Notes and Editorial Reviews
his is, by my possibly-correct count, the 17th recording (including “pirates” and DVDs) of Donizetti’s 1833 Lucrezia Borgia, but only the fourth commercial, “approved” recording to be released on CD. Montserrat Caballé made history—and became an overnight sensation—in 1965 when she stepped in at the last moment for Marilyn Horne at Carnegie Hall, and she recorded the role the following year for RCA with Shirley Verrett, Alfredo Kraus, and Ezio Flagello. In 1977 Joan Sutherland, alongside Marilyn Horne and Giacomo Aragall, recorded it for Decca, and Edita Gruberova starred in a 2010 set on Nightingale. Along the way there were six other Sutherlands, the original Carnegie Hall Caballé, and a Leyla Gencer/José Carreras,
along with two Renée Flemings. (I’ve left out the video versions in this accounting and in the comparisons below.) Oddly, the first commercial set, from 1966, remains the most persuasive, but this new one, live from Ancona in 2010 and starring Mariella Devia, can give it a run for its money.
In the title role, Devia, now in her 60s, sounds a decade younger. She has been a coloratura who never left her fach, never leaned on the voice to make it seem bigger, and only recently has begun to use chest voice—and even then, very sparingly. Her “biggest” role probably has been Marguerite or Violetta, although she will sing Norma in 2013. She excelled as Lakmé, Lucia, et al, eventually adding the three Donizetti Queens. This wisely-managed career has left her voice, at 64, with no strain, no wobble, no rawness, no shortness of breath. As Lucrezia she lacks the gravitas and cruelty of Gencer and the power of Caballé (Sutherland is surprisingly good in such a dramatic role, but she’s not a first choice and Fleming is out of her league), but given her natural resources, her pointed diction, impeccable timing, and agility, Devia is splendid. (Gruberova’s performance is peculiarly off.)
Oddly, she eschews cadential high notes (even the D-flat at the close of the Prologue that both Caballé and Kraus take), saving them, apparently, for a blazing, perfect E-flat at the opera’s close. Her legato in “Com’e bello” is stunning, and late in the opera, as Gennaro is dying, she’s immensely moving. Throughout, she adds embellishments to the vocal line I’ve never heard before: they are all in keeping with Donizetti’s line and very impressive. A grand performance.
Giuseppe Filanoti is a fine Gennaro, even up against such cruel competition as Kraus, Carreras, and the gorgeous-voiced, under-recorded Aragall. His youthful, bright sound is precisely right for the part, and he sings with taste and feeling, lingering around the highish tessitura without strain. Alex Esposito is somewhat too light for the villainous Alfonso, but his singing cannot be faulted. Marianna Pizzolato is a perfectly acceptable Orsini, but she is not memorable. The ensemble singers are fine, and the ensembles are flawlessly kept in line by conductor Marco Guidarini, who has a wonderful sense of bel canto line as well. The orchestra and chorus, performing live at two concert performances in February 2010, are very good. As mentioned above, Caballé, Verrett, and Kraus are best-in-show, but this new set gives great pleasure and can be recommended without qualification. Sonics are excellent and the set comes with two booklets: one contains a complete Italian-English libretto and a second has notes and biographies.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Lucrezia Borgia by Gaetano Donizetti
Carlo Giacchetta (Tenor),
Marianna Pizzolato (Mezzo Soprano),
Giuseppe Filianoti (Tenor),
Mariella Devia (Soprano),
Alex Esposito (Bass),
Stefano Rinaldi Miliani (Bass),
Gregory Bonfatti (Tenor)
Marchigiana Philharmonic Orchestra,
Marchigiana Vincenzo Bellini Lyric Chorus
Written: 1833; Italy
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