. He produced no less than four operas in three different Italian cities. Had he been more restrained in his prodigality, the best of the four, Lucrezia Borgia, might have turned out even better, though it still has a lot going for it. Felice Romani, a librettist who resembled Donizetti in terms of productivity, created an expert condensation of Victor Hugo's freshly produced play for the composer. Donzetti's music captures the somber, intrigue-laden atmosphere of Renaissance Italy the way Verdi's Rigoletto (another opera based on Victor Hugo) was to do several years later. The vividly drawn characters in Lucrezia Borgia are torn by unconvincing contradictions and abrupt plot twists. While Donizetti's music is uneven, it never sinks below agreeable predictability, and its arias and ensembles often reveal first-class inspiration. 

Donizetti showers the commanding central character of Lucrezia—part vengeful monster, part devoted mother—with magnificent vocal and theatrical opportunities. We have been treated to two complete "official" recordings so far, featuring Montserrat Caballé (RCA, 1965) and Joan Sutherland (London, 1977, currently deleted). Both divas score effective moments in the challenging vocal line, but neither creates a dramatically compelling Lucrezia. The Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer, who made the role one of her special vehicles in Italy a generation ago, comes close to the ideal in this 1971 live recording from the composer's native Bergamo.

A fascinating artist, Gencer was never an image of vocal perfection, but her weaknesses— cloudy enunciation and intermittent pitch inaccuracies—cannot diminish her overall command of the role. She comes across as a truly formidable Borgia in the later scenes, but in the first act (usually called the Prologo) she treats us to lovely leaps into softly floated high Bs in her aria, sustaining the tender mood in her subsequent duet with Gennaro. Her vocal registers are not seamlessly joined but—like her celebrated Greek American contemporary—she can turn that presumed failing into virtue by exploring her well-focused chest register in the third act. Catching Gencer in a true theatrical atmosphere undoubtedly helps, but we get the real Lucrezia in this technically imperfect recording, something neither of the polished studio versions could duplicate. 

Her tenor partner, Umberto Grilli, had some prominence in Italy a generation ago, but appeared rarely on records. He displays a not too varied but secure and well-placed spinto voice that bravely ascends to a high C in the first-act finale. He also does his best in the opera's finale where, in his dying moments, he learns that Lucrezia was his mother. His final aria, a Donizetti afterthought and missing from the RCA set, is quite beautifully done. Gianfranco Casarini, a baritone heretofore unknown to me, provides the darkly menacing sound appropriate to Duke Alfonso's venomous and unbending character. The trio in act II captures all three principals in fine form. Mezzo Anna Maria Rota makes little of the virtuosity inherent in Orsini's familiar "Il segreto per esser felici," and displays some unfocused tones here and there, but her singing is generally acceptable. The orchestral sound has the usual limitations of a live recording, but conductor Camozzo keeps everything well in hand. 

The subsidiary characters, who usually operate in the background or on the fringes without being properly captured by the microphone, are not given enough prominence. In such a conspiratorial opera, this is unfair to the artists involved. Sometimes the orchestra is heard in undue prominence against the principals, as well, but MYTO's overall sound is acceptable and the various stage noises and applause (invariably merited) do no serious harm. As a bonus, the second disc offers the finale of the opera, taken from a Milan performance of the previous year (1970), conducted by Ettore Gracis. The excellent tenor here is Gianni Raimondi, who is heard in Gennar's extended death scene omitted in Bergamo. Leyla Gencer has many admirers who will seek out this set. I would recommend it to an even wider audience willing to overlook the audio limitations.



DONIZETTI Lucrezia Borgia (complete)1; Excerpts from Prolog and Act II2. • Ettore Gracis, conductor; Montserrat Caballé, soprano (Lucrezia); Gianni Raimondi, tenor (Gennaro); Anna Maria Rota, mezzo-soprano (Orsini); Ezio Flagello, bass (Don Alfonso); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Milan; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lucrezia); Gianni Raimondi, tenor (Gennaro). • MYTO 2 MCD 904.23 [ADD]; two discs: 78:17, 77:04. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: Milan; March 12, 19702. LIVE performance: March 2, 19701. 

I can't recommend this release—not even to die-hard Caballé fans, among whom I count myself. It would seem more pressing to own if Standing Room Only had not recently released Caballé's American debut reading of the role of Lucrezia, but they have, and so this one is not only redundant, but stands up poorly by comparison. 

This is a rhythmically slack performance and even with Caballé's tendency to linger on notes she likes the blame must go to conductor Gracis. Alfonso's act I cabaletta, sung by Flagello as if he had a piece of steel wool lodged in his throat, is one example; the famous Brindisi, joylessly sung by Anna Maria Rota, is another. The ensembles invariably have the wrong weight and drive as well. 

Gianni Raimondi is miscast as Gennaro, but he sings the role well enough, without erasing memories of Kraus (on RCA), Vanzo (on SRO), or Aragall (on London). Caballé varies, as usual, from sounding mechanical though divine in the prologue (which is capped with a blazing and surprising high Db!) to sounding thoroughly involved and divine in the act I duet and trio. She's magnificent in the opera's final pages, and here she signs the final cabaletta, omitted from the SRO performance. But again, that set offers more pleasure than this one. 

The filler is a set of excerpts starring Leyla Gencer, who took over the role at Scala when Caballé left. Her reading has much of the depth that Caballé lacks. One feels that her sound is simply better suited to the character, and, by the way, she's in excellent voice. The sound on these discs is hardly world-class, but it rarely offends. Booklet with list of cueing points, Italian libretto, little essay, and some snapshots, the cutest of which is of Caballé embracing Gencer and almost vice-versa. 

Why is it that really fine conductors have ignored this opera? I realize that it's a tough one to convince with, but it should be seen as a challenge. None of the available recordings features a star leader—maybe that's the problem. I've given up hope of ever having this work amaze me, despite most of my favorite sopranos in the title role. At any rate, stick with SRO or RCA—they're your best bets. 


Recordings of Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record 3 p.68; CELLETTI p.241; MET p.108; MET(VID) p.60; PENGUIN p.81; GIUDICI p.184 (2) p.297; Opéra International mars 1984 No.68 p.19; avril 1997 No.212 p.22
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Fanfare - Vol.25 No.5 May/June 2002 p.130 [GJ]
Diapason - No.495 septembre 2002 p.133 [JC]
American Record Guide - January/February 2002 Vol.65 No.1 pp.92-93 [MM]
L'opera (Milano) - Anno XV N.155 ottobre-novembre 2001 p.116 [GL]
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - No.51 mayo-junio 2002 pp.92-93 [LB]
Répertoire - No.162 novembre 2002 p.103 [PT]
Recordings of Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record 3 p.68; CELLETTI p.241; MET p.108; MET(VID) p.60; PENGUIN p.81; GIUDICI p.184 (2) p.297; Opéra International mars 1984 No.68 p.19; avril 1997 No.212 p.22
This recording is reviewed in the following publication:
Opéra International - avril 1997 No.212 p.24, p.52


Orchestra and Chorus of the Dallas Civic Opera
Nicola Rescigno
Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Jose Carreras (Gennaro); Tatiana Troyanos (Maffio Orsini); Matteo Manuguerra (Don Alfonso, duca di Ferrara); Piero de Palma (Oloferno Vitellozzo); Nicola Zaccaria (Astolfo); Deniss String (Jacopo LIVErretto); David Cornell (Don Apostolo Gazella); William Flech (Ascanio Petrucci); Melvin Brown (Oloferno Villezzo); Enrico Campi (Gubetta)
Melodram – 2 CDs


Recordings of Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record 3 p.68; CELLETTI p.241; MET p.108; MET(VID) p.60; PENGUIN p.81; GIUDICI p.184 (2) p.297; Opéra International mars 1984 No.68 p.19; avril 1997 No.212 p.22
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Orpheus - March 16 1996 p.36
American Record Guide - Vol.57 No.3 May-June 1994 p.87


Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Firenze
Gabriele Ferro
Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Alfredo Kraus (Gennaro); Bonaldo Giaiotti (Don Alfonso, duca di Ferrara); Elena Zilio (Maffio Orsini); Oslavio di Credico (Rustighello); Gianfranco Manganotti (Jeppo LIVErotto); Roberto Valerio Fradia (Don Apostolo Gazella); Walter Gullino (Oloferno Vitellozzo); Bernardino di Bagno (Ascanio Pertucci); Carlo del Bosco (Gubetta); Giorgio Giorgetti (Astolfo)
Living Stage - 2 CDs 


DONIZETTI Lucrezia Borgia • Gabriele Ferro, cond; Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Alfredo Kraus (Gennaro); Elena Zilio (Orsini); Bonaldo Giaiotti (Alfonso); Gianfranco Manganotti (Liverotto); Walter Gullino (Vitelozzo); Teatro Comunale di Firenze O & Ch. •  Live: Florence 1979 LIVING STAGE LS 1096 (2 CDs: 130:19)

In a previous issue (25:5), I gave a rather positive review of a 1971 live performance of Lucrezia Borgia from Donizetti's native Bergamo, also with Leyla Gencer, a specialist in this opera, in the title role. At that time, I also offered some background notes of this uneven but often exciting work, which I need not duplicate here, all the more so because this 1979 performance is technically so inferior that I can recommend it only to uncritical admirers of this distinguished soprano. She was already 55 at the time, but vocally fairly close to her 1971 form—at times insecure of pitch, but always in control of the role's wide-ranging demands. Her textual clarity may be indistinct, but there is no denying her total immersion in the character. As she did in 1971, Gencer omits the cabaletta of her initial aria “Come è bello,” but delivers the rest of her scenes with vivid involvement. 

The remarkable Alfredo Kraus is in total command of Gennaro's considerable challenges, which include the more elaborate death scene (omitted from the 1965 RCA recording) that elicits a prolonged, and deserved, ovation from the Florence audience. Always justly praised for his elegant style, Kraus's singing on this occasion is also noted for a great degree of passion. Elena Zilio's light mezzo delivers the familiar Brindisi with graceful panache, modestly ornamenting the second verse, but remaining within the dramatic context instead of showily singing for the audience. Neither she nor Bonaldo Giaiotti is well served by the engineering; the latter's resonant delivery of Alfonso's vengeful aria “Vieni la mia vendetta” is just about destroyed by various technical mishaps. There are several significant minor roles in this opera where intrigues and conspiracies abound, but the individual malefactors—all obviously taped from an audience seat—are rendered too distant and ineffective. 

The RCA version, with Caballé, Kraus, and Flagello in the lead roles and Jonel Perlea at the helm, lacks the immediacy of the two live recordings. But the high quality of its controlled studio production assures the listener of hearing all the nuances of the dramatic action in proper balance. The singing per se is outstanding. The role of Duke Alfonso would have been perfect for Samuel Ramey 10 to 15 years ago, but Ezio Flagello is sonorous and steady throughout. RCA, the only “legitimate” version in the catalog, should be the listener's first choice, with Gencer 1971 an honorable alternate. Despite worthy individual contributions, including that of conductor Ferro, the Gencer/Kraus 1979 is out of the running. 


Recordings of Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record 3 p.68; CELLETTI p.241; MET p.108; MET(VID) p.60; PENGUIN p.81; GIUDICI p.184 (2) p.297; Opéra International mars 1984 No.68 p.19; avril 1997 No.212 p.22
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Fanfare - Vol.28 No.5 May/June 2005 p.119 [GJ]
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - No.71 junio 2004 p.82 [JS]

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

Le Nozze di Figaro > Opera News > The Met Opera Guild
... As the Almavivas, Gabriel Bacquier and Leyla Gencer keep their full power in reserve,
invariably shading their lines with the utmost sensitivity and ...
Lucrezia Borgia > Opera News > The Met Opera Guild
... us will treasure forever). Leyla Gencer, the great Donizetti singer, also
made a specialty of the role. Now, in this production ...
On the Beat > Opera News > The Met Opera Guild
... that, despite lovely singing on Fleming's part, her interpretation was too soft
and lyrical for an audience that cut its teeth on LEYLA GENCER's high-voltage ...


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