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Ralph V Lucano
American Record Guide, July 2009

It’s hard to believe I reviewed an EMI reissue of this classic recording years ago (Nov/Dec 1990). It just doesn’t seem that long ago, perhaps because the performance is, after all, timeless, one of the two best Boccanegras on records (the other is Abbado on DG). I might quibble that Gobbi is sometimes dry and croony, or that De los Angeles lacks some Italianate warmth and body, but I surrender quickly to their artistry nonetheless—to Gobbi’s eloquence and dramatic force and De los Angeles’s unearthly beauty of tone. Few of today’s singers could match them when they grab hold of a melody and sculpt it lovingly into shape…Christoff is his unique self: a splendid voice, implacable authority, and a few weird quirks. Walter Monachesi is an acceptable Paolo, and Santini is an effective, if not flashy, conductor…The Naxos refurbishment brings the voices closer—they have a startling “in-your-face” presence.

Robert McKechnie
MusicWeb International, May 2009

It is unusual to commence a review by reference to engineering matters. Traditionally they are either left to a final phrase or two or ignored entirely. However, a recording that was made fifty plus years ago and sound quite remarkable must mean that Mark Obert-Thorn, the Audio Restoration Engineer and Reissue Producer deserves the earliest accolade. This mono reissue is an outstanding achievement: not perfect, still the occasional ‘hissy bits’ but put up with those for the joy of listening to 1950s greats: Gobbi and Christoff in their mid-forties prime and de Los Angeles, Campora and Monachesi a decade younger.

This is stunningly good and will undoubtedly vie with the stereo 1977 Deutsche Grammophon recording (449 752–2): Cappuccilli and Ghiaurov with Freni, Carreras and Van Dam. I say that fully aware that that recording took the BBC Radio 3 Building a Library award in April 2000 and a Penguin Rosette…This recording enables us to hear Gobbi at his best. He gives a master-class in vocal characterisation carrying Boccanegra from fearless corsair inviting Fiesco to kill him, through grieving lover as he find Maria’s body, and on to adoring father and conciliatory head of state. Gobbi traverses the gamut of committed involvement from robust declamation to those comparatively few bars of intense lyricism. Del mar…(CD1 track 8), in the Prologue, positively drips with emotion in what is effectively an historical recital. Similarly in Il Doge vien…(CD1 track 17) he so builds Amelia’s confidence that it is all too easy to understand why she shares her secret that she is not in fact a Grimaldi. Conversely he is the powerful Doge who has led Genoa for some twenty-five years: so evident in the Council Chamber scene written for 1881.

He is matched in every way by the Fiesco of Boris Christoff, steeped in nobility and traditional honour—a less complex character, hating the Doge but appalled at killing him when defenceless. Christoff’s responses, first to Gobbi: Assassinarti (assassinate you); and then to Monachesi: Osi a Fiesco proporre un misfatto? (You dare to suggest a crime to me) resonate with pride, honour, authority and contempt at the suggestions. Christoff brings a deep, round, magisterial, rock-steady sound with intensity of meaning to every word. Only twice is he allowed lyricism: in the Prologue’s Il lacerato spirito (CD1 track 6) he portrays a truly wounded soul of deep colouring and beauty of tone. Later, with Gobbi, in Piango perche mi parla (CD2 track 24), in the almost overwhelming duet, he demonstrates strength of sound throughout his range and does so with unwavering focus and clarity.

Victoria de Los Angeles also brings vocal strength, beauty of line and tone with clarity of diction and theatrical involvement. Listen to her warm timbre in Vieni a mirar…(CD1 track 13). Before Campora joins her in the duet, she ends her introduction on notes which she leaves hanging in the air. Her interaction with Gobbi in the father/daughter recognition scene is full of warmth and sweet tones with stunning clarity of sound on high and with not a syllable missed.

Walter Monachesi (Paolo) is the true villain revelling in ink-deep colouring. Again we have admirable vocal acting. He uses varied dynamics for his manipulation of the crowd in the Prologue. He brings a chilling, icy tone to the addition of poison to the Doge’s carafe followed by vitriol to the succeeding interchanges with Christoff. Similarly, when he is being led to the scaffold, the meeting with Christoff affords us another opportunity to enjoy Christoff’s distinctive bass timbre when set against the similar but not so distinguished timbre of Monachesi’s slightly higher-lying tessitura.

Gabriele Adorno is an uninspiring character. Giuseppe Campora sings this role with verve and colour and with some ringing tenor highs. However, his ringing tone is not as distinctive as that of Carreras on the Deutsche Grammophon. His vocal acting is compelling. In his solo, leading up to and including Cielo, pietoso, rendila…he rouses himself to murder, recognises the folly of that and then wants a pure Amelia, failing which he rejects her; I did say that I find the character uninspiring. Campora brings off this difficult succession of emotions with conviction.

Paolo Dari, as Pietro, uses his rounded baritone to great effect. He leads the chorus into nominating Boccanegra for Doge and delivers his asides in the Council Chamber scene with enunciation that should be required listening for those embarking on a singing career.

If occasionally not sounding ‘immediate’ the chorus is mostly crisp, compelling and, where necessary, clamorous. Whilst the orchestra occasionally sounds a little thin, Gabriele Santini conducts with sensitivity and keen attention to not crowding the singers. He affords them every support with never a suggestion of competition. His tempos are slightly slower than those set by Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon but that is no disadvantage…Another excellent feature of the presentation of this recording is the large number of tracks. This enables one to pinpoint easily some specific section…The booklet does not include the libretto but contains a good synopsis for each track. There is a brief opera history and short biographies of the lead singers…Finally, do you have a recording of Gobbi, Christoff and/or de Los Angeles? If not then this is definitely for you…Go on, treat yourself: this is Gobbi, Christoff and de Los Angeles in spectacular form.

Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, March 2009

This Boccanegra was among the last of the great EMI opera recordings to be made in mono; it’s from the same time as Sawallisch’s great Capriccio. Considering that stereo was around at the time there’s an unavoidable sense of a missed opportunity when listening to this recording. It would be far more competitive today if the sound were better. If you can put this aside, however, you’re in for a treat. It remains a mystery to me why this opera is not far better known. Its 1881 revision was Verdi’s first collaboration with Boito and it produced the fantastic Great Council Scene of Act I. Verdi also revised much of the existing music to create a marvellously rich texture which ranks alongside the rest of his late masterpieces.

For much of the era after the Second World War Tito Gobbi was the Boccanegra of choice all across Europe and this recording captures his performance at its best. He is vulnerable and touching in the Prologue as he bargains with Fiesco and receives the tragic news of his lover’s death. Then his voice finds an innate nobility for the rest of the opera in his appearances as Doge. His reading carries undeniable authority and grandeur, like a granite outcrop around which all the other characters must orientate themselves…The other soloists are every bit as good as Gobbi and in some cases even more satisfying. Victoria de los Angeles is a remarkable Amelia. She sings with a rich, throaty character that one would expect from a mezzo, lending her characterisation a maturity and depth that others tend to lack. At the same time her top notes are ringing and clear, showing rare security at both ends of her range. Her excitement at her first view of Adorno in Act I and her contribution to the Trio of Act II are only two highlights from a magnificently rounded performance. As for Adorno himself, this recording makes me wonder why I had heard so little of Giuseppe Campora. His tenor carries a heroic ring to it, especially in the first scene with Amelia, but he also has the strength to ride the great ensemble in the Council Scene. He feels every inch the hero both here and in the final scene where he is invested as the new Doge. He is perhaps a little less focused in his big Act II aria where he loses a little punch. He fades a little into the background for the trio, but he is still a worthy spinto tenor. Christoff, always an arresting presence, here takes full command of the role and dominates each scene in which he appears. He is at his best during the truly titanic confrontation with Boccanegra in the final scene, and Il lacerato spirito feels like grief memorialised. Monachesi is a thoroughly nasty Paolo who responds with particular horror to the cursing in the Council Scene.

Santini is a real master at pacing and shaping Italian opera, as his many recordings testify. For a master-class in how this is done just listen to the prelude to Act I: beautifully subtle nature-painting which unfolds slowly but purposefully, flowering at just the right time before the soprano’s entry. The Rome Opera Orchestra follow him like a flock to its shepherd, and the chorus sing with gusto in the various scenes where they are required to rebel and intrigue.

All told then this is a great performance of a truly great opera…Mark Obert-Thorn is fast acquiring a reputation as the best in the business at this sort of thing and he has managed to all but eliminate any intrusive tape hiss on this recording. The opening scene in particular, with all its comings and goings and plotting, comes up with special clarity. You could nearly convince yourself that you were listening to a staged stereo version. He also seems to have stripped away most of the fug that surrounds the orchestral sound, and the opening of Act I, so subtle and filigree in its orchestration, comes up better than ever before…So well done Naxos for re-releasing and re-mastering such a great recording and cleaning it up so that it sounds better than ever. Enjoy it for a taste of a great ensemble performance the like of which we just don’t tend to get these days.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

Even among those discs described as ‘legendary’, this 1957 recording of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra holds an incomparable place. It featured two great singers, Tito Gobbi and Boris Christoff, right at the peak of their careers, and as the rivals of  Boccanegra and Fiesco, the singer vie with one another in creating the most intensely passionate performance. As Boccanegra’s daughter, Maria, Victoria de los Angeles has a quite innocent girlish quality that well suits the role, and it is most welcome to find a recording of one of the most undervalued tenors of his day, Giuseppe Campora, as her lover, Gabriele Adorno. He didn’t possess the powerful voice that became fashionable at the time, but his lyric quality is a constant pleasure. The story is one of high drama, and the conductor, Gabriele Santini, keeps things moving along at an urgent pace, though sadly around fifteen minutes of music was cut from the score. He  had with him the Rome Opera House orchestra which on its day—and this was such an occasion—was more exciting than Milan’s La Scala, while the chorus do their best in a recorded balance that is stacked against them. And here we meet the drawback of the orchestras less than satisfactory balance. Even in 1957 the engineering was no more than average for its time, an instance coming with the lack of impact from the bell at the end of the prologue—where it  is supposed to send a chill through you—though here scarcely audible. The soloists, however, are very well caught, and tends to add even more weight to Gobbi and Christoff than in reality, It is their characters which really carry the opera, and at this low price the slim-pack disc set is an unimaginable bargain.

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