Recordings & Reviews .............................. [from Poliuto to Yevgeni Onyegin]


[from Poliuto to Yevgeni Onyegin]
Poliuto [Live]

14.12.1975 POLIUTO
Orquesta y Coro del Gran Teatre del Liceu
Giuseppe Morelli
Amedeo Zambon (Poliuto); Leyla Gencer (Paolina); Vincente Sardinero (Severo); Ferruccio Mazzoli (Callistene); José Manzaneda (Nearco); Antoni Lluch (Felice); Masani Yamamoto (un cristiano)

House of Opera – 2 CDs


DONIZETTI Poliuto • Giuseppe Morelli, cond; Leyla Gencer (Paolina); Amedeo Zambon (Poliuto); Vincente Sardinero (Severo); Antonio Lluch (Felice); Ferruccio Mazzoli (Callistene); José Manzaneda (Nearco); Barcelona Teatro Liceo O & Ch • MELODRAM 50065, mono (2 CDs 112:20) Broadcast: Barcelona 12/12/75 

The first performance of Poliuto was scheduled to be performed in Naples in 1838. The head censor, however, found the subject too sacred and banned the performance. Two years later Donizetti worked with Eugène Scribe on a French version entitled Les Martyrs that premiered in Paris on April 10, 1940. Only after Donizetti’s death was the original Poliuto performed in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo in 1848. Both versions are rarely performed. There are three other CD issues of Poliuto, but none of Les Martyrs. When I was one of the principals of Voce Records, we issued both operas on LP, first Les Martyrs with Leyla Gencer, Ottavio Garaventa, and Renato Bruson, and later Poliuto with Adriana Maliponte, Giorgio Castellato Lamberrti, and Renato Bruson. Gencer and Bruson are probably the only singers to have sung in both versions. 

Gencer is the star of this performance. Her ability to produce soft piano tones is still evident. Zambon has a strong dark tenor voice. He sings in the can belto style rather than the bel canto that is necessary for Donizetti. Sardinero is a good Severo. Unfortunately, the sound on these discs is terrible. Apparently, it is from a radio broadcast, and on the first disc there is soft but audible interference. On disc 2, a high-pitched buzz distorts the sound. Why companies release such issues is beyond me. 

Fortunately, Donizetti lovers have the Callas/Corelli version to appreciate. Carreras is good on the CBS set, but Ricciarelli is not in good voice. The Nuova Era set is a good one featuring Elisabeth Connell, Nicola Martinucci, and Bruson. Only passionate Gencer fans may want this set, but the miserable sound is not worth it. 


Recordings of Poliuto by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
CELLETTI p.246; PENGUIN p.83; GIUDICI p.207 (2) p.347; Opéra International avril 1997 No.212 p.23
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Fanfare - Vol.31 No.4 March/April 2008 p.125 [BR]
American Record Guide - November/December 2007 Vol.70 No.6 p.265 [CHP]
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - No.105 noviembre 2007 p.90 [MC]

12.12.1975 POLIUTO
Orquesta y Coro del Gran Teatre del Liceu

Giuseppe Morelli
Amadeo Zambon (Poliuto); Leyla Gencer (Paolina); Vincente Sardinero (Severo); Ferruccio Mazzoli (Callistene); Jose Manzaneda (Nearco); Antoni Lluch (Felice); Masami Yamamoto (un cristiano)
Golden Melodram – 2 CDs 

Rigoletto [Live]

22.06.1961 RIGOLETTO
Orquesta y Coro Estables del Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires

Argeo Quadri
Cornell MacNeil (Rigoletto); Leyla Gencer (Gilda); Gianni Raimondi (Il duca di Mantova); Carmen Burello (Maddalena); Jorge Algorta (Sparafucile); Carmen Morra (Giovanna); Juan Zanin (Il conte di Monterone); Tulio Gagliardo (Il conte di Ceprano); Alicia Andreadis (La contessa di Ceprano); Italo Pasini (Matteo Borsa); Hector Barbieri (Marullo); Pino De’Vescovi (un usciere); Anna Maria Amicis (un paggio)
FOYER – 2 CDs 

FANFARE MAGAZINE                         

VERDI Rigoletto: Highlights • Richard Bonynge, cond; Joan Sutherland (Gilda); Sherrill Milnes (Rigoletto); Luciano Pavarotti (Il Duca); Mariti Talvela (Sparafucile); Ambrosian Op Ch; London SO • DECCA 289 458 239-2, analog (69:52)
VERDI Rigoletto • Argeo Quadri, cond; Leyla Gencer (Gilda); Gianni Raimondi (Duke of Mantua); Cornell MacNeil (Rigoletto); Jorge Algorta (Sparafucile); others; O & Ch of Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires • MYTO 2 MCD 003.225, mono (2 CDs: 147:45) , no translations) Live: Buenos Aires, 6/24/61
BELLINI I Puritani: Act III • Argeo Quadri, cond; Leyla Gencer (Elvira); Gianni Raimondi (Arturo); Manuel Ausensi (Giorgio) • Live: Buenos Aires, 6/30/61 

I didn't care much for Bonynge's Rigoletto when I bought it in college back in the early 1980s. In fact, it wasn't until I heard Callas's recording several years later that I became a full-fledged Rigoletto maniac, a condition that persists even today on paper, Sutherland, Milnes, and Pavarotti might seem like a dream team, but this opera doesn't play to their strengths. Sutherland's diction is too vague (her consonants are particularly mysterious, and her vowels often are discolored) to make much of an impression as Gilda, and her portrayal is generically sweet. Gilda is not normal. She perversely allows herself be brutally murdered in place of her first-class-jerk boyfriend; this isn't an elegant La sonnambula, after all. Pavarotti sings with ringing tone. He's like a teenager at the prom, though, and is just too nice for this role, no matter how beautiful his voice is. Milnes probably is the best of the three. Overall, his portrayal is a strong one, but there are baritones who have sung this role with a better voice, and many others who have acted it with more insight. Surprisingly, it is hard to sense his paternal love for Gilda, but perhaps this should be no surprise, given that Milnes—someone will correct me if I am wrong—is several years Sutherland's junior! Bonynge, otherwise a very traditional conductor, opens up the traditional cuts, yet this is of little consequence on a highlights CD, particularly when the performance is relatively studio-bound. Surprisingly, "Si, vendetta" is not included, but "Possente amor" is. It usually is cut because of its difficulty, not because it is a bad cabaletta, and Pavarotti doesn't have an easy time with its runs.

I'm certain the audience at the Teatro Colón went home happy on the night of July 24, 1961. The performance presented here is solid, and Gencer, Raimondi, and MacNeil justify their star status. The best of the three is Gencer, to whose fans these CDs probably hold the greatest interest. Absent from commercial recording studios (another story for another time), she nevertheless was a major talent in the 1950s and 60s. Like Callas, she brought weight and intensity to Lucia di Lammermoor, Gilda, and other roles considered "twittery" earlier in the century. Her Gilda, like Callas's (as recorded by EMI), is a woman, not a girl. "Caro nome" is sung with touching intimacy (we are reading Gilda's mind), and we hear exactly what has happened to her in the Duke's chambers from the mournful adoration in her voice when she sings "Tutte le feste." She sings and acts strongly and with sensitivity, and so this is a first-class interpretation, lacking only the last degree in memorability (except for the yowl she emits when Sparafucile stabs her, an awful tradition). 

Rigoletto was MacNeil's specialty role. At the time of this performance, he was only 38 (and two years his "daughter's" senior!). Because he subsequently recorded the role for EMI (now on Classics for Pleasure CD-CFPD 4700), this live recording is less important for him than for Gencer. Here, MacNeil is in good form, albeit prone to flatting when he pushes for more volume. "Cortegiani" is moving, and, overall, he shows an obsessive concern for his daughter quite missing from Milnes's studio portrayal. 

Gianni Raimondi is another singer who infrequently recorded in the studio. No injustice intended, but he sounds like the tenor to call when Giuseppe di Stefano can't come; their voices and styles are similar, but Raimondi is less suave. Compared to Pavarotti, his Duke is rough around the edges, which is good for characterization, but he is not particularly individual. His voice is healthy and generous in spite of occasional strayings from pitch, and the results are satisfying but not inspirational. The audience seems to agree, because he gets less acclaim than his two major colleagues. 

Everyone else is competent (or better—specifically, Algorta's black Sparafucile). Quadri conducts sensibly, takes the usual cuts (no "Possente amor"), and stays out of the way. The recording sounds like a semiprofessional in-house job; the singers usually are "on mike," and the prompter usually is off. The Puritani excerpts find Gencer and Raimondi in even better form. Myto's booklet contains the Italian text of Rigoletto only (no translations), an appreciation of the singers, and some photos, including a delightful snapshot of Gencer and Raimondi riding the Mad Hatter's spinning teacups at Disneyland.



VERDI Rigoletto. • Cornell MacNeil (Rigoletto); Leyla Gencer (Gilda); Gianni Raimondi (Duke); Jorge Algorra (Sparafucile); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Colón, conducted by Argeo Quadri. • FOYER FO 1025 (three discs, mono), $29.94.

VERDI Il trovatore. • Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Mario del Monaco (Manrico); Fedora Barbieri (Azucena); Ettore Bastianini (Conte de Luna); Chorus & Orchestra of Radio Italiana, Milan, conducted by Fernando Previtali. • FOYER FO 1012 (three discs, mono), $29.94 [distributed by German News].

Surely all Verdi fans, and all opera buffs, already have at least one and maybe more recordings of each of these splendid warhorses, possibly featuring one or several of the soloists listed above. What, then, gives these recordings their interest? For me, in two words, Leyla Gencer. The Turkish soprano, a spinto with coloratura skills, has been ignored by the commercial record companies, but she has had an important career nonetheless, singing at just about every major opera house and festival in Europe and, except for the Met, in the United States. These sets gave me my first chance to hear her work. 

The RAI II Trovatore is the earlier, dating from May 18, 1957; Gencer had made her professional debut in Italy only three years before, and was still in her 20s. In those quintessential Verdi soprano arias, “Tacea la notte placida” and “D'amor sull'ali rosee,” her voice is a bit unsteady at lower volume but fills out excitingly as she rises to the climaxes; “Di tale amor,” with its oddly disjunctive and instrumental phrases, sets her a different kind of challenge which she has the agility to meet; and in the “Miserere” she guts it out with an impressive chest range. RAI brought together a strong and sturdy cast, on the whole better than we were hearing at the Met in those days (remember Kurt Baum?). Del Monaco is unrelentingly loud and sometimes crude, but such a voice would cause a sensation in these days of light lyric tenors straining to make heroic sounds. Barbieri phrases choppily (though this is partly Verdi's fault) but makes a vivid gypsy; Bastianini is wooden and prosaic in “II balen” but otherwise cultivates a nice line of sneering and snarling. Previtali leads an alert but otherwise rather faceless performance, making the standard cuts. The sound must originally have been quite clean and acceptable, but in these pressings, it is badly marred by pre-echo, especially in Acts I and IV. Perhaps the earlier Replica issue of this same performance (RPL 2413/5) is better in this respect; I have not heard it. By the way, Replica claims that the broadcast originated in Rome rather than Milan, and since Previtali was based in Rome at the time, I suspect that Replica is right. 

The sound of the Colón Rigoletto is even more of a trial to listen to, congested and distorted in loud passages and with the offstage music so faint that the engineer’s resort to some fairly clumsy gain-riding. Argeo Quadri, whom I have heard doing some good Verdi in Vienna, is here in rather stodgy form, especially in Act I. Cornell MacNeil's jester must be well-known to all by now, as he has appeared in the role on a Met telecast and recorded it twice, the first time with Joan Sutherland three months before this performance of September 22, 1961. Vocally he is a complete Rigoletto—sarcastic in Act I, tender and loving with his daughter, heroic in his cries for vengeance, broken in spirit when Gilda is first abducted and then murdered. Tito Gobbi is still more subtle and provides much telling detail, but in compensation Mac-Neil's instrument is bigger and despite an incipient wobble more beautiful, at least to these ears. Gianni Raimondi also has a handsome voice but sings loudly throughout, encouraged by the enthusiastic audience, and often pushes the pitch sharp. The Colón comprimarii are well in the picture, including a convincingly low-life Sparafucile and Maddalena. But what about Gencer? The size and quality of her voice makes her a dramatic Gilda like Milanov and Callas, rather than a songbird like Pons and Peters, but she keeps her timbre light and virginal through “Caro nome,” only in the last two acts suggesting by a slightly darker color and more emphatic phrasing the woman Gilda is becoming through her disillusioning and harrowing experiences. Gencer also indulges herself in an ear-splitting high Eb at the end of the duet “Si, vendetta” the Argentinians love it—but on the whole this is a well-thought-out characterization as well as a vocally secure performance. 

Inevitably I mentioned Maria Callas, who made famous recordings of both of these works. Both singers are similar in vocal weight and range, as well as in repertoire, and the unavoidable comparisons make it clear why Callas was the star and Gencer was and is in her shadow. Of course, Gencer's high notes are more secure than Callas'—almost everyone's are—but at least in these two fairly early performances, she lacks Callas' striking individuality of timbre and vocal characterization. Nonetheless, Gencer remains an important singer, and if her career is now nearly over, private enterprise on both sides of the Atlantic has given us more than 30 of her broadcast and stage performances, summarized in the checklist below and available for us to explore.



VERDI Rigoletto • Argeo Quadri, cond; Leyla Gencer (Gilda, Elvira2); Carmen Burello (Maddalena); Gianni Raimondi (Il Duca, Arturo2); Cornell MacNeil (Rigoletto); Jorge Algorta (Sparafucile); Manuel Ausensi (Riccardo); Teatro Colón O & Ch • MYTO, mono (2 CDs: 147:41) Live: Buenos Aires 6/24/1961; 6/30/19612 BELLINI I Puritani: Act III

The audience for this 1961 performance of Rigoletto in Buenos Aires must have felt they got its money’s worth. The performance is a strong one, with the principals in good voice. Because Cornell MacNeil recorded the title role twice in the studio, the attraction of these discs will centre especially on Leyla Gencer and Gianni Raimondi, whose recorded legacies are mostly (in the case of Gencer, entirely) from live recordings. 

Gencer’s Gilda is not the young girl portrayed in the libretto, but a mature woman. Although her voice is occasionally weak at times, perhaps because of microphone placement, she gives a strongly sung, moving portrayal. Raimondi is splendid as the Duke, with a beautiful, ringing voice and brilliant top notes. MacNeil sings a well-characterized Rigoletto, whose love and concern for his daughter shine through his performance. Among the supporting singers, Carmen Burello’s Maddalena and especially Jorge Algorta’s Sparafucile are worthy of praise.

Argeo Quadri provides good support and keeps the performance moving while allowing the singers to indulge the occasional held high note. The usual theatrical cuts of the time are taken, which are not terribly disfiguring except for the severe wrench caused by cutting “Possente amor.” We are not told the source of the recording, but the sound is quite good, and there is almost no distracting stage noise. 

As a bonus we get act III of I Puritani, minus the orchestral introduction and with cuts. Gencer and Raimondi are in wonderful voice (even a ringing high D from Raimondi). The entire performance is available on a Living Stage CD set. June 1961 would have been a good month to attend the opera in Buenos Aires. 

The packaging is bare bones, just a track listing and a picture of MacNeil as Rigoletto. Obviously, this should not be a primary recording of Rigoletto. For that, my preference is the Decca recording with Sutherland, Pavarotti, and Milnes. Those looking for a recording with MacNeil would probably prefer one of his studio recordings. This recording is especially valuable for those who want to hear Gencer or Raimondi in these roles, but can also be recommended for those interested in a very strong, well-sung, live performance.


Recordings of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.48, October 1963 Vol.13 No.10 p.32; HARRIS p.223; Opera on Record p.208; CELLETTI p.986; Opera on CD (1) p.49 (2) p.55 (3) p.61; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.112-113 p.144, mise à jour juillet 2001 p.2; MET p.583; MET(VID) p.567; PENGUIN p.496; Répertoire No.64 décembre 1993 p.8; Opera on Video p.75; GIUDICI p.905 (2) p.1459; «Musica 99» p.73; BBC Music Magazine December 1996 p.47; Opéra International No.254 février 2001 p.16
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Fanfare - Vol.24 No.3 January/February 2001 pp.285-286 [RT]
Orpheus - Oktober 2000 S.57 [GH]
Opéra International - juillet/aoüt 1995 No.193 p.76
American Record Guide - May/June 2001 Vol.64 No.3 p.192 [LM]
CD COMPACT (Barcelona) - noviembre 2000 No.137 p.46 [AV]
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - No.43 enero-febrero 2001 p.97 [TF]

Comments: Recording of a performance at Teatro Colón - 24 June 1961 or/and 16 June 1961 (M. Richter). The date given in VERDI DAL VIVO is 16 June 1916 (sic). Presumably this should be 1961.

Roberto Devereux [Live]

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli

Marino Rossi
Leyla Gencer (Elisabetta I); Ruggero Bondino (Roberto Devereux); Anna-Maria Rota (Sara, duchessa di Nottingham); Piero Cappuccilli (Charles, duca di Nottingham); Gabriele de Julis (Lord Cecil); Silvano Pagliuca (Sir Gualtiero Raleigh); Bruno Grella (un paggio); Bruno Grella (un famigliare di Nottingham)
Hunt – 2 CDs


Robert Devereux or The Count of Essex, an operatic tragedy in 3 acts based on the libretto of Salvatore Cammarano, performed in Naples, at the Teatro San Carlo on the 29th of October 1837 is the most advanced point that Donizetti reaches with opera in an English setting. The colours are more sombre, the setting is that of the royal court and the open spaces are only recalled as fleeting or hallucinated images. From the shadow and incumbent power of this royal palace the characters are as if pushed and propelled by a vivid and pathetic sorrow. The portrayal of the main character, the even more isolated Elizabeth towers above all else. She is a dramatic character who Donizetti explores with ruthless psychological analysis, making of her the most involuntarily cruel and tragic of his queens. The character created is of the queen as an inaccessible tyrant; Elizabeth the Great who has the power to change the destiny of common men, but has learnt in the romantic age to discover the tears and wounds of her own solitude in being a woman. The basic structure of the melodrama is one of closed numbers (with the presentation of characters, reaction between them, coral participation) which is dominated by one character and one hue. The argument of the libretto by Salvatore Cammarano places characters and English historical problems around a romanticized love story: E|izabeth's secret love for her favourite Robert Devereux, who instead secretly loves Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, one of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting and her intimate friend. The Queen Suspects, the Duke discovers the truth and sullenly incites her to sign the traitor’s death warrant. Repentant, Elizabeth hopes in the royal ring which she had given to Devereux but Sara arrives too late with the token. In an incredible grand finale, the Queen abdicates.

The 20th Century revival of Robert Devereux took place in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo on the 2nd of May 1964 and represents the revolutionary act of the Donizetti parable by Leyla Gencer: for her it signifies the ultimate crowing in her role as Queen and interpreter of Donizetti and can be seen as the decisive impetus to the Donizetti renaissance. Leyla Gencer is at the height of her maturity as an interpreter: belcanto and psychological modernity are fulfilled with vigour and creative freedom. She is not inspired by models of melancholic or invective royal heroines. She approaches the character by her now usual method of historical approchement, through reading, immersion in the subject and critical knowledge. It is a case of the score being left open on the music stand and books scattered throughout the house, which follow her from the poufs to the reading table to her bedroom until late into the night. The English section of her library enriched by essays and reconstructions: Lynton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex, Elisabeth of England published by Mondadori as part of a series of great historical characters which is important for the study of her achievements and for the recitation of the iconological part. Leyla Gencer believes in historical truth translated into music.

In modern times she is perhaps the interpreter who was contributed the most in giving absolute credibility to a type of historical melodrama which has been regarded with suspicion of legendary and conventional ingenuity. She believes in the ingenious intuitive and psychological capacity of Donizetti, especially in the English Donizetti, which emerges in that world of dark castles and dynastic dramas, recorded in popular historical novels with their many revelations in the style of Walter Scott. Even if very well hidden by good acting techniques, on the basis of our present historical needs, the correspondence to the real Elizabeth, a great and tormented character is evident. She discovers in the score: The regal authority and Indecision throughout the infancy and traumatic adolescence of this daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry Vlll, the suspicion of one who has learnt to defend herself with her shrewdness, the proverbial changes of mood of her choleric nature... translated by the music in febrile changes of tempo. She investigates Elizabeth’s relationships with her favourites, the harassing jealousy, with it's probable traumatic Freudian origins, the tragedy of this vindictive punishment of the young Robert Devereux, from which, historically, the seventy-three-year-old Queen never recovered.

The character began to take shape during the rehearsals at the Teatro San Carlo. The preparation became an effervescent entertainment for a cast in perfect harmony with each other, magnetized by an opera which as a result gains enormously. There is Mario Rossi, a refined, logical director who free from belcanto conditioning, is confident in the new expressive valorisation of the melodrama. Margherita Wallmann, the producer, emphasises the historical aspect of the story and she decorates it with heraldic symbols of royalty. Attilio Colonnello designs a semi-circular pedestal set with the throne in the centre, magnificent tapestries and period costumes, chosen in taste and colour by the mood of the melodrama. Interpreters who are willing to research their parts like the generously energetic tenor Ruggero Bondino, Piero Cappuccilli with his vigorous accent and Anna Maria Rota who creates an anxious Sara. But the moving force which gives cohesion to the reading of this opera is the concentration and creative identification of the protagonist, Leyla Gencer: the motivation of the character urges the natural authority of thought, gesture and accent and Donizetti’s queen is born marked by vehemence and fury. To the solemn, pompous chords of the orchestra, Elizabeth enters from the rear of the stage in her regal grandeur, surrounded by pages: the heavy costume and crown, her step rhythmical. She already represents England. She speaks as she looks with a granite, metallic voice, in solitude. A recitative mark her entrance: and it immediately drawn to the character says the interpreter with an aspect of great authority, of command: everything stressed because what she says is law. She accepts to receive Devereux, even though it follows the failed expedition in Ireland, but there is internal doubt, a sense of investigation into his sentimental fidelity, Una rivale s’io discprissi with an extremely threatening slant on the word vendetta. The cavatina L'amor suo mi fa beata opens the private sphere a bit suddenly, suddenly, but already offers in Donizetti’s cantabile the possibility to characterize threatening and dramatic stature of the character with the manoeuvrability of the pianissimi or with the daring difficulty of the cabaletta Ah, ritorna qual ti spero.

The duet of the meeting with Devereux, with its start inspired by Rossini, balances the regal portrait between the heroic sphere and the delicacy of the amorosa (her discovery of the confessions in mezz’aria learnt from Bellini: O, remembranza, or tenderly from Donizetti: Un tenero core). The pleasure of the singing is born from a psychological, introspective tension superimposed on the exact tempo of the dialogue: from the feigned calm Ma di ' non pensi...? to the choleric limit ardisci, to the games of suspicion, to the moment in which, with excited steps to the front of the stage, the revelation breaks like lightening Un lampo, un lampo orribile. Without spoken inflexion or accent which would yield a song of a later style but a strong, sharp and well-defined voice with psychological enlightenment. Ruggero Bondino (Robert Devereux) is unmasked in his tenor’s disloyalty, pierced, through by blazing eyes, drained up to remorse. Piero Cappuccilli (Duke of Nottingham) and insulted husband creates a dark zone around the sculpturing of regality and injured femininity. Elizabeth is hard hearted with a vendicative will: the unlucky and furious firmness sparkle like metal in the song ll tradimento orribile…. la sua perfidia é certa... which alternates terse and syllable singing agility. Complexity and simultaneity determine in Gencer the invention of a continually changing vocal style, from the pathetic to the agility of a powerful song, to the emotive mutability.

The accent rests that of a haughty Elizabeth: the journey passes from suspicion, to accusation, to vendetta according to the script but the aggressive, viperous theatricality is brought forth by a state of convulsive agitation and of real unhappiness. It is summed up in the absurd capacity to interpreted sufferance and the analytical habit to contemplate and order sufferance, to contradict jealousy with pride. The flexibility of the script and the continual indications of tempo, the energy of the pauses, delays of feverish haste, the dramaturgical linking together which makes one closed pierce flow into the other with the continuity of tension is exalted by this hyperactive carburation on the clear historical motivations. A short recitative opens the meeting with the guilty Devereux: strained, ironic the sound refers to the mocking of their conversation. The sense of accusation in the dark voice find an outlet in the fits of regal anger Un perfido, un vile, un mentitor: the descending flights part like lashes of a whip, the voice hits the first note with violence and drops to the successive ones with precision. It is directed by an indomitable force of aggressiveness. A moment later there is the Largo: Alma infida, ingrato core. There is a sudden change: from anger the Queen passes to this tender remembrance of their love and the woman speaks now with pain. These changes of mood were a part of Elizabeth 's nature. The additional genius is in the idea of alternating anger with sorrow in this song that begging like something old. She then becomes irritated and inclines towards the contemplation of royalty, inviolable, sacred and offended Pria d’offender chi nascea .. dal remendo ottavo Enrico… scender vivo nel sepolcro.. tu dovevi, o traditor. The sadly elegiac phrasing softens even the pride of this descending arpeggio with an octave leap tremendo which quivers at the name of Henry VIII.

Donizetti, the dramatist develops the duet into a terzetto and by passages of exasperated gestures leads up to the grand Council scene. More than ever Queen with sceptre and globe as signs of her power, Elizabeth formally questions Devereux about her rival, on anxious design the orchestra grows obsessive. At his refusal the grand Elizabethan anger explodes: she calls the whole Council as witness and makes it into something grandiose. The solemn gestures amplify the tragic measure of the voice, imperious as a sovereign in her serious position; no emotion overburdens the weight or the sound; only the pauses betray the participation: Il Consiglio dei Pari… di costui la condanna mi porse … Io la segno. And with the great seal she completes the act. In a prophetical tone she reads the sentence, letting herself be drawn by the epic strength of the images: Come il sole che parte gia corse del suo giro, al meriggio sia giunto... In the orchestra there is a repetition of insistent chords: like her international obsession and already almost with the strokes of a funeral dirge. From the restrained solemnity Maestoso assai the invective begins suddenly with high A notes which “crack like the strokes of a whip, almost hurled in hysterical fits: Va, la morte sul capo di pende. A feverish temperature whips the song, excites the interpreter in the rhythm of the Allegro giusto EIizabeth’s grand finale scene is the most important for the primadonna. Already at the opening of the scene the character has advanced towards the truth. The voice has been charged by a force of exasperation which allows her a large enigmatical range. She waits in a type of anxious and inert watch, her sorrowful ladies in waiting around her, She ls waiting for Sara, her confidant, who unaccountably doesn’t arrive. Typical of Donizetti's finales the Meestoso is a recitative in a tragic but anxious style. The Queen, now in uncertainty, hoping to resolve the situation, tries to annual the sentence. Anguish and unconfessed remorse fill the phrase which imparts her ambivalence both as Queen and woman: Io sono donna infine: it is a last effort with which she tries to cancel the sentence. The waiting is intolerable. Continual changes in tempo describe her changeable character and rapidly changing ideas. Anguish, suspicions, moments of jealousy, the sense of time that flies by, the ring that could save him... Terrified at the thought of seeing him dead she would like to stop the passage of time. The accumulated desperation leads her to have a vision: in the Larghetto she is aroused by her remorse, with a loving voice, to forgive her loved one even if he has betrayed her: Vivi, ingrato, a lei d’accanto The Qeen removes the regal mask and reveals herself to be profoundly human, vulnerable. with all the despair brought on by jealousy. The interpreter sees it as a desperate page where each word carries the weight of Queen’s solitude. Elizabeth sees Devereux with her rival and suffers; egoistical as she is she doesn’t allow infidelity. But a strain of the royal pride runs through the canto: Ah! Non sa chi dica in terra … la Regina, la Regina d’Inghilterra … ho venduto, ho venduto lahrimar. Once again, the wounded pride of the sovereign overwhelms the pain of the betrayed woman and phrase La Regina which drops with arpeggio from an acute A to a D below the stave represents perhaps the maximum achieved by Gencer in the pathetic canto. The waiting carries on, the condemned man doesn’t send the ring which could save him instead Sara arrives with it and confesses to being Elizabeth’s rival. Elizabeth excitedly urges her knights to save Robert but in this suspense, comes the announcement by Nottingham that he is dead. ln the orchestra the obsessive vibration of the thought that is fixed in her mind begins as if in preparation for the madness. Elizabeth returns being the sovereign but her canto of accusation towards Sara Tu, perversa, tu soltanto tends towards uncontrollable reactions: the treachery of her dearest lady in waiting, the pain of losing him, the anxiety of sentimental solitude make her become mad, irrational. Stretched to the limit she is the regal figure who now visibly grows old and the voice reveals traces of a great, anguished, terrorized delirium, the cabaletta, rhythmical and obsessive with a heavy Maestoso rhythm is born from an already agitated voice which now begins the most terrible process of distortion.

Quel sangue versato… al cielo s’innalza… giustizia domanda…. reclama vendetta. She vents a vindictive anxiety which takes root in the visionary words; they empty her, they torture her. From Cammarano's libretto to the images of Shakespearian violence and melodramatic subjectivity. The terrible vision continues with pressing breath Gia l’angiol di morte and funeral colour; the voice arches extreme tension under the weight of the accusations against the two guilty parties’ Si vil tradimento … delitto si reo while it is thrown into the phrasing and returns to being almost the imploring of a prayer Nell’ultimo istante volgetevi a Dio. It closes in restless arpeggi, attacked once again, with vigour in exasperated logic.

Now she rejects the consciousness of the royal setting and of those present: she performs silence, pauses, imperious words fragmented by emotion without any control, allowing Elizabeth’s step to be weighed down by the passing of the years and by the monumental costumes, revealing in the voice and in the contracted features the passionate woman she never was. She removes the crown from her head to make the alienation even from her own royalty more evident, the conclusion of a parable. On stage she indicates an area in the midst of the audience Mirate quel palco for the resumption of the melody, and there, terrorized by remorse, fixes on the terrible images of her cruelty the platform, the beheaded body, all the blood that she has spilt during her reign which now encroaches on her crown and her throne in an apocalyptic nightmare. In the absurd logic of delirium, the vision of death reaches the tomb, an image and wish in which to humble oneself. Entrusted to the wonderful mezzavoce of Leyla Gencer the performance is memorable.

The theatre explodes; all the audience are on their feet to applaud the legendary interpreter, the opera, Donizetti, even the regality. From then on, in the fertile tradition of Naples a popular saying was created about nine demonstrations of existence of God: Gencer’s performance in Devereux and the new Beaujolais wine. For Gercer’s fans the finale of Devereux became a national hymn.



DONIZETTI Roberto Devereux. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elisabetta); Piero Cappuccini, baritone (Nottingham); Anna Maria Rota, mezzo-soprano (Sara); Ruggero Bondino, tenor (Roberto Devereux); Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro San Carlo, Naples, conducted by Mario Rossi. • FOYER FO 1042 (3) (three discs mono), $29.96 [ distributed by German News]. 

On p. 51 of the May/June 1985 Fanfare, in the column titled “European Opera for the Record,” Nick Rossi reviews this same performance on Fonit-Cetra's release (DOC 65). His perceptive comments regarding Leyla Gencer's assumption of the dominating role of Queen Elisabeth I are recommended reading. Leyla Gencer was born in Istanbul in 1924 or 1928, depending on which reference source you read. She studied with Gianna d'Angelo and Apollo Granforte, and made her Italian debut in 1953 as Santuzza. She was one of the first of this era's sopranos to triumph in Donizetti's English trilogy, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux. Her repertoire, as well as much of her general approach to singing, matched that of Callas, although without the Greek-American soprano's regality of phrasing and remarkable variety of vocal colors. Gencer was an important singer who revived a number of bel canto operas before anyone else did (this Devereux performance was the opera's first important modern production) and who scored major successes in much of central pre-Puccini Italian repertoires. 

The performance here, processed in good sound by Foyer, is a 1964 staged performance. It is rare that a broadcast of a live performance can be said to merit strong recommendation over a solid, well-made studio recording, but in this case there is no question. 1964 was prime time for the Gencer career, and she is Elisabeth in a way that no one else has been. Beverly Sills sings the role with cleaner and more accurate coloratura on both a 1969 studio recording and a 1970 private recording of a New York City Opera performance, but she cannot summon the tonal weight to allow her to musically generate the image of regal grandeur. Through her vocal acting, Sills certainly brings Elisabeth to life. But Gencer fills in the vocal line with a tonal splendor and richness, particularly in the middle register, that is quite unmatched by Sills. This is true despite Gencer's one major flaw, a tendency to sing either at forte and louder or pianissimo, with little in between. While Gencer does phrase and color the music with insight and passion, there is no question that a more varied dynamic and coloristic palette would probably have brought her even greater success. 

The other recorded competition includes a pair of live performances featuring Montserrat Caballé's vocal virtues. The second, recorded in 1977 during the Aix-en-Provence Festival, is superior. It is conducted with authority by Julius Rudel, and at least the tenor (José Carreras) is more than satisfactory. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is simply not up to the level this music demands if it is to rise above the level of soprano showpiece, and Caballé herself is not as dramatically persuasive as Gencer. Gencer's is the only performance I have heard in which you become convinced that Donizetti's music really does have the nobility and scope to convey the aura of a great queen. 

It is in its other roles that this recording leaves all the competition in the dust. Cappuc-cilli's Nottingham, though a bit rough in the beginning of the Act II duet with Elisabeth, is for the most part sung with a smoothness of production that Donizetti requires but rarely gets from today's Verdi-trained baritones. Anna Maria Rota is by far the best Sara on records, singing with tonal beauty and genuine commitment. This is a big and important role, and it is not done successfully anywhere else. Ruggero Bondino does not have the exquisite quality of Carreras, but he sings with sensitivity and tenderness, thereby surpassing the graceless Ilosfalvy on Sills studio recording. (The best of the tenors to have recorded this opera's title role is Domingo, on the 1970 Sills live performance, released by HRE). 

Mario Rossi's conducting, clearly a labor of love, is idiomatic and at the same time highly theatrical. Richard Fairman, in his essay on Donizetti's “Tudor Queens” in Alan Blyth's Opera on Record, Vol. 3 (Longwood Press), recommends this over all recordings of the opera, and I would not only second that recommendation but I would make it even more strongly. This is the only recording, even though most of the sets were taken from live performances, that seems to believe in Donizetti's opera as musical theater. In the duets, the singers sing to each other, not to us. The recitatives are shaped meaningfully. And striding above all, there is the commanding presence of Leyla Gencer. Anyone who responds to the music of Donizetti will want this set. I have not heard the Fonit-Cetra issue, but the quality of this Foyer release is quite good. Earlier issues on both labels have had approximately equal sound—both being about the best of the companies releasing old broadcasts. Only an Italian libretto is included, with no notes at all.



DONIZETTI Roberto Devereux. • Leyla Gencer (Elisabetta); Ruggero Bondino (Roberto Devereux); Anna Maria Rota (Sara); Piero Cappuccini (Nottingham); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, conducted by Mario Rossi. • HUNT CD 545 (two compact discs [AAD]; 62:17, 67:49) [distributed by Qualiton], RECORDED live, Naples, May 2, 1964. 

As the joke goes, there's good news and bad news. In this case, there are three pieces of each. The bad news is the conductor, the orchestra and chorus, and the tenor. The good news is everything else, which is considerable. 

This performance marked the 20th-century premiere of Roberto Devereux. It is all the more shocking, therefore, to listen to these discs—the orchestra and chorus sound so underrehearsed that one wonders if they are sight-reading half the time. In addition, conductor Mario Rossi has, apparently, no feeling for the bel canto repertoire—he manages to bring out all that is trite in the score (the “huge ukelele” sound of the strings, for example) without respecting its taut, well-constructed sections. To be sure, there are some uninspired moments in this work, but none of them takes place when the Queen is on stage. Nonetheless, Rossi chooses tempos, particularly in the almost flawless second act (one of Donizetti's greatest achievements), which threaten to bring the work to a halt and destroy the tension. Much of the cast is so good that they simply go their own way and make the required effect, but it's a struggle. 

The one liability among the soloists is Ruggero Bondino as the eponymous hero. I would like to believe that he was stepping in for someone else at the last moment—that would explain why he gets hopelessly lost in his first-act duet with Elisabetta and his own aria in the third act. It would not, however, explain why he approaches the role as if it were Turiddu or excuse the quality of his voice, which more often than not sounds as if he had a rope around his neck. But enough of the bad news. 

Gencer is dynamite. Of course, the rawness in her voice is present at times, but it is appropriate here. Elisabeth, presumably in her 70s during this period of her historical life, was a crotchety old thing and Donizetti has composed wild changes in tempos and registers to mirror her rapidly varying moods. The sudden plunges into chest voice are meant to startle (Sills has the same effect on Angel) and they most assuredly do. One wishes Gencer had a real trill and that a bit less of the coloratura were smudged, but the aging Monarch is vividly portrayed and much of the singing is gorgeous. This is, arguably, Donizetti's greatest creation—part woman, part ruler whose very word is law—with both parts at war with one another. Certainly, she is a woman of more complexity than any of his other heroines. The final act is filled with self-hate and sadness. Gencer gets under Elisabeth's skin as effectively, if not more so, than Sills: The former is more outraged, the latter more wounded. Both are valid. 

Piero Cappuccini sings the cuckolded Nottingham in what is without a doubt his most sensitive and well-sung recorded performance. The tone is handsome, the passagework fluent, and the interpretation well focused. Anna Maria Rota is a truly unhappy and confused Sara (this is a compliment), singing with beauty of tone and truth of expression. The rest of the cast is nightmarish, with the small tenor role of Lord Cecil given to a baritone who has to rewrite most of the music. 

And so. The sound is flat, the orchestra and chorus a disgrace, the conducting unsympathetic, the tenor a disaster. I still recommend this for Gencer—but only if you also own the Sills. The role is great enough for two, and these two are great.



DONIZETTI Belisario. Roberto Devereux: Act 1, Aria and Cabaletta; Act 3, Final Scene. • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Antonina); Giuseppe Taddei, baritone (Belisario); Mima Pecile, soprano (Irene); Umberto Grilli, tenor (Alamiro); Nicola Zaccaria, bass (Giustiniano); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro La Fenice; Mario Rossi, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elisibetta); Anna Maria Rota, soprano (Sara); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro San Carlo. • MELODRAM MEL 27051 [AAD]; two discs: 67:35, 72:50. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE Performance: Naples, May 2, 1964. LIVE performance: Venice, May 14, 1969. 

Belisario was the Donizetti work which immediately followed Lucia; it was premiered in Venice in February 1836 and it was a fabulous success. Within a year and a half, it was staged all over Italy, in England, Philadelphia, Berlin, Paris, New York, and Vienna. It contains some splendid music—all of Antonina's (it was composed for the Austrian contralto Caroline Ungher, whom Rossini described as having "The ardor of the south, the energy of the north, brazen lungs, a silver voice, and golden talent"), a terrific, martial tenor-baritone duet in the first act, a hair-raising first finale, an energetic tenor aria and a lovely soprano-baritone duet in the second act, and, of course, the soprano's final scene. This performance, from twenty-five years ago in Naples, is worthy of serious attention. 

The opera has a fine lead baritone role, full of noble, moving music. Giuseppe Taddei is in strong form here as Belisario, the commander-in-chief of the army of Giustiniano, the emperor of the orient. Oddly, Donizetti only allows us to know him in duets and ensembles—he has no real solo. As a hero, we hear others praise and honor him. Taddei was always a fine team player, and he is here as well. His duet with the prisoner, Alamiro, the tenor, who turns out to be his son (I only know the bare outline of the plot from fighting my way through the Italian-only libretto Melodram has so kindly provided), is rousing; the long duet with Irene, his daughter, in the second act, is very touching. When he sings softly he occasionally fiats, but this is a minor quibble—it's an excellent portrayal. 

Tenor Umberto Grilli, normally no prize package, seems to be inspired by the role of Alamiro, and he sings handsomely and with great involvement. Soprano Mirna Pecile, a singer who otherwise has faded into oblivion, is given the role of Irene (Belisario's and Antonina's daughter). She is sympathetic and sincere, but her tone is nothing to write home about. (The odd construction of this opera, with seemingly two prime donne, allows Irene to have the whole second act to herself, but gives Antonina the work's aria-finale.) Nicola Zaccaria is a wise Giustiniano, and the smaller parts are hard to notice. 

In the Ungher role we find Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer at her best. I doubt whether Rossini would ever describe her the way he did Ungher, but she's remarkable in her own way. The role requires great exclamatory powers, a right-on-rhythmic sense, agility, a ferocious middle and bottom voice, melting pianissimi, and (optional, I presume) high notes—Gencer has them all. Yes, the register breaks are in evidence and the raw, nasty low notes may annoy some, but this is a great portrayal of an outraged, loving wife (Belisario, hero or not, is betrayed and dies at the opera's close and Antonina's scena is full of fury). Her part in the first-act finale is thrillingly sung—it's obvious that Ungher's strength lay in what is the middle and bottom of Gencer's voice—although she tops the act off with a high D which can tear the roof off. (Ungher was the contralto soloist at the premiere of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and she found it a bit high.) Fans of the strange Turk will not want to be without this. Gianandrea Gavazzeni leads the Venice forces with great energy, and if the chorus is a bit ragged at times, well, so what? The spirit of the work is well served. 

The second CD is filled out with Gencer singing Elisabetta's first-act aria and final scene from Devereux. It is the same performance I reviewed in Fanfare 12:2 on Hunt CD 545, and I still find it an epic portrayal, full of rage and excitement. 

The sound throughout is surprisingly full, prompter and all, there are plenty of cueing points, no notes, and, as mentioned above, an Italian-only libretto. But don't be deterred—this is an interesting work handled by people who love and respect it, and I recommend it. 


Recordings of Roberto Devereux by Gaetano Donizetti are surveyed in the following publications:
CELLETTI p.247; GIUDICI p.204, (2) p.340
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Opera News - March 1999 p.84 [GJ]
Orpheus - Juli 2000 S.66 [GH]
Opera Quarterly - Vol.6 No.3 Spring 1989 pp.135-137 [WA]
Opéra International - septembre 1984 No.73 p.50 [SS]
International Record Review - December 2002/January 2003 pp.78-79 [CC]







2015 November 

Orchestra e Coro dell’Opera di Roma

Mario Rossi
Leyla Gencer (Elisabetta I); Ruggero Bondino (Roberto Devereux); Piero Cappuccilli (Duca di Nottingham); Anna-Maria Rota (Sara, duchessa di Nottingham); Franco Bonanome (Lord Cecil) Teodoro Rovetta (Sir Gualtiero Raleigh); Fernando Valentini (un paggio); Fernando Valentini (un famigliare di Nottingham)
House of Opera – 2 CDs 

Saffo [Live]

07.04.1967 SAFFO
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli

Franco Capuana
Leyla Gencer (Saffo); Franca Mattiucci (Climene); Tito del Bianco (Faone); Louis Quilico (Alcandro); Vittoria Magnanghi (Dirce); Mario Guggia (Ippia); Maurizio Piacenti (Lisimaco)
Arkadia – 2 CDs 


PACINI Saffo • Franco Capuana, cond; Leyla Gencer (Saffo); Tito del Bianco (Faone); Louis Quilico (Alcandro); Franca Mattiucci (Olimene); Mario Guggia (Ippia); Maurizio Piacente (Lisimaco); Vittoria Maniachi (Dirce); Naples Teatro San Carlo O & Ch. • OPERA D'ORO 1450 (2 CDs: 130:51) Live: Naples 4/7/67 

This live performance celebrating the centenary of Pacini's death was first issued many years ago on LP by MRF, with two booklets, one a biographical account of the composer and the second a libretto with English translation and photographs of the performance. It was subsequently released on CD by Hunt Productions in 1988 and reviewed by David Johnson (Fanfare 12:2). He said, “If you have the MRF, no need to abandon it for this CD; if not, and you suspect that it will be a good long time before a better Saffo comes along, then this issue is worth owning—especially if you can lay your hands on MRF's translation of the libretto.”

In Fanfare 20:5, Henry Fogel [Fanfare] reviewed the only competitive recording of this opera, a live performance from the Wexford Festival in 1995 on the Marco Polo label. Fogel wrote: “Members of the relatively small but fanatically devoted group of admirers of the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer will be familiar with this opera through its only prior recording, a pirated affair from a 1967 Naples revival. That performance suffers from some cuts, uneven casting, somewhat lumpish and unvaried conducting, and monaural broadcast sound, but it has the undeniable attraction of a true diva in the title role. Gencer was at her best on that night, floating lovely soft high notes and singing with passion and intensity, as was her wont.” Actually, the only cut consists of the second verses of Climene's aria, “Ah! con lui mi fu rapita,” and her cabaletta “Il cor non basta a reggere” in the beginning of the second act. Both are given complete on the Wexford recording. 

Pacini had the misfortune to begin his composing of opera in the shadow of the great Rossini; then he had to compete with both Bellini and Donizetti. Although he composed at least 73 operas, he was not as popular as his contemporaries and in 1835 he retired. However, four years later after Rossini's retirement and the death of his chief rival Bellini, he composed his masterpiece, Saffo. Two years later, Verdi triumphed with his Nabucco, and, although Pacini continued to compose operas until 1861, he was, like Mercadante, completely dominated by Verdi. 

Although Louis Quilico has a fine baritone, he does not modulate when he should, and the result is “can belto” rather than bel canto. Likewise, Tito del Bianco's strained tenor is simply loud and does not do justice to Pacini's music. Franca Mattiucci lacks the brilliance necessary for the role of Climene. Thus, Gencer is the principal reason for acquiring this recording. The sound is passable; the booklet contains a brief synopsis. Capuana conducts with a sense of the style required. 

I agree with Henry Fogel [Fanfare] when he called Saffo “a work of genuine distinction and importance.” The Marco Polo recording—although Francesa Pedaci is no match for Gencer and the supporting cast, with the exception of Mariana Pentcheva's fine Climene, is not much better than the cast on this recording—is the one to have, principally because it does provide a libretto with translation. It is in better sound and well conducted by Maurizio Benini. 



PACINI Saffo. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Saffo); Franca Mattiucci, mezzo-soprano (Climene); Tito Del Bianco, tenor (Faone); Louis Quilico, baritone (Alcandro); Vittoria Maniachi (Dírce); Mario Guggia (Ippia); Maurizio Piacente (Lisimaco); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, conducted by Franco Capuana. • HUNT PRODUCTIONS 2 HUNTCD 541 (compact disc [AAD]; 130:43) [distributed by Qualiton]. 

This is the one-and-only modern production of Giovanni Pacini's once celebrated opera, composed in 1840. The revival took place at the San Carlo, the site of the opera's premiere, in 1967, the centennary of Pacini's death. This performance has been available for years on the MRF label, where credit is given to Reuben Profeta for preparing the performance material. Its reappearance on compact disc slightly upgrades the unauthorized tape from which the MRF pressings were made. Here it appears that Radio Italiana cooperated with Hunt Productions and supplied a studio tape from RAI archives. Nonetheless, the sound is not significantly better than MRF, and the noisy prompter can be heard all too distractingly.

Though I would like to, I have neither the time nor is this the occasion to go into the opera's merits and defects in detail. Hopefully a professional recording of the work will eventually be undertaken, and then, if I am asked to review it, 1 shall transcribe my thoughts about the work. It is a pity, however, that the annotator of this reissue did not at least present a detailed summary of the plot, since only the Italian libretto is included. English readers please note that although the libretto (by Salvatore Cammarano) deals with the 6th Century B.C. Greek poetess Sappho, there is hardly a hint of her Lesbian tendencies. She does take her sister into her arms rather frequently, but that is only to be expected, since the two girls have not seen each other since infancy. Cammarano based his libretto on an old and largely discredited legend that has Sappho falling in love with the youth Phaon and committing suicide by jumping off a cliff when he marries another (that very same long-lost sister of Sappho's, in fact). Cammarano does weave in the few shreds of historical information that have come down to us about this great lyrical poetess (for instance that she was admired by her fellow poet Alcaeus, and exchanged responsive lyrics with him). Basically, however, despite its classic dressing, this is a standard love-and-jealousy plot from the man who was to provide Verdi with the libretto for II trovatore. In setting it, Pacini radically changed his style, which had been slavishly imitative of Rossini, and thereby became one of the two major progenitors of Verdi's early manner (the other being Mercadante). 

Leyla Gencer was at an early stage of her all-too-short career in 1967, having just made grand splashes as two other classical figures: Norma and Alceste. Her voice was a peculiar one, dark and rather hooty, but it is worth coming to terms with, for she was a remarkable vocal tragedienne. When she finally reaches her great final scena, which is at once an epithalamium for her sister's marriage and a dirge for her own impending suicide, Gencer is deeply thrilling. None of the other members of this 1967 cast are of that quality, although Louis Quilico's baritone is handsome (if only he had an inkling of the meaning of the words he was singing!). If you have the MRF, no need to abandon it for this CD; if not, and if you suspect that it will be a good long time before a better Saffo comes along, then this issue is worth owning—especially if you can lay your hands on MRF's translation of the libretto. 


This recording is reviewed in the following publication:
Fanfare - Vol 12 No.2 November/December 1988 p.244 [DJ]; Vol.30 No.1 September/ October 2006 pp.198-199 [BR]





Švanda Dudák (Schwanda) [Studio]

 10.08.1958 SCWANDA
Orchestra e Coro del RAI, Milan

Nicola Rescigno
Scipio Colombo (Schwanda); Leyla Gencer (Dorota); Aldo Bertocci (Babinsky); Gertrude Ribla (Königin); Melchiorre Luise (Magner); Paolo Montersolo (Teufel); Adriano Ferrario (Richter); Mario Carlin (Scharfrichter)
Unique Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of Schwanda the Bagpiper by Jaromir Weinberger are surveyed in the following publications:

Comments: Recording of a performance broadcast on 10 August 1958. Some of the dialogue is spoken by actors: Renata Salvagno (Dorota), Pierluigi Pelitti (Babinsky), Gianni Bortolotto (Schwanda)

Simon Boccanegra [Live]


Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli

Mario Rossi
Tito Gobbi (Simon Boccangera); Leyla Gencer (Maria Boccanegra); Mirto Picchi (Gabriele Adorno); Ferruccio Mazzoli (Jacopo Fiesco); Walter Monachesi (Paolo Albiani); Giovanni Amodeo (Pietro)
Hardy – 2 CDs 


VERDI Simon Boccanegra • Mario Rossi, cond; Tito Gobbi (Boccanegra); Leyla Gencer (Maria); Mirto Picchi (Gabriele Adorno); Ferruccio Mazzoli (Fiesco); Walter Monachesi (Paolo); Naples Teatro San Carlo O & Ch • IDI 6552, mono (2 CDs: 134: 32) Broadcast: Naples 12/26/1958 

Simon Boccanegra exists in two versions, the 1857 original and the dominant 1881 revision. Coming between I vespri siciliani and Un ballo in maschera, the 1857 Boccanegra is a product of its time, with an overture, conventional-sounding recitatives and several pieces following the standard cavatina/cabaletta formula. Let me add that it’s a perfectly viable opera and well worth an occasional hearing and even more fascinating if you know the 1881 version. The initial public reaction, however, was lukewarm, causing Verdi to write to a friend, “I thought I had done something worthwhile but perhaps I was mistaken.” He confessed that he thought the opera “too sad, too desolate,” but never actually gave up on it, nor did Ricordi, his publisher, who eventually brought Verdi together with Arrigo Boito, who rewrote part of the libretto. The biggest change was the second scene of act I, which was moved indoors to a council chamber and almost completely rewritten. Elsewhere, much of the 1857 original can still be heard in the revised version, especially in act II, often with changes in the melodic line and the orchestration. The Verdi/Boito revision, coming between the Requiem and Otello, is more direct and concise but, ironically, even darker and more desolate than the original. 

I am happy to report that two recordings of the 1857 version, those conducted by John Matheson and Renato Palumbo, are still available. Of the two, I narrowly prefer Palumbo’s but either one is worth hearing. Mario Rossi, however, conducted the more popular 1881 version in Naples back in 1958 and it was apparently broadcast, if I may infer this from the dull but well-balanced sound. Predictably, Tito Gobbi is a powerful Boccanegra whose only problems occur when he’s asked to sing dolce, but he had made a studio recording for EMI 15 months earlier which finds him in even better voice, possibly through retakes, and, with one exception, surrounded by a stronger cast. The exception is Leyla Gencer, his Naples Maria, who sings with all the expression and power one could ask for; if anything, she’s the star of the performance, for Ferruccio Mazzoli is merely a respectable Fiesco and Walter Monachesi’s Paolo, good as it is here, seems more imposing on the earlier EMI recording. In 1881, the part of Gabriele Adorno was sung by Francesco Tamagno, who went on to create the title role in Otello; in 1932, when the Met revived Boccanegra for Lawrence Tibbett, Gabriele was assigned to Giovanni Martinelli. He should have a voice and delivery that suggest a decisive, forceful person. Mirto Picchi is a decent enough Gabriele, and seems to have more voice than EMI’s Giuseppe Campora, but his generic singing adds up to very little. He’s just there. The performance has several cuts, including the second verse of his offstage serenade, another in the subsequent Simon/Maria duet, and yet another after the Maria / Gabriele duet in act II. Gabriele’s aria, “Cielo pietoso rendila” in the same act is taken down a half tone for Picchi. In 1857, the father/daughter scene between Simon and Maria ended with a flashy coda. In 1881, Verdi and Boito chose to have the orchestra die down to ppp over which Simon softly utters “figlia.” It’s a very effective curtain; the trouble is that the act goes on for a minute or so as Paolo and Pietro plot to kidnap Maria. Some conductors “solve” the problem by simply omitting these anticlimactic measures although they explain some of the events in the subsequent Council Chamber Scene. Either choice has its advocates, and I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision—Rossi’s choice is for the cut. 

This is certainly a good performance, but the EMI, with Boris Christoff as an imposing Fiesco who can hold his own with Gobbi and Victoria de los Angeles, a lovely Maria (though I still prefer Gencer above anybody), and Gabriele Santini’s sympathetic conducting, is superior in sound and performance. It is, however, a monaural recording (my copy says “stereo” on the jewel box but I am sure this has been corrected on the reissue). For those who must have two channels, there is an excellent DGG from 1977, forcefully led by Claudio Abbado, with Piero Cappuccilli in great voice, offering a more pointed characterization than he did on Gavazzeni’s RCA recording. The supporting cast includes Nicolai Ghiaurov (Fiesco), Mirella Freni (Maria), José Carreras (Gabriele), and José van Dam (Paolo). Great sound. If anything, I narrowly prefer it to the EMI or any other recording I’ve heard. 


Recordings of Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.95; HARRIS p.262; Opera on Record p.250; CELLETTI p.1014; Opera on CD (1) p.53 (2) p.59 (3) p.66; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.19 p.110; MET p.620; MET(VID) p.385; PENGUIN p.500; Opera on Video p.90; GIUDICI p.956 (2) p.1542; Opéra International juillet-aoüt 1999 pp.70-74, No.269juin 2002 p.18; Gramophone May 2004 p.36
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Orpheus - April 1999 S.61 [MB]
Classical Express - Issue No.109 April 1999 p.3 (audio) [MT]
L'opera (Milano) - n.123 novembre 1998 supplemento p.26 [GL]
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - No.33 mayo-junio 1999 p.96 [LB] (audio)



Salzburger Festspiele

Wiener Philharmoniker und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper
Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Tito Gobbi (Simon Boccangera); Leyla Gencer (Maria Boccanegra); Giorgio Tozzi (Jacopo Fiesco); Giuseppe Zampieri (Gabriele Adorno); Rolando Panerai (Paolo Albiani); Vittorio Susca (Pietro); Glade Petersen (un capitano)
Gala – 2 CDs

ASCOLTI [Teatro alla Scala]

La prima registrazione per Simon Boccanegra è del 1939 con Ettore Panizza sul podio della Metropolitan Opera di New York. Cantano Lawrence Tibbett (Simon Boccanegra), Ezio Pinza (Jacopo Fiesco), Leonard Warren (Paolo Albiani), Elisabeth Rethberg (Amelia Grimaldi), Giovanni Martinelli (Gabriele Adorno): rappresentazione leggendaria (Documents). Tra le incisioni degli anni Cinquanta si ricordano quelle condotte da Molinari Pradelli, Santini, Rossi. Nel 1951 Francesco Molinari Pradelli è alla guida del Coro e dell’Orchestra di Roma della Rai con le voci di Paolo Silveri, Mario Petri, Walter Monachesi, Antonietta Stella, Carlo Bergonzi: insieme equilibrato (Warner Classics). Nel 1957 Gabriele Santini dirige il Teatro dell’Opera di Roma con i cantanti Tito Gobbi, Boris Christoff, Walter Monachesi, Victoria de los Angeles, Giuseppe Campora: Gobbi e Christoff assai bravi (Regis). Nel 1958 Mario Rossi conduce il Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli con Tito Gobbi, Ferruccio Mazzoli, Walter Monachesi, Leyla Gencer, Mirto Picchi nella distribuzione: brillanti la Gencer e Picchi (Hardy Classic). Tra le emissioni degli anni Sessanta si rammentano quelle con la direzione di Mitropoulos, Gavazzeni, Cleva. Nel 1960 Dimitri Mitropoulos è alla guida della Metropolitan Opera con i cantanti Frank Guarrera, Giorgio Tozzi, Ezio Flagello, Zinka Milanov, Carlo Bergonzi: la Milanov, Tozzi e Bergonzi in gran risalto (Walhall). Nel 1961 Gianandrea Gavazzeni dirige il Coro e l’Orchestra dell’Opera di Vienna con le voci di Tito Gobbi, Giorgio Tozzi, Rolando Panerai, Leyla Gencer, Giuseppe Zampieri: Panerai e la Gencer in notevole rilievo (Opera d’Oro). Nel 1965 Fausto Cleva è sul podio della Metropolitan Opera con Anselmo Colzani, Jerome Hines, Justino Diaz, Renata Tebaldi, George Shirley nella distribuzione: in marcata evidenza la Tebaldi e Hines (Living Stage). Tra le registrazioni degli anni Settanta si ricordano quelle dirette da Votto, Gavazzeni, Abbado, Bartoletti. Nel 1970 Antonino Votto è alla guida del Teatro La Fenice di Venezia con i cantanto Mario Zanasi, Ruggero Raimondi, Giovanni Ciminelli, Maria Chiara, Nicola Martinucci: Raimondi e la Chiara in grande spolvero (Mondo Musica). Nel 1973 Gianandrea Gavazzeni è alla guida del Coro e Orchestra della RCA Italiana con i cantanti Piero Cappuccilli, Ruggero Raimondi, Giampietro Mastromei, Katia Ricciarelli, Plácido Domingo: si fanno apprezzare la Ricciarelli e Domingo (RCA). Nel 1977 Claudio Abbado è sul podio del Teatro alla Scala con Piero Cappuccilli, Nicolai Ghiaurov, José van Dam, Mirella Freni, José Carreras nella distribuzione: dinamicissima la direzione di Abbado (Deutsche Grammophon). Nel 1979 Bruno Bartoletti conduce la Lyric Opera di Chicago con le voci di Sherrill Milnes, James Morris, Carlo Cossutta, Ellen Shade, William Stone: Milnes e Morris in risalto (The Opera Lovers). Tra le emissioni degli anni Ottanta si rammentano quelle condotte da Chung e da Solti. Myung-Whun Chung nel 1986 è alla guida del Teatro Metropolitan con i cantanti Sherrill Milnes, Paul Plishka, Vasile Moldoveanu, Kiri Te Kanawa, Richard Clark: impetuosa la direzione di Chung (The Opera Lovers). Nel 1989 Georg Solti è sul podio del Teatro alla Scala con i cantanti Leo Nucci, Paata Burchuladze, Paolo Coni, Kiri Te Kanawa, Giacomo Aragall: Nucci in brillante risalto (Decca). Tra le incisioni recenti si rammentano quelle firmate da Haitink e da Abbado. Nel 1995 Bernard Haitink conduce la Royal Opera House Covent Garden con Leo Nucci, Alexander Agache, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Michael Sylvester, Renée Fleming, Vassily Gerelo nella compagnia di canto: si fa valere la misura espressiva di Haitink (House of Opera). Nel 2000 Claudio Abbado è alla direzione dell’European Festival Chorus, dei Berliner Philharmoniker con le voci di Carlo Guelfi, Julian Konstantinov, Lucio Gallo, Karita Mattila, Roberto Alagna: meritatissimo il successo al Festival di Pasqua di Salisburgo (House of Opera). Nella numerosa disponibilità dei video alcuni risultano molto pregevoli a cominciare da quello del 1978 di Claudio Abbado alla direzione del Teatro alla Scala con la regia di Giorgio Strehler i cantanti Piero Cappuccilli, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Felice Schiavi, Mirella Freni, Veriano Luchetti: celeberrimo spettacolo (Dreamlife). Si segnalano poi: quello del 2002 con la direzione di Claudio Abbado la regia di Peter Stein, con il Coro e Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, le voci di Carlo Guelfi, Jiulian Konstantinov, Lucio Gallo, Karita Mattila, Vincenzo La Scola (Arthaus Musik); quello del 2002 con Daniele Gatti alla guida dell’Opera di Vienna, con la regia di Peter Stein le voci di Thomas Hampson, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Boaz Daniel, Cristina Gallardo-Domas, Miroslav Dvorsky (Arthaus Musik); quello del 2007 con Michele Mariotti sul podio del Teatro Comunale di Bologna con la regia di Giorgio Gallione le voci di Roberto Frontali, Giacomo Prestia, Marco Vratogna, Carmen Giannattasio, Giuseppe Gipali (Arthaus Musik); quello del 2010 con James Levine alla direzione del Teatro Metropolitan con la regia di Giancarlo del Monaco i cantanti Placido Domingo, James Morris, Stephen Gaertner, Adrianne Pieczonka, Marcello Giordani (Sony); quello del 2010 con Antonio Pappano alla guida della Royal Opera Covent Garden con la regia di Elijah Moshinsky le voci di Placido Domingo, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Jonathan Summers, Marina Poplavskaya, Joseph Calleja (Emi); quello del 2010 con Daniel Barenboin sul podio del Teatro alla Scala con la regia di Federico Tiezzi con  Placido Domingo, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Massimo Cavalletti Anja Harteros, Fabio Sartori nel cast (Arthaus Musik); quello del 2013 con Daniele Callegari alla guida del Teatro Regio di Parma con la regia di Giorgio Gallione le voci di Leo Nucci, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Simone Piazzola, Tamar Iveri, Francesco Meli (C Major).

* Luigi Bellingardi (1929), musicologo e critico musicale, ha insegnato dal 1991 al 2001 Metodologia della critica musicale e Musica del Novecento al Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia e per un trentennio ha collaborato a rubriche musicali su RAI Radio 3. Ha pubblicato Invito all’ascolto di C ˇajkovskij (1990) e ha curato l’edizione di Tutte le cronache musicali di Fedele d’Amico (3 volumi, 2000). In qualità di critico musicale ha collaborato a lungo (dal 1976) al “Corriere della Sera”, specialmente per l’edizione romana. Dal 1991 firma le Discografie per libri e programmi di sala del Teatro alla Scala.



VERDI Simon Boccanegra. • Tito Gobbi, baritone (Boccanegra); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Amelia); Giuseppe Zampieri, tenor (Adorno); Giorgio Tozzi, bass (Fiesco); Rolando Panerai, baritone (Paolo); Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. • MOVIMENTO MUSICA 03 010 (three discs, mono), $29.94 (distributed by Disocorp). 

The “dark flower” among Verdi's operas is how Francis Toye once described Boccanegra, certainly an apt sobriquet for this beautiful somber, and infrequently encountered work. Only I vespri siciliani, its immediate predecessor, is, among Verdi's mature operas, more rarely performed (or, for that matter, recorded, with but one commercial set to Boc-canegra's four). True, Aroldo is even less frequently performed but, as an admittedly extensive re-working of the pre-Rigoletto Stiffelio, it really belongs to the composer's earlier period. 

J.M., in his review of RCA Italiana's half-speed remastered edition of the decade-old Cappuccilli-Ricciarelli-Domingo-Gavazzeni set (Fanfare VIS), summarized the virtues and defects of Boccanegra's four recordings quite astutely (translation: I agree with most of what he says!), although I think he might have dealt less harshly with the Cetra set (and been kinder towards Stella) had he heard it in the Cetra-Soria pressing (1231) which does not inflict Everest's fake stereo on the ear. The 1973 RCA version, so promising on paper, was disappointing but I too was properly impressed by Domingo (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Ricciarelli). Like him, I admire DG's recording, though I like Ghiaurov rather more than he apparently does. Conversely, I am not quite ready to accord Cappuccilli's second recorded attempt anything like parity with Gobbi's towering creation for Capitol/Angel, and though I would also award DG's set the palm as Boccanegra of choice, this is due almost entirely to Abbado's conducting and the stereo sound, for I think Gobbi, de los Angeles, and Christoff an all but unbeatable combination, while the other roles on the Capitol/Angel set are extremely well cast, if not necessarily superior to their respective rivals. 

This performance, recorded during the 1961 Salzburg Festival, has some excellent qualities but is not really competitive with either. Gobbi, I must say, is even better here than he is in his studio recording, whether due to increased experience in the role (five years separate the performances), the “heat” of a live audience, or both. Gencer, who made far too few commercial discs, is extremely good as Amelia, and her fans are not the only ones who will welcome her dark, almost mezzo-ish timbre in this music. Zampieri, an Italian comprimario who went on to become the Vienna Opera's resident leading Italian tenor, has a similarly dark-textured voice and is quite acceptable as Adorno though he obviously has his own ideas about markings, ideas which don't necessarily agree with those in the Ricordi score. If you like your Paolos loud and unsubtle (as I do), you will find Panerai extremely effective, but Tozzi, usually so fine as Fiesco is here disappointing. He sounds insufficiently warmed up for “Il lacerato spirito,” and does not project a character strong enough to confront the titular hero on his own terms. He is more successful in the role's more lyric sections. But the main objection to this set is that the performance rarely catches fire, due principally to the conductor's lackadaisical and erratic reading and to the disconcerting effect of characters moving in and out of effective microphone range. Also, such excitement as the performance does manage to generate might have been more successfully sustained if some of the applause was edited out. I don't doubt that, in the house, the minute-plus ovation following the council chamber ensemble had an exhilarating effect on the “live” audience so that it was “up” for the crushing concluding-series of “Sia maledetto's” which follow, but on disc, it merely serves to dissipate the built-up momentum. 

I can't tell whether the miking was clandestine or authorized. If the latter, the Austrians have much to learn from the Met, Chicago, on such matters. If the former, the sound is rather better than one would have expected. 

The performance includes the frequently cut brief interchange between Paolo and Pietro at the end of the garden scene but omits the second verse of Adorno's offstage arioso, and makes a few other inconsequential and unnecessary cuts. Surfaces are generally smooth and quiet. The enclosed booklet contains a lengthy paragraph of glib commentary and the complete Italian text.



VERDI Simon Boccanegra: Excerpts. • Tito Gobbi, baritone (Boccanegra); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Amelia); Giorgio Tozzi, bass (Fiesco); Giuseppe Zampieri, tenor (Gabriele); Vienna Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. • RODOLPHE PRODUCTIONS RP 12702, (mono; live performance, Salzburg Festival, October 5, 1961), $11.98 [distributed by Harmonia Mundi USA]. 

I haven't scoured the catalogs to make sure, but this seems to be the first bona fide Boccanegra “Highlights” disc ever issued. (I recall an Everest recording which used some excerpts to fill out a Pagliacci “Highlights,” but I'm not sure that counts.) It's certainly the first to come my way, and, though not without its faults, I can recommend it to any one not yet willing to invest in a complete recording of Verdi's must unrelievedly somber opera. The selections, are, as stated in the headnote, taken from a 1961 Salzburg Festival performance which, in its Movimento Musica incarnation (03 010; mono), I reviewed fairly favorably (Fanfare VILI), and they are well chosen: Fiesco's aria (with its postlude), Amelia's aria (with its prelude), part of the Amelia-Adorno love duet, the father-daughter recognition scene, which with the Council Chamber ensemble and finale (also included) are among the finest pages Verdi ever wrote, Gabriele's aria and succeeding duet, and the opera's finale. Thus, it includes all the principal numbers (well, almost: too bad they couldn't squeeze in at least one of the Boccanegra-Fiesco confrontations), and offers the unintiated a very good idea of the opera's beauty. The comments I made concerning the “complete” generally hold true for this disc, though I tend to be less tolerant of the inevitable slip-ups of “live” performances in isolated excerpts than in “completes.” Moments which I might let pass when caught up in the excitement of a performance as a whole seem “highlighted” out of context, especially on repeated hearing. Thus, I was now more conscious of Gobbi's somewhat drying tone in the “Garden Duet,” of Tozzi's lapses in the opera's closing ensemble, of the applause which interrupts the Council Chamber Scene (substantially cut down from the ovation which holds up the “complete,” but it could just as easily have been omitted entirely) and which connects (separates?) Adorno's aria and the succeeding duet, and of the balance and acoustic changes as singers move into and out of microphone range, than I had been. In fact, in reviewing my critique of the “complete,” I see that some of the above didn't then bother me enough to warrant comment. Gobbi's remains a towering creation, and Gencer, who made too few commercial recordings, is in fine form. Tozzi and Zampieri are a notch or so lower, but more than adequate. 

If you'd rather own the complete opera, I favor the old mono Capitol version (Gobbi-de los Angeles-Christoff-Campora under Santini) since transferred to Seraphim 6115, though monophobes may well prefer DG 2709071 (Cappuccilli-Freni-Ghiaurov-Carreras under Abbado). Good sound and surfaces. No notes, no texts. 


Recordings of Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.95; HARRIS p.262; Opera on Record p.250; CELLETTI p.1014; Opera on CD (1) p.53 (2) p.59 (3) p.66; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.19 p.110; MET p.620; MET(VID) p.385; PENGUIN p.500; Opera on Video p.90; GIUDICI p.956 (2) p.1542; Opéra International juillet-aoüt 1999 pp.70-74, No.269juin 2002 p.18; Gramophone May 2004 p.36
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Fanfare - Vol.7 No.1 September/October 1983 pp.280-281 [ADC]
Orpheus - April 1996 S.59
American Record Guide - March/April 1985 Vol.48 No.3 p.38 (highlights) [KM]
Répertoire - No.83 septembre 1995 p.79

Comments: Recording of a performance at the Salzburg Festival. Another performance is reviewed in OPERA, Festival Issue 1961 p.59






Orquesta y Coro Estables del Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires

Bruno Bartoletti
Cornell MacNeil (Simon Boccangera); Leyla Gencer (Maria Boccanegra); Carlo Cossutta (Gabriele Adorno); William Wildermann (Jacopo Fiesco); Giampiero Mastromei (Paolo Albiani); Tullio Gagliardo (Pietro); Jose Crea (un capitano); Corrada Malfa (un'ancella di Amelia)
Opera Depot – 2 CDs


Recordings of Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.95; HARRIS p.262; Opera on Record p.250; CELLETTI p.1014; Opera on CD (1) p.53 (2) p.59 (3) p.66; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.19 p.110; MET p.620; MET(VID) p.385; PENGUIN p.500; Opera on Video p.90; GIUDICI p.956 (2) p.1542; Opéra International juillet-aoüt 1999 pp.70-74, No.269juin 2002 p.18; Gramophone May 2004 p.36

Suor Angelica [Live]

25.04.1958 SUOR ANGELICA

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro San Carlo di Napoli
Tullio Serafin
Leyla Gencer (Suor Angelica); Neda Monte (Principessa); Maja Sunara (La Badessa);Jole de Maria (La Zelatrice); Vera Magrini (La Maestra delle novizie); Nunzia Mosca (Suor Genovieffa)
House of Opera – 1 CD


Recordings of Suor Angelica by Giacomo Puccini are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity December 1958 Vol.8 No.12 p.112; Opera on Record 2 p.318; CELLETTIp.627; Opera on CD (1) p.110 (2) p.121 (3) p.136; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.190 p.132; MET p.447; MET(VID) p.240; PENGUIN p.318; Opera on Video p.185; GIUDICI p.646; l'opera (Milano) Anno XVI N.157 gennaio 2002 p.116

Tosca [Live]


21.01.1955 TOSCA
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli

Vincenzo Bellezza
Leyla Gencer (Floria Tosca); Giuseppe Taddei (Baron Scarpia); Vittorio de Santis (Mario Cavaradossi); Melchiorre Louise (il Sagrestano); Piero de Palma (Spoletta); Aldo Terraso (Cesare Angelotti); Gerardo Gaudioso (Sciarrone); Silvio Santarelli (un Carceriere); Nino Tarallo (un Pastore); Michele Lauro, maestro del coro

Bonus Tracks
Concerto RAI

Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI
Arturo Basile
Verdi Vieni t’affretta Macbeth
Verdi Ben io tinvenni Nabucco
Donizetti Piangete voi… Al dolce guidami Anna Bolena
Donizetti Vivi, ingrato Roberto Devereux
Gop – 2 CDs 


PUCCINI Tosca.1 VERDI Il trovatore: D’amor sull’ali rosee. La forza del destino: Pace, pace mio Dio. La traviata: Addio del passato. Aida: O patria mia. CATALANI La Wally: Ebben, ne andrò lontana • Leyla Gencer (Tosca);1 Vincenzo Bellezza, cond;1 Vittorio de Santis (Cavaradossi);1 Giuseppe Taddei (Scarpia);1 San Carlo Theater O & Ch, Naples;1 Leyla Gencer (sop); Arturo Basile, cond; RAI SO, Turin • IDIS 6486/7, mono (2 CDs: 136:55) Live: Naples 1/21/55;1 1955 

Thanks to various “pirate” recordings of her performances, the Turkish soprano, Leyla Gencer, still has a considerable reputation, at least among opera savants. She is, in fact, the only reason that this particular review is being written. Why did a singer with a strong voice and considerable temperament have such a lackluster recording career? The annotator, without actually saying so, suggests that there was just too much soprano competition during the 1950s—there was only so much room in the firmament. Fortunately, some people who were equipped to do so were discerning enough to tape broadcasts or surreptitiously preserve some of her live performances. She was 26 years old when she performed this Tosca in Naples. Granted, several sopranos who were at least as good as Gencer have recorded the role so this is, basically a fan-oriented release and, unfortunately, a very frustrating one for, despite high production values by Idis (“Instituto Discografico Italiano”—I don’t know what the s stands for), the source is so flawed that I can only hope that there’s a better Gencer Tosca out there. High frequencies are shaved. The orchestra is heard clearly, but the singers sound far away and are sometimes drowned out or nearly so. My guess is that the mike was hanging from a side balcony high above the pit, and the singers—with the proscenium between them and the mike—are usually singing around a corner. You can tell when someone comes near the front of the stage, which isn’t very often. Gencer, when you can hear her clearly, is an earthy, impassioned Tosca but, happily, one who understands that she is supposed to be singing, not shouting. She’s got it all. I wish I could have seen her do it. Unfortunately, one sometimes has to strain to hear her because the unfavorable conditions don’t favor nuance. The singer least affected by this is, unfortunately, the unsubtle Cavaradossi, Vittorio de Santis, who bangs out his role with minimal nuance. Giuseppe Taddei is a powerful Scarpia who can actually sing his part—a worthy match for Gencer. At least, he managed to participate in two commercial recordings of the opera and, since the second of them is with Herbert von Karajan, it will probably remain available for quite some time. 

The sound is considerably clearer on some 1956 recordings of four arias by Verdi, though I detected a little distortion in the loudest passages. The four are “D’amor sull’ali rosee” (without its cabaletta, unfortunately), “Pace, pace mio Dio,” “O patria mia,” and “Addio del passato.” The disc concludes with “Ebben, ne andrò lontana” from Catalani’s La Wally. Once again, it is possible to prefer one of her few peers here and there, but, for me, she’s always in the mix—these are stylish, expressive performances. Too bad they couldn’t have been attached to a better Tosca or something else. 


Recordings of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity December 1958 Vol.8 No.12 p.97; HARRIS p.271; Opera on Record p.591; CELLETTI p.632; MARINELLI p.362; Opera on CD (1) p.107 (2) p.118 (3) p.133; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.11 p.106, No.11 (revised edition) p.110; MET p.411MET(VID) p.232; PENGUIN p.314; Répertoire No.63 novembre 1993 p.14; Opera on Video p.178; GIUDICI p.600 (2) p.996; Classic CD July 1996 p.50; Orpheus Januar 2000 S.12; Opéra International No.242 Janvier 2000 p.10; American Record Guide September/October 2000 Vol.63 No.5 pp.73-83
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Orpheus - November 1994 p.63; 7+8 Juli-August 2007 S.61 [IW]
Opéra International - juin 1997 No.214 p.54
American Record Guide - July/August 2006 Vol.69 No.4 p.212 [MM]


Turandot [Live]

13.01.1962 TURANDOT
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo, Napoli

Oliviero de Fabritiis
Lucille Udovic (Turandot); Leyla Gencer (Liu); Franco Corelli (Calaf); Joshua Hecht (Timur); Renato Cesari (Ping); Mario Carlin (Pang); Piero de Palma (Pong); Luigi Paolillo (Altoum); Antonio Sacchetti (Un mandarino)
Golden Melodram – 2 CDs


Recordings of Turandot by Giacomo Puccini are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity December 1958 Vol.8 No.12 p.114; Opera on Record p.618; CELLETTI p.655; Opera on CD (1) p.111 (2) p.122 (3) p.137 MET p.454; MET(VID) p.252; PENGUIN p.320; L'Avant Scéne Opéra No.33 p.97, No.220 p.98; Opera on Video p.187; GIUDICI p.652 (2) p.1073; Répertoire No.97 décembre 1996 p.16; International Opera Collector Spring 1997 No.3 p.40; Opera Quarterly Vo.13 No.4 Summer 1997 p.77; American Record Guide September/October 2000 Vol.63 No.5 pp.73-83; Diapason No.559 juin 2008 p.78; Gramophone July 2008 p.52
This recording is reviewed in the following publication:
American Record Guide - March/April 2008 Vol.71 No.2 pp.258-259 [MM]

Un Ballo In Maschera [Live]

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna

Oliviero de Fabritiis
Carlo Bergonzi (Riccardo); Mario Zanasi (Renato); Leyla Gencer (Amelia); Adriana Lazzarini (Ulrica); Dora Gatta (Oscar); Franco Bordoni (Silvano); Alessandro Maddalena (Samuel); Giovanni Foiani (Tom); Angelo Mercuriali (un giudice); Luigi Ronchi (un servo d’Amelia); Gaetano Riccitelli, Maestro del coro
Arkadia – 2 CDs


VERDI Un ballo in maschera. • Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor; Carlo Bergonzi, tenor (Riccardo); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Amelia); Mario Zanasi, baritone (Renato); Adriana Lazzarini, mezzo-soprano (Ulrica); Dora Gatta, soprano (Oscar); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale, Bologna. • MOVIMENTO MUSICA 051 020 [ADD]; two discs: 61:15, 73:25. (Distributed by Koch Import Service.) 

This Ballo has forty cueing points, a list of them, annotations, and an Italian-only libretto. I can't tell if it's a broadcast (11/61) because the orchestra seems too close and loud, but we normally hear the singers clearly enough. If Bergonzi's Riccardo is the focus of your interest, forget it: he made two commercial recordings where he sings even better than he does here. On the other hand, Leyla Gencer never recorded anything, and as usual, her performance is not without interest despite a few strident high notes. In this case, since the competition includes excellent Amelias by Callas and Leontyne Price, the recording will be of interest mainly to Gencer's enthusiasts. Although he lacks vocal veneer and a smooth legato, Mario Zanasi is, at least, a dignified, “sincere” Renato and the rest of the cast is, well, listenable. There are some small cuts scattered throughout the performance. The side break, so to speak, is after “Ecco l'orrido campo” and the opening bar (what should be, that is) of CD number two is missing. There's even a trace of crosstalk near the end. Although I consider Leyla Gencer one of the more interesting singers of the 50s and 60s, I could forgo this Ballo, but true devotees will probably need it.



Recordings of Un ballo in maschera by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.95; Opera on Record p.258; CELLETTI p.839; Opera on CD (1) p.54 (2) p.61 (3) p.68; MET p.625; MET(VID) p.389; PENGUIN p.467; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.32 p.110: No.237 p.82; GIUDICI p.966 (2) p.1555; BBC Music Magazine September 1999 p.56; Opéra International No.257 mai 2001 p.20; The Gramophone August 2006 p.48
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Orpheus - April 1996 S.58
L'Avant Scène Opéra - No.175 p.122
Musica (Milano) - No.97 Anno 20 Aprile-Maggio 1996 p.136
CD COMPACT (Barcelona) - No.90 julio-agosto 1996 p.63: No.91 septiembre 1996 p.40: julio/agosto 2001 No.145 pp.44-45 [AV]
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - No.47 septiembre-octubre 2001 p.96 [LB]


2001 April

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala

Nino Verchi
Giorgio Merighi (Riccardo); Leyla Gencer (Amelia); Piero Cappuccilli (Renato); Adriana Lazzarini (Ulrica); Carlo Meliciani (Silvano); Federico Davia (Samuele); Silvio Maionica (Tom); Gianfranco Manganotti (Un Giudice); Regalo Romani (Un servo); Adriana Lazzarini (Ulrica); Dora Gatta (Oscar)
Myto – 2 CDs

VERDI Un ballo in maschera • Nino Verchi, cond; Giorgio Merighi (Riccardo); Leyla Gencer (Amelia); Piero Cappuccilli (Renato); Adriana Lazzarini (Ulrica); Giovanna Santelli (Oscar); La Scala O & Ch • MYTO 8, mono (2 CDs: 132:17) Live: Milan 4/8/1973 
VERDI Un ballo in maschera • Edward Downes, cond; Jon Vickers (Gustavo); Amy Shuard (Amelia); Ettore Bastianini (Renato); Regina Resnik (Ulrica); Joan Carlyle (Oscar); Covent Garden Op O & Ch • ROYAL OPERA HOUSE HERITAGE 9, mono (2 CDs: 121:39) Live: London 2/26/1962

Un ballo in maschera is an exhilarating jewel from Verdi’s maturity. Because it is something of a “singer’s opera,” it may be underrated by those who indulge in such parlor games as rating works of art (okay, I’ve done it, too). From the time that I discovered it, it has been one of my favorites. I don’t believe it’s any easier to sing than most Verdi operas but it has been very fortunate in its studio recordings, which is why neither of these live, “unofficial” recordings fills a yawning gap, despite some obvious virtues. Consider the best tenors who have starred as Riccardo on some studio recordings: Bergonzi (twice), Carreras, di Stefano, Domingo, Gigli— there is also Björling on a celebrated 1940 Met broadcast. They all might be classified, in various degrees, as lyrico/spinto tenors. Does that suggest something about Riccardo/Gustavo? As a vocal type, Jon Vickers is about as far from those tenors as he is alphabetically (I left out Pavarotti for effect). Benjamin Britten did not approve of the way Vickers sang the title role in Peter Grimes. This did not stop Vickers from being the dominant Grimes of his time. Here he is, again, “bending” a role for which he was not the best fit, and making it his own. I don’t think I ever heard a tenor who could pour so much passion into an aria without fracturing the line or distorting its shape. I have heard the role sung more playfully (though he’s far from humorless), but Vickers brings to the king his trademark intensity and power, also introspection and even a sort of majesty—you can easily see him as one who would be defiant toward his would-be murderers. In Covent Garden’s production, he is “the king” because they opted for the Swedish venue, which the 19th-century censors had rejected because the plot revolved around a conspiracy against a king with his eventual murder depicted on stage. Verdi and his librettist then moved the setting to colonial Boston and the king became a governor. I might add that, once censorship was not a factor, Verdi was apparently content to leave the opera in Boston. At least Covent Garden changed the libretto to reflect the switch to Sweden, so Riccardo became Gustavo, Il conte became Il re, and patria replaced Inghilterra and America. This is not always done when producers aim at such bogus “authenticity.” 

As for the rest of the cast, Amy Shuard has enough power and sings all the notes but, to me, at least, her voice is merely generic so, despite her obvious competence, she doesn’t engage me. For whatever reason, Renato remains Renato and Ettore Bastianini is a pedestrian one with a pleasant dark voice. Regina Resnik, as expected, is a strong Ulrica, and Joan Carlyle chirps her way through Oscar with panache. Edward Downes conducts with apparent enthusiasm. This was preserved on an in-house tape but with insider mike placement—it sounds much better than the average pirate tape. Unfortunately, the tape itself, which was only recently discovered, had deteriorated, resulting in a cut in the scene where Amelia draws Renato’s name out of the vase and a dropout in the subsequent ensemble—the music simply fades out as the sound becomes more distorted. The set includes a libretto and explanatory annotations. There are several very good studio-made Ballos available: my favorites are the monaural Votto (di Stefano, Callas, Gobbi) and the stereo ones by Leinsdorf (Price, Bergonzi, Merrill) and Solti No. 1 (Bergonzi, Nilsson, MacNeil), but the recordings by Abbado, Davis, and Solti No. 2 aren’t negligible. 

In terms of sound, the 1973 La Scala pirate is more typical of the unofficial genre, apparently recorded far from the stage. The obvious point of interest is the late Leyla Gencer, whose posthumous reputation will be based on such recordings as these since she made few visits to the recording studio. She had a dramatic flair that unfortunately is and was—even in her day when the competition was tougher—rare. The distant recording, while satisfying as an example of what voices can actually sound like in the upper reaches of a theater, puts her at a disadvantage, and I don’t think she was in her best voice at this time; in fact, it was around the early 1970s that I managed to hear her live for, unfortunately, the only time. Still, her fans will probably want it and I can hardly blame them. The actual star of the performance, however, is Piero Cappuccilli, a commanding Renato, whose magnificent control and power in “Eri tu” (he does not merely shout his way through it) drives the audience to heights of (well-deserved) enthusiasm (even the pirate taper can’t restrain himself). The Riccardo, Giorgio Merighi, always seems to be at stage rear, unless his voice is conspicuously tinier than those of his colleagues. His singing is neat, even elegant at times, but in a miniaturized way. The rest of the cast is solidly competent. Nino Verchi, like Downes, seems to be as enthusiastic about Ballo as I am. There is no libretto—just a cue list.


Recordings of Un ballo in maschera by Giuseppe Verdi are surveyed in the following publications:
High Fidelity January 1960 Vol.10 No.1 p.95; Opera on Record p.258; CELLETTI p.839; Opera on CD (1) p.54 (2) p.61 (3) p.68; MET p.625; MET(VID) p.389; PENGUIN p.467; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.32 p.110: No.237 p.82; GIUDICI p.966 (2) p.1555; BBC Music Magazine September 1999 p.56; Opéra International No.257 mai 2001 p.20; The Gramophone August 2006 p.48
This recording is reviewed in the following publication:
Classic Record Collector - Summer 2008 pp.93-94 [TP]

Comments: Recording of a performance in the Teatro alla Scala. Charles Handelman gives the date as 19 April 1973 in his catalog dated November 2000, but according to the archive that was on the La Scala website ( there was no performance on that date. The partial cast list is given by Handelman as Gencer, Guglielmi. Lazzarini, Merighi, Cappuccilli with the conductor as Verchi. According to the La Scala website there was no performances with all these singers and Verchi as conductor. However, all except Margherita Guglielmi, who had sung Oscar in some earlier performances, sang under Verchi on 8, 10 April 1973. The cast given above is that on 8 April. That on 10 April was the same except that Oscar was sung by Elvina Ramella. The recording issued on the Myto label is that of the performance on 8 April 1973.


Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala

Nino Verchi
Giorgio Merighi (Riccardo); Leyla Gencer (Amelia); Piero Cappuccilli (Renato); Carlo Meliciani (Silvano); Federico Davia (Samuele); Silvio Maionica (Tom); Gianfranco Manganotti (Un Giudice); Regalo Romani (Un servo); Adriana Lazzarini (Ulrica); Elvina Ramella (Oscar)
House of Opera – 2 CDs 

Werther [Studio]

23.04.1955 WERTHER
Orchestra della RAI di Milano
Alfredo Simonetto
Juan Oncina (Werther); Leyla Gencer (Carlotta); Enzo Sordello (Alberto); Marcello Cortis (Il podesta); Mario Carlin (Schmidt); Nestore Catalani (Johann); Sandra Ballinari (Sofia); Walter Artioli (Bruhlmann); Elsa Alberti (Katchen)
Stage director: Daniele d'Anza

In Italian
Immortal – 1 DVD


Recordings of Werther by Jules Massenet are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record p.495; CELLETTI p.405; Opera on CD (1) p.95 (2) p.105 (3) p.119; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.61 p.104; MET p.239; PENGUIN p.207; Répertoire No.89 mars 1996 p.13; GIUDICI p.362 (2) p.634; American Record Guide May/June 1996 Vol.69 No.3 p.66; International Opera Collector Autumn 1997 No.5 p.22
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Orpheus - Dezember 1997 S.63 [GH]
Opéra International - février 1998 No.221 p.55 [SS]
Classical Express - Issue No.89 August 1997 p.1
L'opera (Milano) - Anno XI N.111 settembre 1997 p.108 [DA]
Ópera Actual (Barcelona) - marzo-mayo 1998 No.27 p.99 [JS]
Musica (Milano) - N.107 Anno 22 marzo-aprile 1998 p.81 [ER]

Comments: Video recording of a television film (23 April 1955). The DVD issued by Premiere is included in their list of «2005 Winter/Spring New Releases» and that issued on the Encore label is (was) listed on the website of «berkshire record outlet inc.»

Werther [Live]

20.01.1959 WERTHER
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale G. Verdi di Trieste

Carlo Felice Cilario

Ferruccio Tagliavini (Werther); Leyla Gencer (Charlotte); Giuliana Tavolaccini (Sophie); Mario Borriello (Albert); Vito Susca (Le Bailli); Raimondo Botteghelli (Schmidt); Eno Mocchiutti (Johann)

In Italian
Arkadia – 2 CDs 

MASSENET Werther. • Leyla Gencer, sop (Charlotte); Ferruccio Tagliavini, ten (Werther); Mario Borriello, bar (Albert); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Verdi di Trieste, conducted by Carlo Felice Cillario. • REPLICA RPL 2410/12 (three discs) $32.94 (distributed by IBR). Live recording of Jan. 20, 1959 

Despite the fact that this album lives up to Replica's usual high standard (i.e., just about the best technical quality of any company releasing live broadcast operatic performances from the 1950s), it is hard to see the reason for this particular release. If it is Tagliavini's Werther you are interested in, the Cetra recording (now on Everest/Cetra 436/3) made earlier finds the tenor in much finer voice, and is in the original French as opposed to the Italian used in this performance Tagliavini does some beautiful soft singing here, although some of it is more like crooning; but at full voice he tends to go flat, and the sound turns edgy. Even at his best, some 15 years prior to this performance, Tagliavini had to force to ride climaxes. By 1959 that forcing had taken a real toll. 

If Leyla Gencer is the reason behind this release, that too is curious. Charlotte is not a role in which many singers make a real impact, and one is unlikely to buy a recording of Werther for the Charlotte. Gencer does sing with involvement, intelligence, and beautiful voice—and somehow makes the Italianate nature of her conception of the role convincing.

The rest of the cast is quite good, and Cillario's full-blooded approach to the score meshes well with Tagliavini and Gencer. All in all, if one came across this performance in the theater, one would come away very pleased indeed, despite the Italian language and its theatrical, devil-may-care approach. It is, at least, good honest singing in the grand opera tradition. But as a recording for repeated hearing, it just doesn't stand up. 

For a first choice, Angel SZX-3 894 (Alfredo Kraus, Tatiana Troyanos, Michel Plasson) can be recommended; but there is much to be said for DG 2709091 (Placido Domingo, Elena Obraztsova, Riccardo Chailly) as well. Either (or both for Werther freaks, for they are different enough to bring complementary satisfactions) is highly preferable to this release. Brief notes in three languages, and an Italian-only libretto that seems significantly different from the version being sung, round out the package.



MASSENET Werther. • Carlo Felice Cillario, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Charlotte); Ferruccio Tagliavini, tenor (Werther); Mario Borriello, baritone (Albert); Giuliana Tavolaccio, soprano (Sofia); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Verdi di Trieste. • MEMORIES HR 4554/55 [ADD]; two monaural discs: 69:36, 51:16. (Distributed by Koch International.) 

Alexander Pope, in his “Essay on Criticism,” stated that the ideal for a poet was “to write what had oft' been writ', but ne'er so well expressed.” The multitudinous releases of historical recordings present a critic with the problem of having to deal with a recording that has been previously reviewed—well writ' and excellently expressed. This live recording of Werther was released on LP by Replica and was reviewed by Henry Fogel [Fanfare] (Fanfare 5:3). Since I totally agree with Fogel, I can do no more than reiterate the points he made.

Fogel justly questioned the reason for the release of this performance. Why a Werther sung in Italian, except perhaps for the Italian public? If this release was originally, and is today, for Tagliavini fans, Fogel pointed out that he had previously recorded the opera, in French, for Cetra when he was in much better voice. The Cetra set is today available on CD. If the reason for the release is for Gencer fans, Fogel found that curious, for as he stated “one is unlikely to buy a recording for the Charlotte.” Unlikely perhaps, but I confess that I bought the Replica set because I am unashamedly a Tagliavini fan, and I was curious to hear Gencer in the role. 1 certainly agree that Tagliavini sang the role better on the Cetra recording, but even a second-rate Tagliavini performance has much to recommend it. As for Gencer, as Fogel pointed out, she sings well and her conception of the role is convincing. Again, to quote Fogel: ' 'The rest of the cast is quite good, and Cillario's full-blooded approach to the score meshes well with Tagliavini and Gencer.” 

Werther has been well served phonographically, and the choice is probably dependent on which tenor one prefers. In modern recordings Alfred Kraus, José Carreras, and Plàcido Domingo all do full justice to the role. They are partnered by mezzo-sopranos, as Massenet intended, and either Troyanos with Kraus or von Stade with Carreras is preferable to Obratzsova with Domingo. I would personally put in a plug for the EMI reissue of the classic version with Georges Thill and Ninon Valiin. 

The sound for a live performance is excellent. Fogel praised the technical quality of the Replica LPs, and Memories's transfer to CD is fine. No notes, libretto in Italian only, which corrects the mistakes which Fogel found in the libretto issued with the Replica set. I am also aware that this same performance has been issued on Arkadia with additional Gencer material as a bonus. In summation, Tagliavini fans will be advised to get the Cetra set. Gencer completists will find this recording attractive. 



MASSENET WertherTCHAIKOVSKY The Queen of Spades: Selections2. Werther. • Carlo Felice Cillario, conductor; Feruccio Tagliavini, tenor (Werther); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Charlotte); Mario Boriello, baritone (Albert); Giuliana Tavolaccini, soprano (Sophie); Vito Susca, bass (Le Bailli); Raimondo Botteghelli, tenor (Schmidt); Eno Mocchiutti, bass (Johann); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Verdi, Trieste; Nino Sanzogno, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lisa); Antonio Annaloro, tenor (Herman); Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan. • ARKADIA CDHP599.2 [ADD]; two monaural discs: 68:08, 70:26. Produced by Nikos Velissiotis. (Distributed by Qualiton.) 20, 19591. 2, I9602. LIVE performance: Milan; Feb. LIVE performance: Trieste; Jan. 

I reviewed an earlier (1951) Tagliavini performance of Werther (Bongiovanni GBl 101/02) in a recent issue, and called it interesting but technically lacking. This one seems to me at least marginally superior in every way, though the sound is not up to state-of-the-art standards.

The intended emphasis here is not on Tagliavini but on Leyla Gencer. That this Turkish soprano with her immense popularity and her wide range of roles should have been wholly ignored by the commercial record producers is one of the great mysteries. However, the so-called “pirates” have made up for it with innumerable unauthorized recordings, of which this one has a certain uniqueness. In 1954 Gencer, then at the start of her career, was asked to play Charlotte in a pioneering TV production for RAI. She demurred, mostly, it appears, because she did not want to be overshadowed by the tenor-protagonist. But then Tullio Serafin stepped in and told her that it would be good for her to learn to love a part that she thought she might not like. So she accepted the offer and televised her role opposite Juan Oncina. However, she sang Charlotte on stage only once in her long career—in Trieste five years later, whence this recording. 

Charlotte is usually sung by mezzos (Giulietta Simionato in the Bongiovanni recording), but Gencer, with her rich firm lower register, has no trouble with the tessitura. She is perhaps more restrained than Simionato, but is quite convincing throughout, especially in the final scenes. And, frankly, I like the sound of her voice better. 

In 1959 Tagliavini had been singing for more than twenty years, but is still recognizably Tagliavini. Some of the velvet may have rubbed off, but the soft tones still caress and the loud ones seem less ostentatious than in the earlier set. Clearly his concept of Werther has matured and he is much more “into” the part than he was in 1951. 

Mario Boriello is infinitely superior to the nearly anonymous Gino Orlandini. His voice, per se, is nothing remarkable, but he phrases with artistry and his diction is impeccable. In fact, it seems to me, he makes Albert, small as the role is, a three-dimensional character. The other male singers are a pretty rough bunch—which may be appropriate. Where I draw the line is at Tavolaccini's fluttery, squeaky Sophie. 

The recording is, both vocally and instrumentally, close-up and slightly unreverberant. One hears every now and again a discreet prompter. The audience is quiet. An occasional spatter of applause sounds as though about twenty people are participating in it (the Teatro Verdi is a small jewelbox of a house), though they are aroused to whoop and holler after Werther's big third-act aria. 

The “bonus” selections from The Queen of Spades consist of Lisa's first-act aria and her “suicide” scene, with Annaloro as a melodramatic Herman. 

Everything is sung in Italian. An Italian-only libretto is provided for the Massenet. There is an essay in Italian with the goldarndest English translation you'll ever encounter. Sample: “exactly one year later the touching Carlotta was written for the television: her amber voice, her real tears, and with trepidation of the fate of Leyla Gencer.” Recommended to the attention of sophisticated opera buffs. 


Recordings of Werther by Jules Massenet are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera on Record p.495; CELLETTI p.405; Opera on CD (1) p.95 (2) p.105 (3) p.119; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.61 p.104; MET p.239; PENGUIN p.207; Répertoire No.89 mars 1996 p.13; GIUDICI p.362 (2) p.634; American Record Guide May/June 1996 Vol.69 No.3 p.66; International Opera Collector Autumn 1997 No.5 p.22
This recording is reviewed in the following publications:
Opera Now - September 1994 p.52; December 1994 p.53
Fanfare - Vol.5 No.3 January/February 1982 p.129 [HF]; Vol.18 No.2 November/ December 1994 p.294:Vol.18 No.3 January/February 1995 p.198
Orpheus - März 1995 S.62
Répertoire - No.81 juin 1995 p.87

American Record Guide - November/December 1994 Vol.57 No.6 p.258 


1981 February




Yevgeni Onyegin [Live]

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro San Carlo di Napolİ

Tullio Serafin
Jolanda Gardino (Larina); Leyla Gencer (Tatyana); Oralia Dominguez (Olga); Gino Bechi (Evgenij Onegin); Giuseppe Compora (Lensky); Italo Tajo (Gremin); Piero de Palma (Triquet); Michele Lauro, maestro del coro
House of Opera – 2 CDs


Recordings of Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky are surveyed in the following publications:
Opera February 1979 p.121, March 1979 p.219; Opera on Record p.520; CELLETTI p.150; Opera on CD (1) p.90 (2) p.100 (3) p.112; L'Avant Scène Opéra No.43 p.112, mise à jour mai 2001 p.2; MET p.551; MET(VIDEO) p.332; PENGUIN p.450; BBC Music Magazine August 1994 p.48; Opera on Video p.155;GIUDICI p.122 (2) p.200; American Record Guide May/June 2003 Vol.66 No.3 pp.54-63

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


... This honor fell to Leyla Gencer, the twentieth century's most ardent champion, 
among singers, of the operas of Donizetti. Gencer ...

Opera News – Un Ballo in Maschera
... November 28, 1961, this performance (previously available on Myto and now reissued) features two big-name stars in the leading roles — Leyla Gencer and Carol ...


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