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Giacomo Puccini: Turandot

A review from Gramophone, August 1993

A long-held suspicion that the degree of correlation between enjoyment and standard of performance is really surprisingly small (cries of 'Resign!') receives support here. This was the first Turandot on LP and there are a great many things wrong with it, yet returning to it now I can't recall having enjoyed a Turandot so much in years. Philip Hope-Wallace thought little of it on first issue. This was in December, 1955, the recording then being in mono, and when he came back to it for the stereo remake in 1959 his original opinion had been fortified by the appearance in the meantime of what he considered the generally preferable EMI version, under Serafin, with Callas in the title-role. We now, with eight other recordings currently available, are not likely to welcome this as a first, second or even third choice; but, as I discovered, that does not mean that we wouldn't enjoy it.

For instance, you can take against Renata Tebaldi as Liu: "Tebaldi sings along firmly, but it is rather a stately, unconvincing Liu who emerges" (PH-W). Yet "Signore, ascolta" pleads expressively, warmed by the portamento, lightened in the 'echo' phrase and again at the octave lift of "Liu non regge piu". She does not characterize the slave-girl with a little-woman voice, partly no doubt because it is not in her own vocal character to do so, but also with the happy effect of bringing out what is most salient about Liu––which is not her fragility, but her strength. In the brief confrontation with Turandot the meeting of voices here presents the crucial paradox, that Liu, outwardly all softness, has an inner strength, while Turandot, hard and implacable as she appears to be, has an inner softness. As Turandot, Inge Borkh brings this out very well; she also sings with beautiful tone (no shrillness on top, no chest voice drifting apart from the rest, and no wobble). Del Monaco, of course, is an appallingly rigid Calaf; yet he is fine in the more heroic utterances, and there is at least the even, full-bodied production of a magnificent voice in its prime.

Orchestral sound is not so forward as in later recordings, yet its work in the creation of atmosphere seems not to suffer. The Santa Cecilia chorus is excellent. The Mandarins sing and characterize well. Erede, while not obtruding personality in any way, avoids either slackness or exaggeration. There is more going for the old set than one might suppose.

JBS

  Tilaa

Turandot: Inge Borkh
Calaf: Mario Del Monaco
Liù: Renata Tebaldi
Timur: Nicola Zaccaria
Ping: Fernando Corena
Pang: Mario Carlin
Pong: Renato Ercolani
Emperor: Gaetano Fanelli
Mandarin: Ezio Giordano

Santa Cecilia Academy Chorus
and Orchestra, Rome
Alberto Erede

Decca 433 761-2

 

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