MAESTRO OF MAESTROS

mark gibson

MAESTRO OF MAESTROS
This past Sunday Kimberly and I attended a charming performance of Donizetti’s DON PASQUALE in Corbett Auditorium. It was the final showcase of the OPERA BOOT CAMP, brainchild of soprano and CCM Voice Faculty member, Amy Johnson and maestro Mark Gibson, Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music.

The singers, around two dozen young hopefuls with voices full of promise of things yet to come, still in the gestation period as singing actors, courageously took on a full length opera, sang it in Italian, by memory, performed with commitment and musicality in the ever elusive Bel Canto style, approaching their stage work in a no-nonsense manner with a minimum of props, no set to speak of, basic lighting and very clear direction from veteran baritone Vernon Hartman who acquitted himself with flying colors (complete with terrific low F’s) in the central basso buffo role of the prickly old bachelor in love with a cute young thing a fraction his age.

Oh and they had under four weeks from a to z to get this show on its feet, along with a double bill of Milhaud and Offenbach, in French, s’il vous plaît, and a program of scenes thrown in for good measure to give all the kids in the program a shot at performing.

But then there was the orchestra and the maestros in the making to lead it. And here’s where our friend Mark Gibson comes into the picture. In fact, he’s been in the orchestral picture for four decades: a maestro to maestros for many years.

Among Gibson’s former pupils, now successful conductors themselves, there’s Xian Zhang (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra… Nederlandse Orkest- en Ensemble-Academie… Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano…BBC National Orchestra of Wales…), Olivier Ochanine (Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Sun Symphony Orchestra of Hanoi, Vietnam and former Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra), and Annunziata Tomaro (New Mexico Philharmonic).

I have been attending concerts of the CCM Philharmonia and CCM Opera and reviewing Mark Gibson’s work in any number of works, ranging from opera in concert (Verdi’s Paris Don Carlos…Strauss’ Salome…) to staged opera to Mahler symphonies, for eight years…In all idioms and styles and periods, Gibson is a conductor to be reckoned with: meticulous, impassioned, insightful, revelatory. But it is Mark Gibson, mentor of future orchestral players and conductors that we want to salute here.

The orchestra for Don Pasquale was led by half a dozen young men and women, each taking three numbers or so each in a musical relay course. All excellent, pliant and alert to the singers on stage, Gibson’s wards outdid themselves. The players themselves were faultless, obviously rehearsed within an inch of their lives.

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Before the concert I reminded Maestro Gibson of a promise made to me by him quite a while back. It was his Oxford University Press book, The Beat Stops Here – Lessons on and off the Podium for Today’s Conductor. He went to his office, came back upstairs, and dedicated it to me. The book now sits in a place of honor on a bookstand on my desk, and I can’t wait to dive into it.

Hats off to Maestro of Maestros Mark Gibson, who has dedicated the best part of his life to grooming his young pupils for a career in music.

Rafael de Acha

BOOKS ABOUT CUBA (Reposted from March 23, 2016)

 

BOOKS ABOUT CUBA (Reposted from March 23, 2016)

With the opening up of diplomatic relations and the ensuing easing up on travel restrictions, more and more of my friends have been asking about what to read about Cuba.

I have accumulated quite a few books on the subject, so here you have a quick review of several that I have read and enjoyed, all of them pictorial and most of them about the architecture and interior design of my native country

CUBA THIS MOMENT EXACTLY SO – Lorne Resnick – Insight Editions (San Rafael, CA, 2015)

250 full-color plates evidence the author’s love affair with the island Columbus called “the most beautiful land that human eyes ever beheld.”
But make no mistake, the author does not make any concessions to tourist sensibilities, showing instead the natural beauty of the land side by side with the raw reality of urban decay in a five-centuries old city – the second oldest in the hemisphere – that has not seen much TLC in the past fifty years.

Resnick’s eye manages to extract beauty with his camera lens from the most unlikely places: a young gymnast working out in a derelict patio seems to levitate right out of the print. An old lady reaches out from her balcony to loan an egg to a neighbor, so vivid is the image that one has to keep from reaching out to help her accomplish her goal. Ballerinas and boxers, bikers and cabaret dancers keep company with kids learning to box and old faces of every possible race.

This is a visual feast of a book that now sits prominently near my desk.

GREAT HOUSES OF HAVANA – Hermes Mallea – Moncelli Press (Random House), 2011
Subtitled, A Century of Cuban Style this book more than vindicates the wrong impression that many visitors to the Cuban capital often receive, when given only a partial view of the city once called, The Paris of the Caribbean.

Mallea’s 25-chapter, 272 page book is a visual repository of the finest examples of Cuban architecture, accompanied by a detailed, exhaustively-researched narrative.
The overall impression the book makes is not one of nostalgic recollection of times gone by, but rather a record of the earnest effort on the part of the historic preservation community in Cuba to preserve these homes as part of the national patrimony.

Some of the homes have been repurposed as embassies and consulates, some are now museums, and others are still occupied as residences by the same families who lived in them before 1959.

The architectural styles range from the 18th century Episcopal Palace, now the residence and offices of the Archbishop of Havana to the stunning art deco mansions in the El Vedado neighborhood.

HAVANA – Michael Eastman – Prestel Publishing (NYC), 2011

In contrast with other books about Havana’s architecture, Eastman’s concentrates on the faded glory of the city’s streetscape and interiors.
With an incisive eye, the author focuses on the beauty still to be seen in rapidly crumbling homes and buildings.

This is a sad and yet beautiful book to ponder one photograph at a time.

CUBA: 400 YEARS OF ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE – Rachel Carley (text) and Andrea Brizzi (photography) – Cartago Publishing (London), 1997

Carley and Brizzi take the reader on a journey through the island, traveling back in time to the remaining buildings from the 17th century still standing in Havana and in the interior of Cuba.

Written and published in the mid-1990’s, the book devotes its final chapter to Cuban post 1959 architecture, in an attempt to validate the efforts of Cuban architects at work during the difficult “Special Period” of Cuba’s recent history.

Overall, this is a beautifully illustrated book accompanied by a well-informed text.

HAVANA FOREVER: A Pictorial and Cultural History of an Unforgettable City – Kenneth Treister, Felipe J. Prestramo and Raul B. Garcia – University Press of Florida, 2009

Giving equal importance to text and illustrations, this is a part-scholarly, part-impassioned valentine to the city that stole the hearts of the three authors of this book, along with those of so many of us.

Not only public buildings and private residences but parks, cinemas, boulevards and monuments are visually documented and discussed in depth, with the accompaniment of memorabilia, magazine illustrations, modern and vintage photographs, in fourteen chapters that provide fascinating insights into the history of the city of Havana.

CUBAN ELEGANCE – Michael Connors – Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2004

In 185 full-color illustrations accompanied by a scholarly but eminently entertaining narrative, the author provides an exhaustive history of Cuban interior design from its Colonial beginnings to the eye-popping mid-century design successes and excesses of the Havana nouveau riche mansions.

LIVING IN CUBA – Simon McBride and Alexandra Black – St. Martin’s Press, NYC. 1998.

This pictorial book is both a visual and textual salute to the resourcefulness of people who manage to refurbish their living environments and make do with the minimum of available materials and a surplus of imagination.

Mc Bride’s and Black’s work provides a fascinating tour through the dwellings of a people with an eye for color and a love of life, even when living in the poorest of circumstances.

~~~

Hands-On Saints

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As an up-front disclaimer I will state that Holly Iglesias is a long term friend with whom I recently reconnected on Facebook. It was only then that I learned of her writing. The Holly Iglesias I knew twenty-some years ago was an aspiring and very gifted actress whom I directed in Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit and in a play by A.R. Gurney.

Then the years rolled by and it was just today that Hands-On Saints, a collection of poems by Holly Iglesias that I ordered from Amazon.com reached my mailbox. It could be misleading to describe this book of poetry as an easy read, but the brevity of this collection and the pungent clarity of Holly’s writing made the reading of Hands-On Saints very easy and very pleasurable.

The writing evidences a formidable intellect and a wealth of historical and literary references at the author’s command. Figures from Greek mythology stumble onto the pages of this book and keep at times uneasy company with the names of Catholic saints that one would find on the flip side of one of those old wall calendars that bore one page for each day of the year. On those pages one would find the names of saints whose birth or martyrdom we mortals were to either celebrate or more likely soberly observe.

However I’m almost certain that Saint Teeter and Saint Bob of Miami are made up names, evidencing the author’s very special brand of humor.

It takes one lapsed Catholic to quickly spot another Catholic, lapsed or practicing. I will make no assumptions, though on the basis of what I read on the surface of this muscular writing and between its lines I perceive the soul of a formidable writer grappling with her faith and struggling to reconcile her inner world with the outside one.

There is in this writing again and again the pull and push of flesh versus soul, no better illustrated than in luxuriant alliterations like “Post-millennial traffic thick as flies before the plagues of pus and profit plough through.” Pitted against the bluntness of such language there are moments of ecstatic spirituality: “We tumble through space on a path of light – released – pitched like mercy into a bliss of constellation.”

This is the first of three books of poetry I sent for, all three by Holly Iglesias. Can’t wait to read the other two.

Hands on Saints is published by Quale Press (www.quale.com)

Rafael de Acha
http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

MAY I ASK: WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?

 

MAY I ASK: WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?

The 18/19 brochure for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, titled Create your… just arrived. Coincidentally a post on a friend’s blog recently listed several female conductors, some well established, some up and coming.

I set out to compare my friend’s list in one hand with the CSO line up for next season on the other. I was stunned to see that the CSO had but only one female conductor, Karina Canellakis leading a pair of the 40 concerts in the upcoming season.

Check my math: I think that is 5% of the potentially available CSO gigs for gals. And I think that’s not good enough. Sorry.

The Swedish National Orchestra, similar in size and budget to our top ones (and note that I include Cincinnati’s there) has 47 concerts this season. Of those, 8 are led by female conductors. Check my math again: that is 17% of the Swedish orchestra’s concerts.

Can we not do better than that or at least as well as the Swedes?

The Gothenburg ensemble is welcoming this season Barbara Hannigan, Simone Young, Han-Na Chang, and Joanna Carneiro. There are other female conductors, some Caucasian, some of color who would do the CSO musically proud and help diversify the traditional parade of WMAM’s (white, middle-aged maestros) who stand year after year on the Queen City podium.

Here is a short list of women conductors.

Giselle Ben-Dor (Israel). Xian Zhang (PRC). Odaline de la Martinez (Cuba), Susanna Mälkki (Finland), Emmanuelle Haim (France). Sian Edwards (UK). Jane Glover (USA). JoAnn Falletta (USA). Alondra de la Parra (Mexico). Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (Lithuania).

Ms. Mälkki is a superb cellist. How about programming the Haydn or the Boccherini cello concerto and have her solo and conduct one of them. Emmanuelle Haim is a Baroque specialist and a fine harpsichordist. How about programming the rarely performed (at least in these parts) Concert champêtre for harpsichord of Francis Poulenc, pairing it to selections from Les Indes Galantes by Rameau and flying Ms. Haim to Cincinnati for an appearance with our fabulous orchestra in a future season?

The possibilities are endless.

American Symphony Orchestras still remain, by and large, uniformly and conservatively white, largely male in personnel and leadership, and numbingly repetitive in repertoire. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has taken some positive strides to improve matters. Roughly one third of its orchestra personnel is made up of female musicians. With each new season one can see Louis Langrée’s impact on the choice of repertoire – this upcoming season featuring at least eight 21st century compositions, several in their world premieres.

Now all we need to do is send out to some of these female conductors’ agents and artist reps emails with dates detailing when the French maestro will not be at the helm in Cincinnati and offer a contract to any one or more of those women conductors before other orchestras snap them up.

With all of the above in place we will have finally entered the 21st century.

Rafael de Acha

http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

 

Cincinnati Opera 2019 Summer Festival

 

Cincinnati Opera Announces 2019 Summer Festival
THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
Sung in Italian with projected English supertitles
Soprano Susanna Phillips will have her company debut in the role of the Countess. Janai Brugger will make her company debut as Susanna. Canadian-Tunisian mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb, makes her company debut in the pants role of Cherubino.
Two CCM alumni will be featured in leading roles: Baritone Joseph Lattanzi sings the role of Count Almaviva. Bass-baritone Christian Pursell will sing the role of Figaro.

Also in the 2020 line up is the World Premiere of BLIND INJUSTICE, the first commission from Cincinnati Opera’s , CO Next: Diverse Voices. A collaboration with the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) and the Young Professionals Choral Collective (YPCC), the work is composed by Scott Davenport Richards with a libretto by David Cote. Stage direction and dramaturgy is by CCM’s Robin Guarino.

ROMEO AND JULIET follows.
The production from Minnesota Opera, set in Shakespeare’s time, will feature Nicole Cabell as Juliet and Canadian tenor Frédéric Antoun as Romeo

ARIADNE AUF NAXOS will play next
Soprano Twyla Robinson will be singing the dual role of Ariadne/Prima Donna. Kyle van Schoonhoven will make his company debut as Bacchus. Mezzo-soprano Olivia Vote will sing the role of the Composer in her company debut.

THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS
Talise Trevigne will make her company debut as Bess. Bass Morris Robinson, leads the cast as Porgy. Soprano Janai Brugger will sing the role of Clara. Crown will be portrayed by baritone Nmon Ford, and Sporting Life will be played by tenor Frederick Ballentine. Soprano Indra Thomas sings the role of Serena in her company debut.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE UNDERSTOOD

malet 6How many operas based on Shakespeare plays are there? No need to rack your brains. There are the hugely successful ones: Verdi’s trio of Macbeth, Otello, Falstaff.

Just look at those three and see how Verdi had to excise big chunks of Shakespearean blank verse in order to tell in music the core story of each of those plays and keep the attention of his 19th century audiences from dissipating.

Macbeth’s rise to power is clearly at the center of Verdi’s opera. The witches are there, but neither the Porter nor the children and their murderers are left. In Verdi’s Otello we lose the entire Venetian act from Shakespeare’s tragedy, and in Falstaff we get some but not all of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor.

Necessity dictates that a composer thinking of adapting Hamlet, which uncut can clock in at close to five hours running time, be very selective about what to keep and what to lose.

Brett Dean has composed an operatic Hamlet now released by Opus Arte as a DVD. Dean and his librettist Matthew Jocelyn have kept about one half of the play. Dean’s opera is Hamlet’s story as seen through the Prince’s eyes. Unfortunately that does not quite solve the problem of how to set that play to music. With Fortimbras gone, the political backdrop of the story goes too and the story is left half-told.

We see from the onset the odd behavior of Hamlet, played by tenor Allan Clayton as a sloppy and overweight fellow, casually friendly one minute, somber and ill-mannered the next.

Everyone else in this Hamlet seen through the eyes of Hamlet is whatever Hamlet makes of them. Claudius (Rodney Gilfry) comes off as a pretentious bully, the Old King is played by the once sonorous John Tomlinson as an eccentric grandfather fond of parading around in his underwear. Tomlinson also plays both the Player King and the Gravedigger injecting histrionics when his once glorious voice no longer can do much.

Barbara Hannigan looking a bit long in the tooth to be convincing as the virginal Ophelia also plays a good portion of the opera in her underwear. Sarah Connolly is Gertrude, Kim Begley is Polonius and Jacques Imbrailo is Horatio, but it is only the latter that makes a memorable impression with his honest acting.

In Opera these days it is touch and go to find one that succeeds in delivering music that singers can sing and audiences can enjoy. After listening to this Hamlet I could not come up with one moment where Shakespeare’s words and Brett Dean’s aggressively dissonant music coalesced. The libretto sounds like a random catch-all collection of Shakespearean one-liners sorely lacking one single moment where an entire speech from the play is set to music that compels one to listen.

The visual aspects of the production are erratic. The costuming ranges mostly from tuxedos for the men and cocktail dresses for the ladies, elegant one moment, off the rack the next. The action is confined to a single set: a large dining room which partially morphs into the graveyard where Ophelia is to be buried, but the scene ends up looking as if the poor girl is being interred next to the kitchen. The lighting is uniformly gloomy, making everyone look yellow or pasty white.

So much of the text is buried by the music that I found myself straining to follow what was being sung, which made one suspect that the composer was not all that interested in giving preference to the words of the Bard over his own music. That, in turn, made one all the more appreciative of the care that composers that set Shakespeare to music have taken in the past.

So for now I am staying with Verdi, Rossini, Gounod and Thomas until something better comes along.

Rafael de Acha
http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.

Mozartian Apotheosis

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A CD titled Apotheosis vol. 2 has just arrived. It features the Alexander String Quartet and pianist Joyce Yang playing two of Mozart’s piano quartets: K. 478 and K. 493. Ostensibly mature works from the composer’s Vienna years both these works are considered two of Mozart’s greatest works for the string quartet and piano combination.

Prior to the K. 478in G minor and the K.493, in E flat major Mozart had written six piano quintets which he dedicated to Haydn. During that time Mozart was happily writing in a traditional style closer in spirit to that of his older friend, still authentically his but adhering to the do’s and don’ts of Classical composition.

But then times changed. The Austrians were busy building up their army and keeping an eye on the Ottomans. No longer able to make a living exclusively from concertizing, Mozart the virtuoso keyboard artist and in-demand composer became Mozart the entrepreneur. He organized concerts here and there throughout Vienna. He wrote feverishly, convinced that amateurs would snap up his compositions no sooner they were published.

Not easy, but difficult to augment one’s earnings peddling off compositions way beyond the capabilities of the average Austrian hausfrau with musical inclinations. Mozart became more defiantly sui generis than ever before. In the G minor quintet he springs one surprise after another, creating a musical landscape filled with unpredictable twists and turns, requiring professionals with a cool mind and a warm heart.  The Eb K.493 is a  dauntingly complex business that can reduce technically unfit players to tears.

The Alexander String Quartet and the superlative Joyce Yang, are five musicians who can play this music with an even mix of gravitas and flair, elegance and abandon. That occurs every minute of the total running time of roughly one hour in this CD 2018 from Foghorn Classics (Foghorn Classics.com) just released this year, impeccably annotated by Paul Yarborough and superbly engineered by Robert Shumaker and David Frazier.

Let us salute the four members of the Alexander String Quartet: Zakarias Grafilo, first violin; Frederik Lifsitz, second violin; Paul Yarborough, viola; Sandy Wilson, cello, and hope that they and Ms. Yang will return soon with more treasures.

Rafael de Acha
http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

Taste of Basque at Turner Farm

After my recent mini-review of BITE I got so many likes and shares, that I’ve decided to add to RafaelMusicNotes an occasional commentary on food. Our culinary highlight of this week was without question the Taste of Basque event at Turner Farm this Tuesday, presided over by Chef Stephanie Michalak, a charismatic woman with a terrific personality and the gift to cook and teach neophytes like us how to cook.

The Basque country has a very unique culture, language and cuisine, all three having around since way before the Romans first encountered some of my own ancestors two thousand years ago. With mountains in the North and the Bay of Biscay in the East, the cuisine of the Euskari (the term preferred by the Basques to call themselves) encompasses the best of land and sea.

Chef Michalak set up the mise en place for each one of us to choose one dish to prepare. The menu encompassed grilled lamb shops, roasted potatoes, piperrada (a kind of peppers and tomatoes concoction), calamari, trout fillet, Spanish omelet, Piquillo peppers stuffed with salt cod, baby squid, croquettes, spiced almonds, and a basque-style cheesecake. There was some Cidra to drink.

The cooking classes at Turner Farm are always followed by a dinner or lunch in the informal dining area next to their state of the art teaching kitchen. We loved the experience and will be back.

You can find out more by going to http://www.turnerfarm.org

Rafael de Acha

http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

 

 

WORDS AND MUSIC

 

Interesting how artistic ideas come around every few years. Coming of age in the Havana of the mid 1950’s I became acquainted with the works of Eugene Ionesco, whose The Bald Soprano and The Lesson were given in a double-bill in Spanish in 1958 in a tiny theatre on Galiano Street. I recall that Cuban premiere took place not long after both those plays had received their world premieres in the equally tiny Théâtre de la Huchette in Paris.

The works of Samuel Beckett came into my hands sometime later, when I was already going to college in the United States. Oh how I grappled with the seeming obtuseness of Waiting for Godot and Endgame both of which I struggled to make sense of until it dawned on me that making sense was not the intention of their terminally sad Irish author.

Earlier, the mocking Rumanian expatriate Ionesco made a little more sense by making one laugh, even though I was not completely sure of why I laughed at the desperate and futile attempts of the English family in The Bald Soprano to communicate, or the implacable teacher in The Lesson to reach his recalcitrant pupil through language.

Words failed Becket’s and Ionesco’s characters. Eureka! I had finally gotten it!

Half a century later I am encountering the musical-textual labyrinth of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia and I can safely assert that, yes, I get it. The Italian avant-garde enfant terrible of mid-century serious music is deadly serious about using a mélange of words and sounds to convey the decline and fall of human communication. When neither language alone nor music written in the same manner in which it has been written for a millennia works for him, the creative musical artist must put to work anything within reach to give his creation to the world.

Berio utilizes a mix of human voices and orchestra juxtaposing extensive quotes of Mahler, Debussy, Beethoven, text from Beckett’s The Unnameable, and words from a number of languages atop each other.

As was the case with my youthful encounters with the Absurdists my recent one with Berio’s Sinfonia led me not to question its meaning, since Berio meant nothing other than to write a piece of music, take it or leave it. That openness further led me to actually enjoy the experience, so much so that I listened to the entire composition more than a couple of times.

At the risk of contradicting myself, let me say that Berio composed the first version of Sinfonia in 1968, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That means that the composition may not be meant to signify this or that, but, it is unquestionably a cri de coeur by an Italian artist in response to a quintessentially American tragedy.

The Seattle Symphony, under the baton of Ludovic Morlot, has just released this CD containing three different compositions, recorded live on three different occasions. Berio’s Sinfonia was recorded live over two days in 2006. Pierre Boulez’ Notations I-IV for Orchestra was recorded, also over two days, in 2013. Ravel’s La Valse was recorded in 2015.

Pierre Boulez’s Notations I-IV for Orchestra has had a long shelf life, first conceived as a student work, then expanded from a piece of chamber music to a symphonic composition, then augmented by a couple of movements. It is vintage Boulez but by no means old wine in a new bottle. Intellectually rigorous, complex, impassioned, aggressively dissonant and deafeningly percussive at times, the work also contains passages laden with a profound melancholy.

Nothing much else can be written about that Maurice Ravel’s apotheosis-in-music that its composer sardonically titled La Valse than it has not already been said. Seemingly a homage to a Vienna quickly disappearing, the work is instead and past its brittle surface of tunes in ¾ time, a brutal dance on the edge of the abyss that Europe had sunk into after the Great War.

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s dedication to contemporary music is evident in the care given to the performance and recording of this CD and to the insightful liner notes that accompany it. The Seattle musicians are a force of nature, delivering virtuosic playing bar after bar, whether navigating the dense sonic minefields of Berio and Boulez, or the Gallic panache of Ravel.

Maestro Ludovic Morlot now in his eighth season in Seattle is fully in command, eliciting world class playing from his musicians. The superb Roomful of Teeth Vocal Ensemble dazzles with its off-the-wall virtuosity in the Berio.

We look forward to future releases by both the Seattle Symphony and Roomful of Teeth. This one is absolutely stunning.

Rafael de Acha

http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

FAUST IN ITALIAN

 

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It is not surprising that a hundred years ago Italian opera houses were exclusively producing French and German and Russian Opera in Italian with Italian singers for Italian audiences.

It was not until the world of Opera began to be populated with singers from many nationalities all of whom were expected to sing Gounod and Massenet and Bizet in French, Wagner and Strauss in German, and Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky in Russian that the tide turned.

But in 1920, the date of the Gramophone Company’s Italian branch recording of Gounod’s Faust, the status quo was to have its contracted singers sing exclusively in Italian.

None of the principals in this recording had a truly international career, I dare say not through any fault of theirs, but rather due to the unpredictability of European politics during the first half of the 20th century. That and the very fickle nature of the business precluded the formidable basso Fernando Autori – the Mefistofele in the recording – to move out of the Italian provinces into the big houses of Europe and America.

Similarly Giuliano Romagnoli, the Faust confined his career to second-tier houses in his native Italy. Even the Valentino, baritone Adolfo Pacini sang for nearly forty years yet never rose past the comprimario repertory, notwithstanding a stalwart lyric voice.

The ladies in the recording intermittently rise to the level of the men. The Siebel is cast with Gilda Timitz, a light soprano adequate to the task, but not particularly engaging where a sound resembling that of a post-pubescent young man is preferable in this pants role.

The Margherita (sic), Gemma Bosini is an old school lyric soprano with agility and charm, an easy top, an acidy tone, and a purposeful approach to her assignment.

But it is Autori the one who seems to have a devil of a time with his music. Even though comparisons are often odious one cannot quite forget the elegance of Journet or Plançon as Méphistophélès. Autori instead trades suaveness for stentorian pronouncements – the Invocation to the Night and the Church scene two of many – but never ever at the expense of the music.

Romagnoli is courageous when reaching for the top C in his aria and comfortable elsewhere when lyricism is required. The chorus and orchestra sound sadly ragged, as if singers and players recruited for the recording and given little rehearsal were quickly put together, with Carlo Sabajno at the helm.

In spite of our caveats, this recording (ddh27810) re-mastered in 2008 for the HISTORIC SOUND series of divine art (www.divine-art.com) will make a nice addition to the library of any serious collector of operatic rarities.

Rafael de Acha
http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com