Recordings & Reviews ............................. [Choral Recordings]


[Choral Recording]
Stabat Mater – Rossini [Live]

Herkulessaal, Munich
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Mario Rossi conductor
Bruno Pizzi chorus master
Leyla Gencer soprano
Binaca Maria Casoni mezzo-soprano
Luigi Alva tenor
Forbes Robinson bass
Nuova Era – 1 CD 


ROSSINI Stabat Mater. • Mario Rossi, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano; Bianca Maria Casoni, mezzo-soprano; Luigi Alva, tenor; Forbes Robinson, bass; Bavarian Radio Chorus & Orchestra. • NUOVA ERA 2250 [AAD]; 59:00. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: Monaco, 1967. 

I won't speculate on how a Bavarian chorus and orchestra, an Italian conductor, and an odd assortment of soloists came to perform Rossini's Stabat Mater in Monaco on an unspecified date in 1967, but the outcome is surprisingly agreeable. Rossi eschews sanctimony and moves things along smartly, though he's perhaps too relaxed in "Sancta Mater" and "Fac ut portem." Aside from the predictable exception, the vocalists are a modest, genteel group. Casoni is straightforward and rather faceless. Alva is sweet and buoyant, a far cry from the muscular Merritt and Pavarotti. He needs a good admixture of falsetto to reach his top Db. Robinson lacks weight on bottom but sings with feeling and intelligence; he knows exactly how his music should go. Gencer is in capital voice, free and soaring on top. A few glottal grunts notwithstanding, this is lovely singing, yet there's no want of power and temperament. The chorus is competent but not flattered by the compressed, muddy sound. (The soloists, incidentally, take "Quando corpus morietur.") Even if the sonics were first-rate, however, I wouldn't rate this performance above Kertész's (London) or Scimone's (Erato) and commend it primarily to fans of Gencer.   

Messa da Requiem – Verdi [Live]


Teatro Margherita, Genoa
Orchestra e Coro del Sinfonica di Teatro Comunale di Genoa
Sir John Barbirolli conductor
Bruno Pizzi chorus master
Leyla Gencer soprano
Franca Mattiucci mezzo-soprano
David Hughes tenor
Marius Rintzler bass
Opera Depot – 1 CD 

Messa di Requiem per Bellini – Donizetti [Live]

Teatro La Fenice, Venezia
Gianandrea Gavazzeni conductor
Corrado Mirandola chorus master
Leyla Gencer soprano
Mirna Pecile mezzo-soprano
Armando Moretti tenor
Alessandro Casis bass
Eftimios Michaopoulos bass
Mondo Musica – 1 CD


DONIZETTI Belisario • Giandrea Gavazzeni, cond; Leyla Gencer (Antonina); Mima Pecite (Irene); Rina Pallini (Eudora); Umberto Grilli (Alamiro); Bruno Sebastian (Eutropio); Giuseppe Taddei (Belisario); Giovanni Antonini (Eusebio); Niccola Saccaria (Giustiniano); Augusto Veronese (Ottano); Alberto Carusi (Centurione); La Fenice O & Ch • MONDO MUSICA MFOH 10301 (2 CDs: 119:58)

DONIZETTI Messa di Requiem. PIZZETTI Introduzione all'Agamennone di Eschile • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond; Leyla Gencer (sop); Mima Pecile (mez); Armando Moretti (ten); Alessandro Cassis (bar); Eftimios Michalopoulos (bs); La Fenice O & Ch • MONDO MUSICA MFOH 10201 (2 CDs: 87:51) 

Myto lives up to its name in resuscitating a treasurable recording of Rossini's Cenerentola that allows us to revel in the special qualities of Sara (aka Zara) Dolukhanova. In the two sources I consulted, the recording variously dates from 1951 or 1953, information lacking in the summary notes provided with the set. For its age, the sound is not bad: Presumably Myto had access to either original tapes or pristine masters. if it is for Dolukhanova that one is first drawn to these discs, listeners will not be disappointed. The smoothness of her singing can still be a model today, imparting character at the same time as we marvel at her way with the coloratura. Conductor Onissim Bron has the measure of the piece, but his treatment of the text has its moments of shock. While the (then) customary cuts—and others as well—are made, Cenerentola gets an extra solo before the act I finale, a cabaletta to Malcolm's aria interpolated from Donna del Lago, but that is nothing compared to the shock in store when we get to the heroine's rondo-finale, which is parceled out between her and the tenor, negating Rossinian logic. The notes give us biographical information about soprano, tenor, and conductor, evidently forgetting that Belov had his moment as Onegin for Vishnevskaya's first recorded Tatiana. Unfortunately, Rossini's demands are not the same as Tchaikovsky's, and we hear a lot of sliding around the notes instead of cleanly articulated runs. Orfenov also has his problems dealing with Rossinian intricacies but is a far cry from the namby-pamby hero too long perpetuated as the ideal in the West. Once over the initial shock of Clorinda's first words emerging as "Nyet, nyet, nyet, nyet" instead of "No, no, no, no," it is easy to overlook this drawback in the face of characterful singing, particularly when it is the mezzo. 

Mondo Musica has been given access to the Fenice archives so that the reconstruction fund will be the beneficiary. Why, however, have they found it necessary to duplicate so much material that has already been through countless reincarnations throughout the LP and CD eras? Yes, Belisario is a product of Donizetti's maturity and worthy of study as a Verdian precursor in its treatment of father-daughter relations, but its otherwise clunky libretto shows that Cammarano, despite Lucia, still had not entirely found his way. The set is recommended only to collectors who do not already possess a copy of the performance of May 14, 1969, especially as the sound offers virtually no improvement over previous editions: Onstage movements, stagehands' conversations, and an odd occasional crackle are still present. In other respects, the performance retains its privileged status, as it is unlikely that you will hear a more representative performance from Leyla Gencer as Antonina. All the familiar elements are there, including the heavenly fil di voce, so that we are reminded of how few singers today are capable of investing themselves so totally in a performance, Nelly Miricioiu being one of the very few carrying on this tradition. Giuseppe Taddei's noble baritone in the title role is the other major attribute, leaving Mirna Pecile's tremulous, lightish mezzo Irene and Umberto Grilli's tenorino Alamiro as honorable colleagues. Once again, it is Gianandrea Gavazzeni who leads us through the work, even though he has performed various bits of surgery, though not the evisceration to which he subjected Anna Bolena; but then Belisario is considerably more concise. 

Even odder is the Donizetti-Pizzetti pairing. It is difficult to be much kinder to this performance than I was to that by Alexander Rahbari on the Discover label that I reviewed in the July 1998 issue of Fanfare. Gavazzeni leads an inflamed performance that might offer more pleasure if the sound were less murky, as if it were recorded from behind the fire curtain. And despite the conductor's lifelong advocacy and defense of Donizetti, I would be curious to know the authorization for turning the tenor's solo in the Ingemisco over to the soprano, however wonderfully Gencer sings it, or allowing her some beautifully floated high notes in the "Libera Me." The other soloists are credible, but it is clear that Gencer is the star. Why, however, we are asked to purchase a double album with only 87 minutes of music to hear the Donizetti Requiem (66 minutes) and Ildebrando Pizzetti's "Introduction to Aeschylus's Agamemnon" (21 minutes) is something that defies logic. The Pizzetti starts out with brass fanfares and an impressive slow introduction, but then rapidly deteriorates into Hollywood epic background music, replete with a wordless chorus that moans and groans as well.

Messa di Requiem per Bellini – Donizetti [Live]

Sala Verdi, Milano
Orchestra e Coro della RAI [Radio Broadcast]
Gianandrea Gavazzeni conductor
Mino Bordignon chorus master

Leyla Gencer soprano
Mirna Pecile mezzo-soprano
Armando Moretti tenor
Alessandro Casis bass
Agostino Ferrin bass
Opera Depot – 1 CD


Donizetti’s Excellent “Requiem”

DONIZETTI: Messa de Requiem, “To the Memory of Vincenzo Bellini” 

Leyla Gencer, sop; Mirna Pecile, mezzo-soprano; Ennio Carlo Buoso, ten; Alessandro Cassis, bar; Agostino Ferrin, bs; Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro d Milano della RAI; Gianadrea  Gavazzeni, cond / Archipel ARPCD0475 (live: Milan, March 26, 1971)

I was poking around on the Naxos website for reviewers, trying to see what recordings were available with soprano Leyla Gencer, when I tripped across this release. At first, I thought it was a misprint: a Requiem Mass by Donizetti? Surely, they were wrong. But they weren’t.

Where they were wrong, however, was in the identification of the tenor, listing one Armando Moretti instead of Ennio Buoso; the elimination of the fifth soloist, bass Agostino Ferrin, who sings on two numbers; and the year of the performance, giving 1971 instead of 1961. I found the correct listing of the soloists and the correct date on a posting of this recording on YouTube, and checked it out. Ennio Buoso does have one other posting on YouTube, singing “Vengo à stringerti, dolce mia vita,” and by making a careful comparison I determined that his was, indeed, the tenor voice on this recording, thus I also accepted the later date. Another reason I believed the later date was that soprano Leyla Gencer’s voice has here that unusual flutter which she only picked up around 1965 or so. If you listen to Gencer’s earlier recordings, such as the video of Il Trovatore with Mario del Monaco or the 1960 Don Giovanni which I reviewed earlier on this blog, you will discover that she did not have that flutter in the late 1950s/early ‘60s. But Archipel is a small Italian label of indefinite origin with only three major outlets, Naxos, Presto Classical and Berkshire Record Outlet, and I’m only too familiar with how often the Italians get things wrong.

I doubt that many opera lovers will know (I sure didn’t!) that Gaetano Donizetti wrote more than 100 sacred works, most of them unpublished, although the majority of these are short occasional works and academic exercises penned when he was being tutored by Simone Mayr. After 1824 he wrote only a few such works, a Miserere for voices and orchestra, an Ave Maria, and this Requiem. It was the last of his sacred pieces, begun in 1835 in memory of the death of Vincenzo Bellini, his friend and rival in the opera houses. It was finished by December, when it was to be performed, but for some unknown reason the plans for it fell through. It was finally premiered in 1870, 22 years after Donizetti’s death, in a performance heavily criticized by the Italian press for being weak. And that was the end of its performance history in Italy until this performance was given a century and one year later.

The work is often claimed to be “operatic,” but the vocal writing bears only a small resemblance to Donizetti’s operas. The choral and orchestral passages are richly detailed and quite dramatic, including some rigorous counterpoint in the Kyrie and Lacrimosa. Another interesting aspect is that the soprano and mezzo get very little to sing in this work except in a few ensemble passages; most of the solo vocal writing is given to the tenor and first bass (baritone), with a second, lower bass voice added in two selections, the “Tuba mirum” and the “Confutatis maledictus.” Because Gavazzeni hired the famous soprano Gencer for this performance, and she wanted a solo to sing, he gave her the tenor’s “Ingemisco,” a much slower, quieter and more lyrical piece than the one by Verdi. (This may also have been conditioned by the fact that the tenor in this performance, Ennio Carlo Buoso, was a “crossover” artist of his time, like Kenneth MacKellar in the U.K. and Sergio Franchi in the U.S.)

Although this Requiem is not quite on the same exalted level as those of Cherubini, which preceded it, or Verdi, which followed it (and which was clearly influenced by Donizetti’s, particularly in the “Dies irae,” it shares with the Requiems of those two composers the fact that it is the greatest work that those three composers wrote. The Cherubini Requiem is also little known, mostly because it has no solo singers but only a chorus, yet as Toscanini’s recording proved it is a masterpiece, and every opera lover worth his or her salt knows that the Verdi Requiem is superb from start to finish.

Indeed, as you go through this work you will continually discover outstanding passages. Although much of the music is lyrical, none of it is banal. Donizetti avoids giving the singers high notes or even melodic lines that resemble arias. Moreover, one can tell that this piece was really written from the heart; at times, it is deeply moving.

There are two other recordings of this Requiem commercially available, a live performance on Dynamic and a studio recording from 1988 on Orfeo. The first of these has a rather weak conductor and defective singers and adds a one minute and nine-second prelude played by an organ that I found superfluous. The second of these features some outstanding singers, particularly soprano Cheryl Studer and first bass Jan Hendrik Rootering, but this edition adds much music that Donizetti meant to be cut from the finished work and the conducting is so lackluster as to make an “Adagio” of the entire piece, robbing it of energy and vitality. That leaves only this one as really good representative of the Requiem. Gavazzeni conducts it almost with the energy of a Cantelli or Toscanini; both the orchestra and chorus give a much better account of themselves than was usual for Italian forces of that era. Occasionally, one of the solo voices seems to be a little off mic: Ferrin is just barely audible in the “Confutatis maledictus,” which may be what gave Archipel the idea that there was only one bass in the performance.

Regardless of the caveats mentioned earlier, this is a piece, and a performance, that all music lovers should hear. It will give you an entirely different perspective on the composer of such tripe as the “Queen Trilogy” operas.

© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

Links to OPERA NEWS Archives related with Leyla Gencer's Recordings

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... In the title parts, Leyla Gencer and Renato Cioni, sensitive and colorful, are more
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... Leyla Gencer as the put-upon heroine is vibrant and touching in her finest
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... Joan Sutherland and Leyla Gencer, who made something of its dull title role, perhaps
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... remastering of a 1967 Maggio Musicale Stuarda, while thoroughly accomplished under
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