Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Rossini: L’Italiana in Algeri from the Bad Wildbad Festival

Gioachino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
L’Italiana in Algeri
Lorenzo Regazzo - Mustafà
Ruth Gonzalez - Elvira
Elsa Giannoulidou - Zulma
Giulio Mastrototaro - Haly
Lawrence Brownlee - Lindoro
Marianna Pizzolato - Isabella
Bruno De Simone - Taddeo
Gianni Fabbrini, Harpsichord continuo
Transylvania State Philharmonic Choir, Cluj (Chorus master: Cornel Groza)
Virtuosi Brunensis (Artistic Director: Karel Mitas)
Alberto Zedda –conductor
Recorded live at the Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany 2,3 and 5 July 2008 Stereo DDD
Naxos 8.660284-5 [68:57 + 67:17]

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Nimbleness and transparency of tone are essential in Rossini, so it is gratifying that Alberto Zedda, the 82 year old conductor on this recording, still has all the energy and insight required to pull off an impressive reading. L'Italiana in Algeri, a work written when its composer was 21, requires a paradoxical mix of innocence and experience, it requires direct, unmediated expression, but it also needs a deep understanding of the operatic conventions of the day.

The combination is achieved here through the collaboration of the senior conductor and a largely youthful cast. The standard of singing is high, yet nobody really excels: this is very much an ensemble performance. It is also a concert performance, which has the advantage of appropriately placed microphones for the singers. The recording was made for German radio, and while it is not a dazzling display of audio fidelity, the sound is perfectly serviceable, if not exactly absorbing.

The singing too falls into the serviceable rather than the exceptional category. Ruth Gonzalez takes a few minutes to settle into the role of Elvira at the start of Act 1, but soon finds her pace and delivers a very attractive performance. Lorenzo Regazzo combines a richness of tone with a suppleness of phrasing as Mustafà. He struggles with some of the patter passages, although he can be forgiven when Rossini takes them into the lower bass register.

Lively woodwind and brass solos are the highlight of the orchestra's performance. Again, the concert performance serves the recording balance well, and the interplay of wind and vocal soloists is presented with clarity and excellent balance. The ensemble in the strings is sometimes a little shaky, which occasionally dulls the brilliance of some of the faster passages. They make up for it, though, in the quieter passages, where they provide an impressively secure foundation for the soloists. Curiously, Zedda does not weigh into the Rossini crescendos, he seems more intent to maintain an even dramatic texture, to take the long view
And if this is not the most dramatic reading of the opera in the catalogue, there is still plenty of drama. Despite the concert hall venue, the singers interact well, and the many ensembles retain their fragile dramatic credibility.

As with many recent of the recent opera releases from Naxos, the value of this one is well represented by its price tag. It's good, and it is certainly an enjoyable listen, but the sound could be much better, the orchestra could be better, and the cast, serviceable as it is, would be much more impressive for the inclusion of one or two big names to bring some bravado to the main roles. On the other hand, there is a palpable sense of authenticity in every bar of this music. Respect for the score (in a new critical edition from Azio Corghi) and for its composer are everywhere apparent. That suggests the real star of this performance is its venerable conductor. Tradition matters in Rossini, and Alberto Zedda comes across as a living embodiment of the continuing Italian tradition of opera buffa.

Gavin Dixon

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