Saturday, April 23, 2011

Vincenzo Bellini - Il Pirata - Montserrat Caballé, Ruggero Raimondi, Gavazzeni (1971, EMI)







Andrew Porter, reviewing this for GRAMOPHONE in 1971, wrote of it as "a set that must be acquired both by voice-lovers and (not that the two terms are necessarily exclusive) by musiclovers". All three points can be reiterated, though some caveats might be added. First, the parenthesis. It is good to see that the offensive term 'canary-fancier' is dropping out of usage, where in the 1970s it still might have been applied in reference to the appeal of such an opera as this. Then the attraction to 'voice-lovers', that is to lovers of singing, which in turn means the application of the singing-voice to musical texts: the recording helped to convince listeners, 20 years ago, that these so-called bel canto operas could find modern singers to make a performance possible, and that modern timesVincenzo Bellini could also throw up a prima donna worthy of the tradition we understand to have flourished in the nineteenth century. The third point concerns the music itself. As AP mentioned, there is a good deal of Rossini in it, not surprisingly so, as six of Rossini's operas were performed at La Scala in the season of 1827 when 11 pirata had its premiere. There are also passages of considerable beauty and power that are entirely characteristic of their composer: the duets of Imogene with Gualtiero ("Pietosa il padre") and with Ernesto ("Tu m'apristi"), the trio "Cedo al destin orribile" and the final scene, which goes under the generic title 'mad', are all excellent examples.

The caveats to some extent concern our appreciation of the score. Though AP (this time in the insert-notes, rather than in his review) wrote that "nothing is carelessly composed", I think it has to be conceded that (bar-by-bar) some weak repetitions, symmetrical fill-ins, complacent harmonies, tonic-dominant codas and so forth necessarily modify the admiration aroused by the 26-year-old composer's work. Vocally, too, the undoubted distinction of the performance needs some further qualifying. Caballê is in many respects at the height of her powers. Yet even by this time her singing has acquired a characteristic which, though I cannot recall having seen it remarked upon, nevertheless is surely a pervasive flaw. Just what the technical name for it would be I do not know, but I will call it a glottal punctuation of the tone, frequently occurring on consonants, as in the word "tempesta" shortly after Imogene's entrance. It is a habit of production that I once thought an acceptable, even an impressive, part of 'the grand manner', but it now seems to me the sort of thing we would consider ludicrous if a singer in our own native language were to indulge in it. Among the men, Raimondi is indeed impressive in the opening scene, but Cappuccilli, steady and solid as he is, lacks lustre both of timbre and temperament, and Bernabe Marti, coping heroically with his challenging role, produces a rather throaty tone and sings rarely below a forte.

This now gets the fault-finding out of balance. To restore perspective, let me repeat that the welcome given to the original applies just as well to its reissue, that the opera is a vigorous and often beautiful piece of writing, that Caballe is at her finest and Gavazzeni an inspired conductor.

Performer:  Giuseppe Baratti,  Bernabé Marti,  Montserrat Caballé,  Flora Raffanelli,  Ruggero Raimondi, Piero Cappuccilli
Conductor:  Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra Rome,  Italian Radio Chorus Rome


flac, scans

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