Notes and Editorial Reviews
Led by a loyal and accomplished Rossinian in Ricciarelli and an exceptionally sure Ramey, this Gazza Ladra is the one to which listeners will inevitably turn for the foreseeable future.
According to an irate correspondent (February, page 1432) my "hatred of live recordings with all their inevitable characteristics" had "poisoned" my review of Philips's La Scala recording of the Italian version of Rossini's Guglielmo Tell. Given such an assumption, what chance has this new recording of La gazza ladra—"The thieving magpie"—recorded live during performances at last year's Rossini Festival in Pesaro? In the event, every chance. In the first place, the opera is being sung in the right language. Secondly, it would seem that the Teatro Rossini in Pesaro—rebuilt in 1816-18 and reopened, as it happens, with a production of La gazza ladra supervised by Rossini himself—is an excellent place in which to record. Like Glyndebourne, it is perhaps rather dry acoustically, but is a beautifully scaled theatre with a stage that is easier to cover than La Scala's. The theatre is, in fact, a kind of miniature La Scala, as handsome to look at as its big brother in Milan (where La gazza ladra had its prima in 1817) but with the intimacy of Glyndebourne or, say, the glorious Theatre Royal in Bristol. It would also seem that Michael Hampe's production was a relatively straightforward affair. There is a certain amount of coming and going in the secco recitatives (not by Rossini and musically unremarkable) but in the big scenes the principals are logically placed and unfussily directed, making for a recording that is cleanly miked, pleasantly immediate, and well arranged right across the stereophonic spectrum.
If there is an element of disappointment about this live theatre performance, it is some occasional lack of theatre atmosphere. The audience, whose responses are briefly registered and then faded out at the end of all the key movements, were clearly much taken with Samuel Ramey's remarkably fierce and Machiavellian portrait of the lecherous Mayor. But there is a slightly antiseptic feel about a good deal of the First Act and the start of the Second, where the prison scenes should really stir the emotions. They certainly did that at Wexford in 1959 with Marietta Adani as Ninetta and the young Janet Baker as the affectionate young peasant boy, Pippo; though in those days all the publisher Ricordi could come up with was La gazza ladra in the heavily re-ordered and reorchestrated version completed by Zandonai in 1942. In the present recording of the famous prison duet "E ben per mia memoria", Katia Ricciarelli and Bernadette Manca di Nissa are using no tear-jerking, sub-Puccinian revision, but the Urtext in Alberto Zedda's exemplary realization. So we must expect it to be a degree or so cooler.
That said, Act 2, which by Rossini's usual standards is unusually long and powerful, grows magnificently in this performance, culminating in the great Trial scene, Ninetta's march to the scaffold, and her deeply touching Andantino, "Deh tu reggi in tal momenta". Ricciarelli, the Ninetta, is a loyal and accomplished Rossinian and a regular visitor to Pesaro. Her vocal portrait of this wronged country girl may strike some as being too sophisticated. I recall an old 78rpm recording of Ninetta's cavatina sung by Lina Pagliughi that seemed to strike exactly the right note of unaffected artlessness. No need to count the spoons after this girl had left for town. Ricciarelli, by contrast, rather cossets the music and occasionally elaborates it, attempting in the process perhaps to suggest a degree of vocal ease that she does not now quite possess. As an old man, Rossini wrote variants and cadenzas for this cavatina for the soprano Giuseppina Vitali (see Appendix I/C of Ricordi's Italian-English vocal score of the Zedda edition; Milan, 1989: £24.95) but Ricciarelli appears to be using her own ornaments.
The rest of the ensemble is a good one, as is usually the case in Pesaro, surely led by an exceptionally confident Samuel Ramey playing the Mayor not as some meddling buffoon but as an extremely unpleasant rural Scarpia. William Matteuzzi, Ninetta's lover fresh from the wars, is splendidly ardent, Manca di Nissa is a rich-toned Pippo, sensitively played, and Ferruccio Furlanetto makes a strong impression as Ninetta's father, the soldier on the run from a corrupt regime and yet one more of those Rossinian father-figures trying to live out his life in politically troubled times. Still, Furlanetto doesn't get the extra aria, a newly adapted entrance aria, which Rossini provided for the singer Remorini for the 1818 Pesaro revival. Lucia, by contrast, keeps her Act 2 aria, though it was rarely performed after the Milanese prima. In this Pesaro production it has been moved forward so that it comes before the great Trial scene. This tucks it neatly away, allowing Lucia's doubts about Ninetta's guilt to register as a kind of aria del sorbetto before the onset of the chorus, quintet, and second finale.
The text, then, is close to that of the Milanese prima and is more or less complete, some understandably small and frequent cuts in the recitatives notwithstanding. The orchestral playing under Gianluigi Gelmetti is spruce and the accompaniments are generally prompt and businesslike, though Ricciarelli is occasionally indulged.
This is not the first commercial recording of La gazza ladra. Zedda's own account of the opera appeared on Fonit Cetra's Italia label some years ago (nla). But this Sony Classical version is the one to which Rossinians will inevitably turn for the foreseeable future.
-- Gramophone [10/1990]