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Rossini: The Barber of Seville / Levine, Sills, Gedda, Et Al

Release Date: 09/25/2007 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 93276   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Gioachino Rossini
Performer:  Fedora BarbieriJoseph GalianoBeverly SillsMichael Rippon,   ... 
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  John Alldis ChoirLondon Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 31 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ROSSINI The Barber of Seville James Levine, cond; Beverly Sills ( Rosina ); Nicolai Gedda ( Almaviva ); Sherrill Milnes ( Figaro ); Renato Capecchi ( Bartolo ); Ruggero Raimondi ( Don Basilio ); Fedora Barbieri ( Berta ); John Alldis Ch; London SO Read more CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 93276 (2 CDs 151:12)

Many years ago it was joked that EMI stood for “Every mistake imaginable”; a reflection of some misguided decisions. EMI continued to favor monaural recording when stereo was becoming widely accepted, even continuing to record their perennial cash cow Maria Callas in mono. Later on, not to be left in the dust over the newest sonic trend, EMI put too much faith in the acceptance of quadraphonic LPs. Move forward several decades to the transference of LPs to CDs. In the interests of reducing costs, some lengthy recordings were recklessly shortened to fit on fewer CDs. Such is the case of this 1976 recording of The Barber of Seville . When it originally appeared on CD in 1996, it was shorn of two arias. The sin of omission was perpetuated when it was re-released as part of a budget series, and continues to be in its abbreviated state in this Classics for Pleasure edition.

When originally released, this Barber was one of the most musically complete recordings. It included the act II arias “Cessa di più resistere” for tenor and “Ah, se è ver che in tal momento” for soprano. Inclusion of this material helped set this album apart from the competition. The tenor aria made an early appearance on records in the late 1950s in the Erich Leinsdorf RCA recording and has been included in most of the Barber ’s recorded over the past two decades. The soprano aria is much more of a rarity. Rossini added it to the score to appease Joséphine Mainvielle-Fordo for a Venice production in 1819. Part of the aria is derived from music he wrote for Sigismondo in 1815, a fact that has often unfairly damned the aria as being an unwanted interloper from an earlier work. In truth, there are several musical items in the original score of Barber that were lifted from or reworked from some of Rossini’s earlier operas, including La calunnia and the Overture which was previously prefixed to not one, but two of Rossini’s works. Each time this Levine/Sills/Milnes Barber appears I hope the recording will be restored to its complete form; alas, EMI continues to disappoint.

There is good news, however. The CDs sound much better than the original LPs did. The harshness has been eliminated, removing the hard edge that did not flatter the singers, especially Sills. Although recorded near the end of Sills career, and following her work with the three Donizetti queens, Sill’s voice is astonishingly flexible and retains much of the shimmer and warmth heard earlier in her career. Gedda is also nearing the end of his recording career. He is a mellower and not as vocally flashy Almaviva as many of the other tenors who have recorded the role, and his voice has lost some of the youthful bloom, but he is still a formidable and intelligent singer. Gedda presents an Almaviva that is not just a pretty voice with some high notes, but gives us a clearly defined personality, more the aristocratic Count than the youthful, amorous suitor. Sherrill Milnes is not the best Figaro on disc. He tries a bit too hard to be a charming Figaro, but still seems vocally oversized for the wily barber.

If you’ve never heard this recording in its complete version, you’re not likely to miss the 17 minutes that were chopped out. At Classics for Pleasure’s bargain price, it’s a good recording to add to your collection, especially if Beverly Sills is one of your favorite singers and you don’t mind Rosina being sung by a soprano. Other Barber ’s with soprano Rosina’s (instead of mezzos, Rossini’s original conception of the role), include recordings with Roberta Peters (RCA/BMG), Edita Gruberova (Nightingale), and Kathleen Battle (DG). The DG with Battle is my favorite. She is a charming, wily Rosina, Domingo has a wonderful time with Figaro, and the recording includes both of the arias cut from this EMI/CFP. The Nightingale features a wonderful Almaviva sung by Juan Diego Flórez, and the RCA with Peters has survived quite well for nearly 50 years. Like Sills, Peters offers copious embellishment. Sopranos Callas and de los Angeles sang Rosina in two EMI recordings from the late 1950s, but pretty much used Rossini’s original keys and intermittently jumped into the higher realms, as did mezzo Horne.

Perhaps as a tribute to the late Beverly Sills, EMI will restore this recording to its original form. I hope so. I’m happy to have this Barber on CD for the improved sound, but I still prefer the complete opera as originally issued on LPs.

FANFARE: David L. Kirk
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Works on This Recording

Il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini
Performer:  Fedora Barbieri (Mezzo Soprano), Joseph Galiano (Baritone), Beverly Sills (Soprano),
Michael Rippon (Bass), Ruggero Raimondi (Bass), Nicolai Gedda (Tenor),
Renato Capecchi (Baritone), John Constable (Harpsichord), Sherrill Milnes (Baritone)
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  John Alldis Choir,  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1816; Italy 
Venue:  All Saints' Church, Tooting, London 
Length: 151 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Language: Italian 
Notes: All Saints' Church, Tooting, London (08/1974 - 05/1975) 

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