, December 2008
In his 1993 Gramophone review, Michael Oliver said of the recording of Il Trittico from which this Il Tabarro comes ‘this is the classic Trittico, and the obvious first recommendation’. Naxos’s issuing of the opera separately enables people to pick and choose, though as yet they do not seem to have issued the other two operas from the trio.
This performance is dominated by Tito Gobbi’s bleak and pitiful Michele. Though he played a wide range of role types, Gobbi’s performances often seem to develop extra resonance when the characters are unsympathetic. He excelled in portraying nastiness in all its myriad subtleties. This means that his Michele is not very sympathetic and you rather wonder what Giorgetta saw in him. Sometimes, on-stage, singers manage to convey something of the past attraction between Giorgetta and Michele, but I didn’t think there was any of that here. Not that that is a bad thing; it just makes the opera a little bleaker.
Not that Gobbi’s performance is one-dimensional - far from it. He creates a fully rounded and believable character, someone trapped in a misery not entirely of his own making. You can sympathise with him even if you don’t like him.
The general bleakness of the performance is emphasised by Margaret Mas’s Giorgetta. Mas’s voice sounds rather mature and mezzo-ish in timbre, with a significant vibrato. It makes perfect dramatic sense for Giorgetta to be older and for Luigi to be her last chance at happiness. But I am not sure that I really want to hear Mas’s Giorgetta every day. In the more lyrical moments I longed for something a little lighter and more focused - a voice with a greater degree of loveliness of tone. Mas’s voice never really opens up so that in the big passionate moments you do not get the feeling of release that a good Puccini performance can bring.
Similarly Giacinto Prandelli’s Luigi is rather effortful and lumbering. It makes perfect dramatic sense, but does not lend the recording a feeling of beauty of tone. This is a performance which radiates dramatic commitment rather than extreme beauty of line. Again I can sympathise, but in an ideal world I would like to get a bit of both.
But almost as important as the principals is the background atmosphere which Puccini creates with the orchestra and the team of smaller roles. The casting here provides some strong character singers and one of the beauties of the set is the believable naturalness of the other characters. Miriam Pirazzini’s La Frugola makes a very strong impression. Ordinarily there would be greater contrast between her voice and Giorgetta’s, but here the two are rather close in timbre, almost as if Tullio Serafin - assuming he did the casting - is saying that Giorgetta is simply a younger version of La Frugola. This only goes to emphasise the tragic nature of Giorgetta’s plight as you listen to La Frugola and Il Talpa (Plinio Clabassi) go off dreaming about their cottage in the country.
Serafin knits all this incident into a coherent and seamless backdrop, supported by a wonderfully atmospheric performance from the Rome Opera Orchestra. There is a lot to be said for having a modern recording of this work, but Serafin and his forces come over remarkably well.
Naxos add a selection of Gobbi’s aria performances to render the set even more fascinating. His Jack Rance from La Fanciulla is another of his dark-hearted creations. But this darkness seems to spill over into his Don Giovanni and Figaro (Le nozze de Figaro). I found the Don’s serenade less than seductive in tone, though I know others will disagree, and Figaro’s ‘Non piu andrai’ came over as positively harsh at times. Surprisingly the ‘Largo al factotum’ from Rossini’s Figaro shows that Gobbi could work his magic in lighter roles.
But the final two arias revert to the darker heart of his art with arias from La forza del destino and Otello.
The CD booklet contains background notes and a detailed synopsis for Il Tabarro. For the opera arias, you are on your own.
All in all this is an essential buy. If you don’t have it already, then get it. You will probably want other more modern accounts of the work, though there are not many in the current catalogue. But for dramatic truth this one can hardly be bettered.