Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a seminal score, and the Act 2 finale is quite simply one of the best sustained ensemble passages in Italian opera.
The new Poliuto is older in its origins than the Latham-König one on Nuova Era taken from performances given at Rome in 1988 and reviewed last year. That had certain textual advantages, most notably the inclusion of Poliuto's solo "Fu macchiato" following the recitative "Veleno e l'aura" in Act 2, where for the first time the hero's character has some musical life. In other respects this version, recorded in the Vienna Konzerthaus in 1986, is distinctly preferable. Even in textual matters, such as the inclusion of the fine trio for Poliuto, Paolina and Nearco, it can offer reasonable competition.
The recording is also said to be live, though apart from cheers and applause at the end of acts, one would not know it. The Rome recording was altogether too live, with clatter and chatter, comings and goings and various other customary and tiresome signs of life. Recorded sound was an updated version of the kind of thing older collectors probably remember from the so-called "Golden Age of Opera" series on the 'private' EJS label. That is to say, it was sometimes startlingly vivid and sometimes frustratingly remote. The singers of the Rome performances gained some respect but, as recorded, rarely gave pleasure. In short, the Nuova Era issue was welcome for want of a better, and now a better has come.
The sound is clear and well-balanced, orchestral and choral work have some refinement and the soloists vary from adequate to distinguished; the best is Ricciarelli. Memories of Elizabeth Connell in the Nuova Era recording caused quite unnecessary alarm and despondency; Ricciarelli softens the role, turns it inward, imparts an anxious tenderness. Notes that are loud and high are fewer than remembered. Passages such as the Act 1 aria ("Di quai soayi lagrime") and "Ah! fuggi da morte" in the Prison scene become exceptionally beautiful. The baritone and bass, too, are remarkably good, Juan Pons and the noteworthy Laszlo Polgar both singing with finely concentrated tone and plenty of authority. As for Carreras (this was before his illness), the performance is interesting principally as it shows, still more clearly than other recordings did, the direction his career was taking. His recent Eleazar in La juive shows him still pursuing this, with broad passage-notes, the heroic forte varied with a separate head-voice for piano, a tendency to lose quality when the higher notes are under pressure. Characterization seems not to go much beyond a generalized sincerity, but that may also be a limitation of the role itself: I have never quite understood why tenors have found it so attractive.
On the other hand, it becomes ever more easy to see why the opera survives. Despite some banalities, it's a seminal score: Verdi, for instance, must have known it and had it working inside him from (at least) Il trovatore to Aida. There are many fine things in it, and the Act 2 finale is quite simply one of the best sustained ensemble passages in Italian opera.
-- Gramophone [3/1990]