Notes and Editorial Reviews
Little did I know when in February I wrote about the Chandos version of this opera (ABR1019), based on an Adelaide Festival production, that an all-star recording, long needed, was so close at hand. That Australian version—John Culshaw's last production—had admirably clear recording as well as crisp orchestral playing, but it was seriously flawed in the singing. That alone would put the new CBS issue with its exceptionally strong trio of soloists into a different category, but the conducting of Lorin Maazel too transforms what I have always thought of as a piece too shortwinded dramatically, seriously lacking in detail of plot and characterization. Maazel with his incisive manner, which yet allows more rubato and more expressiveness than in
some of his earlier Puccini recordings for CBS, makes one think of that shortwindedness as economy, a refreshing directness in telling the bald story (parallel with Giselle) of the girl who dies of love and as a spirit in the Black Forest clasps back her faithless (if repentant) lover in death. Here in other words, as Puccini's first operatic essay (in its final revision) is a piece which encapsulates a whole love affair within an hour, concentrating only on bare essentials.
Admirable as the orchestral ensemble was in the Chandos version, the playing of the National Philharmonic here is far subtler with the sharp syncopations characteristic of the piece (particularly in the cross-rhythms of the dances of the spirits, "La tregenda") punched home with much more bite. Maazel is excellent too in drawing out the individuality of the soloists without allowing self-indulgent phrasing of the kind which consistently marred the Australian performance. In Adelaide the soloists tried to make up for their vocal shortcomings by adopting an exaggeratedly grand manner, and the ease and assurance of Scotto, Domingo and Nucci here, as well as their vocal richness, transforms each Puccinian melody. The tunes still often sound more like Mascagni than genuine Puccini, but in this performance at least I find they catch readily in the mind, above all the love duet theme of the first scene which returns, suitably elaborated, at the beginning of the final duet when the spirit of Anna, the heroine, has declared that she is no longer love but revenge.
Though Scotto's voice as usual these days tends to spread at the top of the stave, this is one of the richest and warmest performances I have heard from her for some time, while Domingo as Roberto, rich and firm, manages to bring out the attractive anticipations of Des Grieux's music in Manon Lescaut. Leo Nucci as the hero's father avoids false melodrama in the set-piece aria of Act 2 immediately after the central symphonic interlude, with characteristic tone rather like Cappuccilli's. And if all this was not commendation enough, there is a delightful vignette from Tito Gobbi resonantly speaking the verses (omitted from the Chandos version) which come as a melodrama over the Prelude to Act 2 and then immediately before "La tregenda". The recording, not so sharply detailed as the Australian one, is yet far more spaciously atmospheric, with the chorus—the Ambrosians in excellent, incisive form—far more convincingly placed, not least in the eerie off-stage passages. I now want to see Le villi given on stage in a performance of comparable quality.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [5/1981]
Works on This Recording
Le Villi by Giacomo Puccini
Leo Nucci (Baritone),
Placido Domingo (Tenor),
Tito Gobbi (Baritone),
Renata Scotto (Soprano)
Ambrosian Opera Chorus,
National Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1884; Italy
Date of Recording: 06/1979
Venue: Henry Wood Hall, London
Length: 64 Minutes 2 Secs.
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