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Bellini: I Puritani / Verchi, Freni, Kraus, Arie, D'orazi

Bellini / Freni / Kraus / D'orazi / Arie / Verchi
Release Date: 02/25/2014 
Label:  Bongiovanni   Catalog #: 81  
Composer:  Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Rita BezziRaphäel AriéAttilio D'OraziAlfredo Kraus,   ... 
Conductor:  Nino Verchi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Modena Teatro Comunale Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BELLINI I Puritani Nino Verchi, cond; Mirella Freni ( Elvira ); Rita Bezzi ( Enrichetta ); Alfredo Kraus ( Arturo ); Attilio d’Orazi ( Riccardo ); Raffaele Arié ( Giorgio ); Teatro Comunale di Modena O & Ch BONGIOVANNI 81/82, mono (2 CDs: Read more 130:25) Live: Modena 12/26/1962

This 1962 performance of I Puritani, given in Mirella Freni’s home town of Modena, has previously been issued on Legato Classics and Opera d’Oro. I can’t say whether or not the sound quality is better on either of those issues than it is here, but as it turned out, the poor sound quality was the only disappointment in this recording.

I asked to review it because I love Freni’s early voice, sweet and lyrical yet with a nice metallic core. I expected in advance of hearing it that she wouldn’t trill (she never sang a trill any time I heard her at the Met in the 1960s) and wouldn’t sing dramatically (I never heard her sing dramatically until the late 1970s), but that the performance would be clean and reasonably musical in fairly decent radio sound. I was wrong on almost all counts. Everyone sings cleanly except Kraus, who hangs on to his high notes longer than the score indicates. (I suppose he felt that, since this was Italy and tenor high notes were something of a fetish back then, he had to compete with the Italians in this.) The big surprise to me, however, was the consistently high dramatic level of this performance, even from Freni. Granted, she’s not a ball of fire here—that wouldn’t be part of her performance standard until the late 1970s or early 1980s—but she sings affectingly and with good attention to words. Even more surprisingly, she shows a light trill in “Son vergin vezzosa” and sings the coloratura runs quite well, albeit a little slowly. Verchi keeps everything at a high dramatic level, almost as if he, like Toscanini before him, was sick and tired of the “ bel canto B.S.” that gripped Italy in the late 19th century and didn’t seem to want to let go. Yes, he relaxes the tempo sufficiently to allow expression, but not musical abuse, in Riccardo’s “Ah, per sempre” and Giorgio’s “Cinta di fiori,” yet in both arias, and their cabalettas, the focus is on a straightforward, dramatic reading of the score, at least as dramatic as you can make Puritani which, alas, is not as dramatic as Norma.

I remembered Raffaele Arié as a good bass but not a particularly rich or deep one, and he sounds his usual self here. A pity, this, because the original Giorgio of the famed “ Puritani quartet” in the 19th century, Luigi Lablache, had a voice like rolling thunder … but what Italian bass of the 1960s sang any deeper than Arié? I don’t know of any. Attilio d’Orazi, whose name I vaguely recall from the old days, turns out to be quite a fine baritone, his bright, pointed voice dead set on dramatic interpretation. Despite the extended high notes, Kraus also sings quite well for this period in his career, when his voice was often naggingly bright (he, too, improved vocally in the 1970s, the nagging, tinny sound of his high notes mellowing into a more rounded sound). But as good as everyone is, the listening experience is severely marred by the sonics, which are surprisingly dull and muffled, as if the microphones were covered with a blanket. I doubt that this was an in-house tape; it’s far too poor for that. I suspect, rather, an off-the-air recording by some amateur using a home tape recorder that has been cleaned up for surface noise but not re-equalized for optimum brightness. This works, ironically, in Kraus’s favor, since it covers his high notes and minimizes their over-brilliance, but everyone else—and especially the orchestra and chorus—sound as if they’re exploding inside a small, boxy room (imagine Toscanini’s Studio 8-H in the early years, before they “sweetened” the sound). I found that by turning up the treble all the way on my amplifier I got a much more realistic sound throughout the performance, although this brightening also revealed some excessive static crackle during Freni’s “Son vergin vezzosa.” I can live with that.

No libretto, of course; this is yet another bare-bones budget reissue. If you like Bellini but never cared much for I Puritani, and can live with the odd sound quality, I recommend it.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

I puritani by Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Rita Bezzi (Mezzo Soprano), Raphäel Arié (Bass), Attilio D'Orazi (Baritone),
Alfredo Kraus (Tenor), Mirella Freni (Soprano), Bruno Cioni (Bass),
Augusto Pedroni (Tenor)
Conductor:  Nino Verchi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Modena Teatro Comunale Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1835; Italy 
Date of Recording:   
Venue:  Live  Teatro Comunale, Modena, Italy 
Language: Italian 

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