PERFORMER: Cesare Siepi, Mario del Monaco, Renata TebaldiAccademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, Chorus & Orchestra/Tullio Serafin
CATALOGUE NO: 440 054-2 ADD (1959)Reissue
Arrigo Boito’s only completed opera is arguably the most ambitious written by an Italian composer between William Tell (1829) and Verdi’s Otello (1887). Certainly, with its courageous assaults on some of Goethe’s most theatrically demanding scenes from Faust (Parts I and II) – the Prologue and Epilogue in Heaven, the Classical Walpurgisnacht – it aspires to, and occasionally matches, the visionary poetic ideals of the original poem. In a performance such as this – the finest, I contend, ever recorded – it seems a far finer work than its critics generally allow.
Its success depends, however, on a conductor who really believes in it, such as the magnificent, still wickedly underrated Serafin, who, bar Toscanini and Bernstein in the versions of the Prologue only, has no peer in this music. Not only does he inspire the provincial Santa Cecilia forces to surpass themselves in the discipline and delicacy of their playing, but the three leading soloists (Tebaldi, Del Monaco and Siepi) also seem to be under the spell of the maestro. Did Del Monaco ever sing more musically for Decca than in this recording? Tebaldi, who could be somewhat indomitable even in pathetic roles, ravishes the ear and touches the heart as Margherita: her ‘L’altra notte’ is among the most thrilling accounts of this famous aria on disc and her soft singing in the duet with Del Monaco, ‘Lontana, lontana, lontana’, is one of the most beautiful examples of the Italian lirico spinto’s art I know on record. Like his colleagues, Siepi is the most idiomatic interpreter of the title role in any complete recording, capturing the sinister and ironic qualities of the part to perfection. Hugh Canning