Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
Il tabarro (1913-1916)
Luigi – Johan Botha (tenor)
Michele – Wolfgang Koch (baritone)
Giorgetta – Elza van den Heever (soprano)
La Frugola – Heidi Brunner (soprano)
Il Tinca; Song Seller; Lover – Charles Reid (tenor)
Il Talpa – Janusz Monarcha (bass)
Lover – Elisabeta Marin (soprano)
Wiener Singakademie, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Bertrand de Billy
rec. live, Konzerthaus, Vienna 20 May 2010
Libretto with English and German translations enclosed
CAPRICCIO C5326 [49:59]
New recordings of Puccini’s Il tabarro don’t appear too frequently and the present one, though recorded as long as eight years ago, deserves to be welcomed, even though it hardly can be regarded as an unchallenged top contender. For me there is one that even after more than sixty years tops the list, and that is the EMI recording from 1955, conducted by Vincenzo Belezza and with Tito Gobbi as Michele. I reviewed it almost ten years ago and things haven’t changed since then.
The short opera, part of Il trittico, composed during WW1 and premiered on 14 December 1918 at the Metropolitan, is without doubt Puccini’s darkest and most merciless stage work. Bertrand de Billy and his Vienna Radio Orchestra also paint the forbidding milieu surrounding the barge on the Seine in Paris in drab colours, ominously foreboding the horrible outcome of the crime passionnel that is to unfold before our eyes. de Billy has demonstrated before that he is an outstanding Puccinian, most spectacularly in his excellent recording of La bohème with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon (review). Of course the verismo of Il tabarro is quite different from the romantic tragedy of La bohème but Puccini’s personal musical language is still utterly recognizable in both works.
The cast here is a strong one, and as always with Puccini the comprimario roles are of importance. Lyrical tenor Charles Reid appears in three roles and sings very beautifully – though distant – the song seller. He is also partnered by Elisabeta Marin as the two young lovers on the quay. Polish born bass Janusz Monarcha, since 1991 a member of the ensemble of the Vienna State Opera, is a Talpa full of character and is well matched by Heidi Brunner’s La Frugola – a little shaky at first but expressive.
But this work naturally stands or falls with the performances of the three main characters. As Luigi we hear one of the greatest tenors of later times, Johan Botha, who tragically died in cancer in September 2016, aged only 51. His big voice is strong and brilliant but also nuanced. He is wholeheartedly involved here and sings Folle di gelosia (tr. 11) with tremendous glow. This posthumous issue is a worthy tribute to his art. Giorgetta is sung by Elza van den Heever, South African born like Botha, today a regular at the Metropolitan as well as most of the other great houses. Her bright and beautiful voice is eminently well suited to the role. Wolfgang Koch, Bayreuth’s Wotan for several years, begins a little hesitant with rather wooden tone but he grows in stature as the drama unfolds and is deeply impassioned in the long duet with Giorgetta (tr. 12), rounding it off with an ominous snarling Sgualdrina! (Slut!) His following monologue (tr. 13) is also deeply felt.
I haven’t heard all the existing recordings of Il tabarro but I would unhesitatingly say that no one buying this newcomer need to regret the purchase – as long as one has the Gobbi version as well.