Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Giaochino Rossini: La Donna del Lago

This 1970 broadcast recording issued on the budget Opera d"Oro label in 1999 is a beautiful one.  The state-owned radio and television company RAI's Turin-based orchestra conducted by Piero Bellugi performs wonderfully and with sensitivity behind the singers.

These are led by Montserrat Caballé, a Spanish soprano who was, evidently, at the peak of her powers at the time.  Her singing is, to this amateur's limited background, pure, emotive, and highly controlled.  The Italian tenor, Franco Bonisolli, has a very strong voice and an impressive range and presence.  Then there is Hungarian contralto Julia Hamari, who also performs with great flair and aplomb.  The revelation, however, for this unseasoned listener, is Caballé, whose emotional vocalizing and clarity are stunning.  The several choruses are also notable.

Rossini was better known for such operas as The Barber of Seville, William Tell, and La Cenerentola (Cinderella).  A prodigy who composed fine string sonatas as a preteen, the first of his amazing output of thirty-nine operas came when he was eighteen.  His staggering workload continued until he was thirty-seven, when he abruptly retired as a composer in 1829, when William Tell was finished.

Rossini was so skilled in composing gorgeous melodies and in developing fluid and pleasing themes that he was often compared to Mozart and La Donna del Lago, based on Sir Walter Scott's famed narrative poem, The Lady of the Lake, is filled to the brim with these.  The librettist was Andrea Leone Tottola and the opera premiered at Naples in September 1819.  Though it apparently was not well received, it did prove to have success in subsequent offerings, then went unperformed for over a century.  In the 1960s and afterward, however, La Donna del Lago, found a revival, including this acclaimed performance.

While the sources of some of the Opera d'Oro releases are of low quality in terms of fidelity, this recording is clear and clean and the sound is balanced.  For the price, this is a great bargain given the excellent sound and the tremendous performances, including Bonisolli and, especially, the astounding Caballé.

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