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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La gazza ladra - melodramma in two acts (1817)
Sophie Bevan (soprano) – Ninetta; Jonathan Lemalu (bass-baritone) – Fernando Villabella; Federico Sacchi (bass) – Fabrizio Vingradito; Katarina Leoson (contralto) – Lucia; Francisco Brito (tenor) – Giannetto; Kihwan Sim (bass) – Gottardo; Nicky Spence (tenor) – Isacco; Alexandra Kadurina (mezzo) – Pippo; Michael McCown (tenor) – Antonio; Iurii Samoilov (baritone) – Giorgio; Carlos Krause (bass) – District Court Judge; Thomas Charrois (tenor) – Ernesto;
Chor der Oper Frankfurt, Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester/Henrik Nánási
rec. live, April 2014, Oper Frankfurt
Synopsis in German and English enclosed
OEHMS CLASSICS OC961 [3 CDs: 71:39 + 56:45 + 46:26]

A couple of years ago I reviewed a live recording from Pesaro 2007 on the Dynamic label. While I had only good things to say about the sound and the conducting – and about the music, which to great extent is from Rossini’s top-drawer – I had qualms about much of the singing. I came down with a clear preference for the 1989 Sony set under Gelmetti, also from Pesaro.

The present set from Frankfurt 2014 is clearly competitive on sonic grounds. Oehms Classics consistently deliver excellent recordings and I need only refer to the opening drum-roll of the overture, so frighteningly realistic. Listening on headphones I crouched and thought an accident was imminent — I was on a train running at 100 mph. The orchestral tutti that followed was almost ear-shattering and I must say that rarely have I heard it played with such gusto. Nánási is on his toes also during the rest of the opera and with the excellent Frankfurt Opera Chorus in fine fettle this recording is in those respects on the same level as the Sony and the Dynamic. This implies that the deciding factor for a purchase is the solo singing.

The Dynamic set had several good actors, expressive but vocally less attractive. This is also the case here. In the lowest department Jonathan Lemalu, the New Zealand-born Samoan, is without doubt the most illustrious name in the cast-list, but his once dark, sonorous voice has frayed considerably. I noted this as long ago as when I reviewed Harnoncourt´s Porgy and Bess and he hasn’t recovered. He is expressive, the music is full of vitality, he knows that but he no longer has the vocal means to carry this over to the listener. It is sad, since he is not yet 40. The Korean Kihwan Sim, in the role of the Mayor, is another highly accomplished actor but vocally dull. As on the Dynamic recording Giannetto is one of the most successful singers. Francisco Brito has a light lyrical voice and he negotiates the high tessitura admirably. The other tenor, Isacco, sung by Nicky Spence, is also good. He can be heard to good advantage in the act I finale.

Swedish contralto Katarina Leoson is an excellent Lucia and the best of her is without doubt her aria in act III A questo seno. Alexandra Kadurina sings Pippo and his Brindisi in the first act is a fine calling-card. In the Dynamic recording Ninetta was sung by Mariola Cantarero and she was very good but her insistent vibrato marred an otherwise fine reading. Sophie Bevan amply demonstrates that she is in an altogether higher division, not least in the first act cavatina Di piacer mi balza il cor. She is technically accomplished, her coloratura is fluent and she has effortless high notes. She certainly challenges also Katia Ricciarelli on the Sony set.

My final verdict: The Frankfurt set has several good singers who more or less out-sing their competitors on the Dynamic recording. The choice between these two recordings is fairly easy and the Sony seems to have been deleted, but if you can find it, it is still a first choice. There is however a new Naxos recording in the pipeline, conducted by Rossini specialist Alberto Zedda and with expert singers like Kenneth Tarver, Bruno Praticň and Lorenzo Regazzo in the cast. If your need for a new Thieving Magpie isn’t too pressing I would advise prospective buyers to wait and see.

Göran Forsling


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