Le Nozze di Figaro Glyndebourne 1962
From 1960 on, all operas performed at Glyndebourne were recorded live. The more-than-valuable archive began to be polished off and transferred to CDs in 2008.
It was no coincidence that it was precisely Figaro’s Wedding that inaugurated the new series: after all, that opera gave the go-ahead to the new festival in 1934, which is now among the most prestigious in the whole world.
photo © Houston Rogers
Gabriel Bacquier does not immediately associate you with Almaviva, and the Contessa is not the role you think of in connection with Leyla Gencer, but they both sing beautifully, with a great sense of nuance. The rest of the cast is also fantastic, headed by Mirella Freni (Susanna), then still at the beginning of her career, and the very young Edith Mathis as the ideal soprano-Cherubino. (GFOCD 001-62))
Elisir d’Amore Glyndebourne 1962
Adina marked Mirella Freni’s international breakthrough. Understandable, when you hear how beautifully she gives shape to the role: charmingly and wittily she lets her beautiful lyrical young girl soprano blossom and her height is radiant.
Luigi Alva’s velvety timbre and perfect coloratura technique made him a Mozart and Rossini tenor who was much in demand at the time, and Donizetti also fits him like a glove. His ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ may sound slightly less sweet-voiced than Tagliavini’s or Schipa’s, but his interpretation of the character of Nemorino is formidable.
Sesto Bruscantini is easily one of the best Dulcamaras in history and Enzo Sordello a very masculine Belcore.
Mirella Freni made her debut as Mimì at the Metropolitan Opera in September 1965. Her Rodolfo was another debutant: the (how unfair!) nowadays almost completely forgotten Italian tenor Gianni Raimondi. For me, he is preferable to Pavarotti. I find his voice more pleasant and elegant. And he could act!
Freni’s and Raimondi’s renditions were captured on a wonderful film, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by Herbert von Karajan. An absolute must (DG 0476709).
“O Soave Fanciulla” with Freni and Raimondi:
Many opera lovers will probably agree on one thing: one of the best Bohèmes ever is the 1973 version recorded by Decca under von Karajan. With Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti.
Rodolfo has always been Pavarotti’s calling card. For years he was considered the best interpreter of the role – his fantastic legato, the smoothness and naturalness with whih he sang the high notes are truly exemplary. Incidentally, as befitted a typical Italian tenor of the time, he sang the end of “O soave fanciulla” at the same height as the soprano. Not prescribed, but it was tradition!
Freni was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Mimi’s in history. Tender and fragile, with her heartbreaking pianissimi and legato arches she managed to move even the greatest cynics to tears.
Von Karajan conducted theatrical and passionate way, with ample attention to the sonic beauty of the score. As the Germans would say “das gab’s nur einmal.”
In 2008 we celebrated not only Puccini’s 150th birthday, but also von Karajan’s 100th. Moreover, it was 35 years since the famed conductor recorded La Bohème: a cause for celebration! And lo and behold – Decca has released the opera in a limited deluxe edition (Decca 4780254). On the bonus CD, Mirella Freni talks, among other things, about her relationship with von Karajan and about singing Puccini roles. It is really fascinating.
SIMON BOCCANEGRA 1977
In 1971, Claudio Abbado conducted a magisterial and now legendary performance of Boccanegra at La Scala. It was directed by Giorgio Strehler and the beautiful sets were designed by Ezio Frigerio. In 1976, the production was shown at the ROH in Covent Garden. Unfortunately, no official (there are ‘pirates’ in circulation) video of it was made, but the full cast did fortunately go into the studio, and thus the ultimate ‘Simone’ was recorded in 1977 (DG 4497522).
Abbado treats the score with such love and such reverence as if it were the greatest masterpiece of all time, and under his hands it really does transform into a masterpiece without parallel. Such tension, and with all those different nuances! It is so, so beautiful, it will make you cry.
The casting, too, is the best ever. Piero Cappuccilli (Simon) and Nicolai Ghiaurov (Fiesco) are evenly matched. Both in their enmity and reconciliation, they are deeply human and always convincing, and in their final duet at the end of the opera, their voices melt together in an almost supernatural symbiosis:
Before that, they had already gone through every range of feeling and mood, from grievous to hurtful, and from loving to hating. Just hear Cappuccilli’s long-held ‘Maria’ at the end of the duet with his supposedly dead and now found daughter (‘Figlia! A tal nome palpito’).
José van Dam is an exquisitely vile Paolo and Mirella Freni and Jose Carreras are an ideal love couple. The young Carreras had a voice that seems just about created for the role of Adorno: lyrical with a touch of anger, underlining Gabriele’s brashness. Freni is more than just a naive girl; even in her love for Adorno, she shows herself to be a flesh-and-blood woman
Gounod’s Faust with Plácido Doming, Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov was recorded in 1979 by EMI (now Warner) and it is easily one of the best recordings of the work. The orchestra of the Paris Opera is conducted by Georges Prêtre, one of the best conductors of French repertoire.
The cast is finger-licking gorgeous: Mirella Freni is a fragile and sensual Marguerite and Nicolai Ghiaurov a very impressive Méphistophélès. In the small role of Valentin we hear none other than Thomas Allen.
When she was sixty, Mirella Freni included Fedora in her repertoire and she gave a series of performances in Italy and Spain, finally coming to the Met in 1996. It became an enormous success. No wonder, because La Freni’s voice was extraordinary. I have never before seen her act with such intensity; it is a performance of the highest level.
Ainhoa Arteta is truly delightful as the flirtatious, spirited Olga; her performance provides the necessary comic note. As the Polish pianist, Boleslao Lazinski, the real piano virtuoso appears: Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Not only can he play the piano very well, but throughout his performance he convinces as a real primadonna, it is very entertaining to watch.
Domingo also portrays a perfect Loris: tormented and oh so charming!
The staging is conventional, with lavish, larger-than-life sets and real snow behind the stage-sized windows. It is just beautiful (DG 0732329).