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Giacomo Puccini: La Fanciulla del West

A review from Gramophone, January 1989

Recorded in 1958, this vintage Decca issue brings an astonishing example of early stereo engineering, now even more sharply focused in its beauties thanks to this digital transfer to Compact Disc. On two CDs instead of the original three LPs with the acts uninterrupted by breaks (Act 1 on the first disc, Acts 2 and 3 on the second), with a perforrnance more beautiful than any more recent account of this opera, it makes an outstanding issue in Decca's newly revived Grand Opera series on mid-price CD.

Capuana directs an expansive performance, but you have only to hear the haunting song of the roving minstrel, Jake Wallace, right at the start, "Che farrano i vecchi miei", as sung here by Giorgio Tozzi, to realize the unique atmospheric beauty of this version, with the off-stage voice as precisely placed as those on-stage. I remember an American critic comparing the sound of the Gramophone Award-winning DG version conducted by Zubin Mehta unfavourably with this, and he was right. Forceful as the Mehta performance is, the subtleties of the score are brought out even more by Capuana's reading, at once more spacious and more delicate.

The Decca producer and engineers (uncredited on this reissue) appreciated ahead of their time what extra dimensions stereo could provide, and the final scene also remains a model of recording production. After Dick Johnson has sung his aria "Ch'ella mi creda", (del Monaco lusty but not coarse), Minnie's arrival, Brunnhilde-like, on her horse, outdoes any stage production I have ever seen, and the final farewells, in which the miners sing "Che farrano i vecchi miei" in alternate phrases with Minnie's and Dick's love song, is timed more lovingly than I have ever known it otherwise.

Tebaldi is in superb voice, hitting her top notes with pinging precision, Del Monaco with his rich tone was never finer, and Cornell Macneil gives Jack Rance an apt element of nobility, making him more than a Wild West Scarpia. The two CDs are given a generous number of cueing points, 22 on the first disc, 23 on the second disc, and like the other issues in the series a libretto with translation is provided, but no synopsis.

EG

  Tilaa

Minnie: Renata Tebaldi
Dick Johnson: Mario Del Monaco
Rance: Cornell MacNeil
Nick: Piero de Palma
Ashby: Silvio Maionica
Jake Wallace: Giorgio Tozzi
Billy: Dario Caselli
Wowkle: Biancamaria Casoni

Santa Cecilia Academy Chorus
and Orchestra, Rome
Franco Capuana

Decca 421 595-2

 

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