ROSSINI: Il Turco in Italia
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Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Il Turco in Italia
Callas's Fiorilla is the tenth complete opera recordingshe made, the only one for EMI [Columbia/Angel] thatshe undertook of a then unknown work, and which shewould later sing at La Scala, Milan. She had sung it firstat the Eliseo, Rome in 1950, in its first revival in morethan ninety years: half-a-century ago the majority ofRossini's operas were unfamiliar and rarely if everperformed, save for Il barbiere di Siviglia andGuglielmo Tell, and an occasional L'Italiana in Algeriand La Cenerentola. Sessions took place at La Scala atthe end of August and beginning of September 1954.
The conductor Gianandrea Gavazzeni tells 'how theperformances at the Eliseo were my first encounter withCallas. She was already quite famous, but as Kundry,Isotta, Norma and Turandot. I soon learned the capacityshe had for artistic discipline ... she rose to aremarkable musical level and mastered all the technicaldifficulties. She was a revelation in opera buffo ... howstudious she was and never tired of rehearsing. Sheadapted her voice to the needs of the comic style; it wasone of her great gifts: the ability to adapt. ... The voicewas very equal in scale, with a great diversity of colourand with a binding legato. ... She had such a success.
People still speak of her Fiorilla.' This recording wasfirst published the following April, at the time the newZeffirelli production was introduced at La Scala. AsZeffirelli recalled, it was backstage a couple of yearspreviously during a rehearsal for his production of LaCenerentola that Callas came to, she was so amused,remembering her Roman success in comedy, that sheasked whether he might be interested in producing IlTurco in Italia.
One of those particularly memorable moments inmany of Callas's performances, barely suggested in thescore, comes in the duet between the ageing husband,Geronio and his flighty wife, Fiorilla: 'Per piacere allaSignora'. After timorously rebuking her for flirting withSelim, the Turk, she rounds on him. 'Ed osateminacciarmi! Maltrattarmi! Spaventarmi! ... Milasciate ... Vo' vendetta ... Via di qua. Per punirvi avervogl'io. Mille amanti ognor d'intorno far la pazza nottee giorno, divertimi in libert?â?á....' How delicious is hermock rage! The way she literally flings the words in hisface; the expressive variety she utilizes: 'Leave me!','Vengeance', 'I'll have a thousand lovers night and day,etc., etc.' It is not necessary to understand every word ofthe Italian libretto so telling is her delivery.
La Scala was the home of Il Turco in Italia; it hadhad its premi?â?¿re there in 1814. As with many operaswhen Italy was simply a geographical expression,composers were often content to cannibalise; in thosedays travelling from Milan to Naples, depending uponwhich road one took, even if they were passable and ingood condition, might involve three, perhaps fourdifferent frontiers, each with its own immigration andcustoms. After moving to Naples Rossini was content topoach several pieces from Il Turco in Italia. Forexample the duet referred to above, 'Per piacere', healso included [with the same text by Romani] in LaGazzetta a new opera he wrote for the San Carlo twoyears later. The edition of Il Turco recorded here, andused, presumably at the Eliseo, Rome and La Scala, istypical of its time, with curious cuts of varying length,only a modicum of appoggiaturas and with hardly anyembellishments. Not until comparatively recently withthe establishment at Pesaro of the Fondazione Rossinihas diligent research been undertaken. A recentrecording, taking advantage of this scholarship, is amore complete and careful version, but unfortunately itsuffers from a Fiorilla whose florid singing is full ofaspirates [audible exhalations of breath]; so obviously isher voice caught in her throat, the analogy she conjuresup is that of a turkey gobbling.
Now that Callas's recordings are coming into thepublic domain Naxos has chosen to complete thisalbum, not with recordings made higgledy-piggledy,when her voice was only a thin echo of what it had oncebeen, but those that she recorded directly aftercompleting Il Turco in Italia. Later in September 1954she journeyed to London, some 35 miles to the northwest,to Watford Town Hall, and there recorded tworecital discs. From the Coloratura Lyric Album includedhere is Rosina's Una voce poco fa from Il barbiere diSiviglia. Of all the innumerable recordings of thisclassic it ranks second only to that of Luisa Tetrazzini[1871-1940]. When it was first issued a year later, inSeptember 1955 as I recall, it created a sensation.
Although Serafin's slow tempo does not encourage anysparkling virtuosity, her florid singing is immaculate -no turkey gobbling here. Then, before the bel cantorevival was underway, she sings unwrittenembellishments unashamedly, as in Tetrazzini's day.
They can be found in the Ricordi edition of Ricci'scollection; she executes them all accurately andexpressively. At the beginning of the second verse, 'Iosono docile', so musical is her singing that her voiceseems to pre-echo the succeeding flute passage. Then,the difference between how she produces the last note atthe end of the cadenza in the first verse, a high B,wholly in head voice, from the same note at the end ofthe aria, in which she mixes middle with head voice.
Later performances survive of her singing it, but it istypical of her, none is as assured vocally or musically.
No less extraordinary is the Bell Song from Lakme,which so many coloraturas reduce to a tiresomevocalise. As she narrates the story of the bells shesupports her voice aloft in the longest-breath legato,bringing to her singing a considerable range ofexpression; each note is cleanly and clearly marked andthroughout she makes all manner of dynamic shadings.
In both verses, at the end of the phrases, 'La magicasquilletta dell'incantator' [the magic bells of theenchanter'] and 'la squilla dell'Indian incantator' ['thebells of the Indian enchanter'], which occurimmediately before Lakme imitates the bells, she seemssubtly to anticipate them by finding a matching timbreto suit them. She shows just how much more musicthere is in this aria than the average coloratura suggests.
Following World War II Nicola Rossi-Lemeni(1920-1991) was one of three important basses in Italy,with Boris Christoff and Cesare Siepi. Half Russian andborn in Istanbul, he made his debut in 1946 at La Fenicein Venice, as Varlaam in Boris Godunov. In 1947 hewent to the United States to appear with a new companyin Chicago as Timur in Turandot, and there met Callas,who was to sing the title r?â??le. It folded, however, beforeit began. In New York they auditioned with the tenorGiovanni Zenatello, then retired, who was ArtisticDirector at Verona arena. As a result in August Callasmade her Italian debut, as Gioconda, and Rossi-Lemeniwas Alvise. In 1948 he sang at La Scala Milan and theSan Carlo Naples. In 1949, again with Callas, heappeared at the Colon in Buenos Aires. In the early1950s his career took him to Covent Garden, London,San Francisco Opera, the Metropolitan New York, theParis Opera and, again with Callas, to the LyricChicago. His stage personality was impressive yet hedid not establish himself at any of these. His voice hadno ring on the tone and was not properly supported; airescaped through it like leaking gas. Although at first hesang Boris, Don Giovanni, Mephistophel?â?¿s in Faust,Boito's Mefistofele, Filippo in Don Carlo, Guardiano inLa forza del destino, Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia,Colline in La Boh?â?¿me, Ramfis in Aida, Oroveso inNorma, Giorgio in I Puritani, by the mid-1950s he wasundertaking buffo and character r?â??les: Caspar inWeber's Franco Cacciatore, Dulcamara, Selim inRossini's Il Turco in Italia, Becket in Pizzetti'sAssassino nella cattedrale and Lazaro di