Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bianca e Falliero is Rossini's 30th opera; he composed it for La Scala in 1819. At the time, he was experimenting with form at his home theaters in Naples, and Bianca is a return to specific "numbers" operas, in which the order of arias, cabalettas, etc., if not pre-determined, at least is no surprise. Rossiniphiles will notice that part of the overture was first used in Ermione and that Bianca's final rondo is "Tanti affetti" from La donna del lago, which had premiered in Naples the previous month. The opera is filled with plenty of rhythmically catchy spells, good tunes, showy arias, duets, and ensembles, and real drama. A quartet near the opera's close is a masterpiece, and one of Falliero's scenes and a soprano-tenor
duet are as fine as anything Rossini ever wrote. If you sense that you've heard it all before, it's only in the best way--the outline may be familiar, but it's the outline of a master and it's filled in with vivid colors.
This is the third recording of the work. One, with Marilyn Horne, Katia Ricciarelli, and Chris Merritt, live from Pesaro in 1986 (released in 1994 on the Cetra/Ricordi label and no longer available) was pretty good, presenting Horne at her best, Merritt near his peak after a rocky start, and Ricciarelli somewhat raw and raspy, but at times deeply moving. A second, released in the last couple of years by Opera Rara, is superb and in far better sound. Jennifer Larmore takes the trouser role of Falliero and dazzles with her sense of style, virtuosity, and passion. Majella Cullagh is a vulnerable, lovely Bianca even if she never quite presents a full-blooded heroine, and Barry Banks spits out endless runs and high notes as Contareno, while David Parry leads with excitement.
So is another needed? Technically, no, but this new one, recorded live at the Pesaro festival in August, 2005, has much to recommend it, especially in its in-the-moment dramatic feel. Daniela Barcellona is a wonderful singer, and she makes the role of Falliero her own. Horne, of course, had traffic-stopping bottom notes and thrilling fiorature, and Larmore has great dignity, proficiency, and a big, handsome tone. Barcellona's voice is a more mellow instrument, and she almost never pushes her chest voice in a manner that can seem vulgar. But she articulates every word and note and above all is sympathetic. Her singing is not as bone-chillingly accurate as her two rival mezzos, but she's a joy to listen to nonetheless.
I can't help thinking that Maria Bayo is a soubrette who tries really hard. Her voice has a nice tang to it, her fiorature is good if not perfect, and she shades her words well and can sound deliciously sad. But she strikes me as an "-ina" (Desp-, Ad-, Nor-, etc.) in opera seria heroine's clothing: she seems to be pushing her sound to make it grander, and the result can be imprecise pitch and squeaky top notes. An exception is her confrontation with Contareno in the second act: it has real teeth.
Tenor Francesco Meli, a voice new to me, is exhilarating, even with such competition. There's a real bite to his tone, his diction is impeccable, even in fast, furious passages, he has no fear of heights, and he even possesses the somewhat unfair low notes written by Rossini. It's a terrific performance. As Capellio, the man Contareno wants Bianca to marry, bass Carlo Lepore exhibits a slightly woolly tone, but his coloratura is spot-on and he gets what he can out of the role. The remainder of the cast is excellent, and the Prague and Galician forces on hand here under Renato Palumbo's thrilling, torn-from-the-headlines leadership do themselves proud. If you own either of the other recordings, I guess you have enough Bianca e Falliero, but there's something so alive about this set that I can't help recommending it highly even to sit beside another.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Bianca e Falliero by Gioachino Rossini
Daniela Barcellona (Mezzo Soprano),
Maria Bayo (Soprano)
Prague Chamber Chorus,
Galicia Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1819; Italy
Date of Recording: 08/2005
Venue: Live Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, Italy
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