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Luigi Cherubini: Ali Baba

Cherubini / Kraus / Montarsolo / Ferrin
Release Date: 02/25/2014 
Label:  Myto Records   Catalog #: 329   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHERUBINI Ali-Babà Nino Sanzogno, cond; Wladimiro Ganzarolli ( Ali Babà ); Teresa Stich-Randall ( Delia ); Alfredo Kraus ( Nadir ); Abul-Hassan ( Paolo Montarsolo ); Lorenzo Testi ( Ours-Kan ); Agostino Ferrin ( Thamar ); La Scala O & Ch Read more MYTO 00329 (2 CDs: 146:20)

Take a recording that’s out of copyright. Reissue it without any changes. Do no research, provide no liner notes; just offer the cast, date of performance, and a list of banded cuts with titles drawn from a much earlier LP release. This is the modus operandi of a number of record companies, such as Myto, so don’t come to this album expecting an informed essay on the music, or the French libretto, or an English translation, or even a synopsis.

Let’s see what we can do here, given space limitations, to remedy that a bit. Ali Babà began as Eugène Scribe’s effort to wring one final operatic success out of the famous 73-year-old composer. The librettist’s idea was to reuse a lot of material from an unproduced Cherubini work, Koukourgi , composed 40 years earlier. He should have known better. Cherubini refused to take the easy way out. He only incorporated four pieces from it into Ali Babà , and everything else was new, in an opera that combined the original tale with a story of young love thwarted but ultimately not to be denied. It became the composer’s longest opera. The 1833 premiere is believed to have run three-and-a-half hours including intermissions, and was a failure. It was taken off the boards after only five performances, and local critics were cruel. Berlioz, who liked to blame every misfortune in his life on Cherubini (literally; his autobiography repeatedly makes Cherubini the evil genius behind nearly all of his own failures, almost always without any evidence), published an anecdote in which he claimed to have repeatedly cried aloud during the first performance for a musical idea, offering more money each time, until he said he couldn’t afford to raise his stake any higher.

A more serious and honest criticism came from Mendelssohn. He complained that the opera was too full of ideas, and that these sacrificed quality for theatrical striving after the then-popular manner of Meyerbeer. Making allowances for Mendelssohn’s very conservative viewpoint, he was both thoughtful, and correct. Ali Babà is a more playful work than Cherubini had written for quite a while. He wears his learning lightly as a result, which no doubt bothered the extremely earnest Mendelssohn. But it’s there, nonetheless: the serenely floating contrapuntal lines, the seemingly quixotic shifts of harmony that make sense upon later examination, the themes that blossom out of nowhere and shift almost at once into new forms that vanish before they can be easily apprehended. In method and mood though not content, it at times recalls Verdi’s Falstaff —as in the act III trio, “Mille ducati! Ma, sul mio libro.” This would explain Mendelssohn’s “too many ideas,” and even Berlioz’s mockery, if you think back to how Falstaff was regarded before its reassessment in recent decades. The only holdover in Ali Babà from the classical tragedy Medea would appear to be the carefully expressive setting of language without regard to forms. Scribe’s libretto is full of dramatic incident and added, but sharply defined, personalities. Cherubini responds faithfully to its every inflection.

This recording was made live by Radio Italiana at the opera’s revival in 1963. Comments at the time indicated that aside from the first act, it was more slashed to ribbons than cut. Probably about a third of the original work was removed, based on timings. The performers, however, give a palpable sense of occasion. Alfredo Kraus is both sensitive and ardent, in excellent voice. The breathiness that sometimes affected Teresa Stich-Randall’s narrow, rapid vibrato is occasionally evident, but she is sensitive as ever, and (given Italian standards at these revivals) remarkably attentive to musical values. Her aria “Nadir lontata da me” is one of the highlights of the work, and a fine example of her art. Bass-baritone Wladimiro Ganzarolli sounds at times very similar here to Walter Berry with his sharply focused voice and excellent enunciation, though he stays closer to the surface of the score than the others. The chorus of thieves is ragged, but their leader, played by Lorenzo Testi, is well in character. Nino Sanzogno conducts with energy and great attention to the score, or at least what was retained of it.

RAI’s sound is actually very good, close yet more resonant than their many studio recordings. One could wish for a new, complete version of Ali Babà , but in consolation we receive a performance that’s largely worthy of the work. Recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 My introduction to Cherubini June 15, 2017 By Richard C. See All My Reviews "I've listened to opera for over 40 years and might have heard the occasional Cherubini excerpt, but recently, I heard the overture to "Ali Baba" on the radio, which set my foot going like a triphammer - not a good thing when driving. I did an internet search and found Barry Brenesal's review of this recording. Though I share his disdain for the manner in which the opera is presented (sans libretto or background information), I badly wanted to hear the entire recording, which I have now done, and I must say I was enchanted. It's light, it's bouncy and well worth the purchase price. The deduction of one star was for the lack of printed material, not for the quality of the singing. It's a great introduction to Cherubini, and like Mr. Brenesal, I recommend this recording." Report Abuse
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