Notes and Editorial Reviews
Where Verdian interpretation is concerned, this set is a considerable improvement on the recent Muti/EMI Rigoletto and Decca's own Boccanegra under Solti, reviewed last month. In the first place it is, except in one minor respect, more sensibly and logically cast and, by and large, it is better conducted. Like Muti, Chailly tends to be too peremptory with the score. Tempos are consistently just a shade too fast for the good of the music or the singers he is accompanying, but he is more yielding and more loving than his Italian colleague. He is also more attendant to the spirit rather than the letter of the score. As he explains in ES's interview on page 1312, he doesn't believe that Verdi objected to unwritten high notes and altered cadenzas, and he allows his singers to indulge (?) in traditional changes (I do regret, however, that the graceful cadenza at the end of the Duke's duet with Gilda isn't employed, as it is on the Muti set).
I don't find that Chailly brings out the pathos, or indeed the tragic overtones of the work as truly as do Giulini (DG) or Serafin on the old mono EMI. I suppose his is a young man's view of the piece as against an older man's, and certainly the vigour and extreme originality of the score is realized (how extraordinary much of it must have sounded to its first audiences). He is as caring over orchestral detail as Muti, and has the advantage of one of Decca's most grateful recordings.
Like his conductor, Leo Nucci doesn't always adumbrate the pathos of his part. Those plangent accents that haunt the mind in Gobbi's reading (Serafin) and to a lesser extent in those of Cappuccilli (Giulini) and Milnes (Bonynge) are absent, but happily Nucci is here closer to the form he showed in the Karajan/DG Ballo (reviewed in November) than the rougher singing he offered in the Decca Boccanegra. His is a firmly sung, solid but not very individual account of the part. More and more Nucci reminds me of a Decca baritone of the past, Aldo Protti, who also recorded this role for the company in the 1950s—safe and idiomatic but with little individuality of style or tone. Still, he comes closer to the soul of the character than Zancanaro (Muti).
June Anderson is a more secure and pleasing Gilda than Dessi (Muti), and her tone is almost as full and lyrical. "Caro nome" is as accurate and poised as Sutherland's (Bonynge—also Decca) and the words are a deal clearer, but, as at Covent Garden a year or so ago, I sense very little of Gilda's overwhelming infatuation or her inherent vulnerability, elements so essential to the characterization and found with Callas (Serafin) and Cotrubas (Giulini), even if neither of these exceptionally gifted sopranos quite manages Anderson's ease of execution.
No, the best reason for acquiring this set is for Pavarotti's delightfully airy and confident Duke of Mantua. Surpassing even his own breezy account for Bonynge, the tireless tenor adds little touches of character and nuances of tone to bring the Duke to life. Arguably Pavarotti makes him almost too engaging, but that's a fault on the right side and he leaves La Scala (Muti) standing in terms of vocal elan. He is as good as his word to ES that he is "freer and more natural in expression with the role now". I would question only his decision to go for the various unwritten high notes, which now have to be 'managed' in an uncomfortable way. His three arias are all taken a shade faster than usual, possibly at his request. That helps to suggest the restless, super-ardent lover Pavarotti proposes to us.
Two highly experienced singers are heard as Sparafucile and Maddalena. Ghiaurov, in splendid voice, is a wily, subtle assassin, who knows his way round this important part as Burchuladze (Muti) certainly does not. In the Decca booklet this curious note appears: "Our thanks are due to Miss Verrett who agreed to make a cameo appearance in the role of Maddalena as a special favour to Mr Pavarotti". Well, I'm not sure she has done him or us a favour, as she sounds in poor voice and frankly much too mature for the role. The other minor roles are all taken competently by Italians. And that points to a significant change for the better that has come over opera recording in the past decade. Ten years ago practically all Italian operas were recorded here with British singers in small parts, British choruses and orchestras. Now most are made in Italy with Italian companies. Here the Bologna opera forces again excel themselves and prove what good work Chailly has done with them. As a sound, up-todate version, typical of what you might hear in the theatre today, this version is recommendable. But it misses that extra, indefinable element of inspiration found in the Serafin and Giulini versions, which still remain, to use the vogue word, unassailable.
-- Gramophone [1/1990]
reviewing the original release of this recording, Decca 425864