Earlier this year I reviewed another opera with the same conductor,
chorus and orchestra, Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia (see
review). I was positive then as to both playing and conducting.
there was no mention of a live recording then, there was,
as I wrote, “a generous amount of unwritten bumps and bangs” but
no applause and no other signs of an audience. Here the back
cover explicitly says “recorded live” but there are no bumps
and bangs and no applause. Presumably the live recording
has been tidied up through separate recording of final bars
and other instances of distracting noises. There are no bangs
(?) and not even a single little giggle during some of the
hilarious buffa scenes. The theatre seems quite small with
little reverberation and I would have liked more feeling
of theatre, of being there. Maestro Conti however draws lively
playing from his forces this time, too, and strikes the correct
tone right from the beginning with a well paced reading of
the overture. The opening, with the solo horn sounding almost
like the first notes of An der schönen blauen Donau,
tells us that this is open-air music – the scene is in the
Swiss mountains. After this slow introduction things speed
up and we soon hear a military theme, the 11th regiment
marching, with a side-drum enhancing the martial atmosphere.
Donizetti may sometimes have fallen back on routine writing
but there are always nice melodic turns and even thrilling
orchestration. La Figlia del Reggimento is no exception,
rather this is one of his most charming pieces. Since it
was first performed in Paris the original libretto was in
French, but was soon translated into Italian; this is the
version used here.
Compared to works like L’elisir d’amore, Lucia di Lammermoor and Don
Pasquale there are fewer well-known numbers. That said,
Tonio’s aria near the end of the first act (CD1 tr. 13) – the
one with the nine high Cs that Pavarotti recorded so memorably
at the beginning of his career – and Maria’s second act
aria (CD2 tr. 6) should be immediately recognised. There
is also a riveting trio a little later in that act (CD2
tr. 9) that shows Donizetti’s melodic genius in all its
glory. To make up for the few pure arias there are quite
a number of ensembles: duets, trios and even larger gatherings.
There are also a number of recitatives, accompanied by
a fortepiano. In a second act trio (CD2 tr. 4), to begin
with, the singing is also accompanied by the piano.
On stage in a colourful and well directed production La Figlia
del Reggimento can be a great success, provided the
soprano and tenor are good looking and have good voices.
That latter criterion is even more important in a sound
recording. The two leading singers on this recording in
the main fulfil their far from easy tasks with credit.
Maria Costanza Nocentini in the title role is technically
accomplished. After a somewhat hesitant start she grows
into the role. She has a quick, quite prominent vibrato
and the tone is rather acidulous, which makes her seem
to lack warmth. I don’t know what she sounds like in the
flesh – microphones can sometimes exaggerate certain features
in a voice – but she is scheduled to be Violetta in Stockholm’s
new Traviata, which will be premiered in January.
Then I will be able to assess her even better. On this
hearing she seems to be a good vocal actor but in the aforementioned
trio (CD2 tr. 4) she manages to produce some really nasty
off-pitch singing – intentionally of course. She has sung
in many leading European opera houses for a good decade – and
even in Japan. Born in Florence, like his soprano colleague,
tenor Giorgio Casciarri’s career has been even more far-flung,
including also the Metropolitan in New York. His is not
the most ingratiating of lyric tenor voices, even though
he can produce a mellifluous piano if he wants.
He is, like his Maria, a bit hard of tone and the voice
isn’t as easily produced as some of his present-day colleagues.
He manages this testing role quite well however, including
the notorious high Cs, but it has to be said that he gets
through it more through hard work than with the almost
casual elegance of Pavarotti. Some of the singing is strained
and not all the Cs are hit plumb in the middle. As Sergeant
Sulpizio, bass Luciano Miotto sports a rounded, sonorous
voice and he is a lively and elegant singer, quite possibly
the best in the whole cast. Eugenio Leggiadri-Gallani also
has a fine deep voice and if this production is anything
to go by, it is well provided with talented deep voices.
The young Milijana Nikolic employs her fruity mezzo to
good effect as La Marchesa.
The self-evident recommendation is still the Decca set
from the 1960s with Pavarotti and Sutherland in ravishing
form. I wonder
if it will ever be surpassed – it definitely isn’t by this
issue. Still, retailing at budget price and with almost all-Italian
forces – Nikolic being the exception – it could be an acceptable
alternative for someone wanting this opera in Italian garb.
The Decca is sung in the original French.