Renata Scotto shows an amazing flexibility and control. Her Caro nome is one to be heard many times. She reaches a high D and decrescendo's to an incredible ppp. I felt the aria drug a little in tempo, but the gorgeous sound more than made up for it. As Rigoletto, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has the vocal power demanded by the score. Too often he sounded as if he was delivering a recital of Leider. A smooth velvet sound was his mark throughout. In his duets with Gilda, this payed off handsomely. Even in his dealings with the courtiers after Gilda's abduction he showed us a rarely seen Dietrich blustery side.
Despite its moronic libretto, the opera was an enormous success at its premiere in Naples in 1822, and even Bellini wrote nice things about the second-act septet. Donizetti mixes buffo and serious characters, as well as Neapolitan dialect (there are no recitatives; numbers are separated by spoken dialogue) with “pure” Italian, and the absurd plot is (sort of) held together by the clever Argilla, who under the guise of telling fortunes gains entry to people’s feelings as well as to every area of the castle. Is it a masterpiece? Even close? No, but there are niceties galore–rhythmic arias and ensembles, good (if typical) characterizations, and good tunes.
The Misteri d'Elx (Mystery Play of Elche) is a religious drama performed annually in the southeastern Spanish city of Elche (or Elx in the local dialect) since medieval times. The play reenacts the Assumption of Mary in a two-act musical production, entirely sung, that takes place over two successive days in August. The Mystery Play is a major European tourist attraction, and UNESCO in 2001 named it a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. With typical boldness, Jordi Savall and La Capella Reial de Catalunya plunge into a slice of the musical past that is rewarding yet raises complex issues in performance. Here, however, the group is not resurrecting a half-buried tradition but rather dealing with one that is living.
Violist Luigi Alberto Bianchi specializes in performances on historical instruments–that is, instruments that have historical value, not period instruments. In these recordings from 1973 and 1980, he plays the Gran Viola by Amati (1595), stolen in Milan a few weeks after the second recording session released on this CD, and never found since. Because of the unusual size and length of the fingerboard, this unique instrument was especially difficult to play, but also extremely rewarding in terms of tonal beauty and depth of sonority.