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Thread: Puccini on disc - La Fanciulla del West

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    Default Puccini on disc - La Fanciulla del West

    There doesn't seem to be a thread for reviews of recordings of La fanciulla del West.

    I know the opera isn't particularly popular, but I think with three strong leads it's a great piece of theatre and I like a lot of the music. Perhaps it's Puccini beating Wagner at his own game.

    What are your favourite recordings on CD, which do you recommend?

    N.

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    Senior Member DarkAngel's Avatar
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    Have to mention this just to show cover shot of Tebaldi with the massive hair, fabulous darling..........

    Otherwise you can get the Decca studio album with A list cast, one of Tebaldi's best known roles.....

    Last edited by DarkAngel; Jun-15-2019 at 05:56.

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    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    "All of Italian opera can be heard in [Bellini's] "Ah! non creda [mirarti]."
    --Renata Scotto in "Scotto, More Than a DIva."

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    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    I go for this one. Neblett ruled in this role for a short period of time, the voice warm and feminine but with more ease on top than Tebaldi. Domingo is far preferable to Del Monaco as Johnson and Milnes makes an excellent Rance. The set won quite a few awards.

    It was based on a superb Covent Garden production, which was also filmed, though with a different Rance.

    Last edited by Tsaraslondon; Jun-15-2019 at 08:38.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Always seems somewhat of a tired opera lacking the sheer tunefulness of Puccini's greatest works. But for a listen with two great voices the old Decca version with Tebaldi and Del Monaco. Or for more modern recording the version by Mehta.

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    It's interesting that it boils down to the two studio sets with big names and excellent sound. However, there are four studio recordings and a host of live recordings. For an all round good performance with great sound I go for the Mehta, however there are a number of other sets which I couldn't be without.

    I recently listened to the first ever recording of the opera and I have to say it has its moments:

    Fanciulla.jpg

    The sound is ok although it is smudgy and there is overload in places. This was a RAI studio radio broadcast from 1950 and so the sound reflects that. All three of the singers have something to offer at some point in this recording and Gavazzi is very good throughout (there is also a superb Cetra Adriana Lecouvreur on Warner Fonit from her and a couple of other roles). Savarese and Campagnano aren't remembered today and they take time to warm into their roles, but once we get to the second act the drama heats up and the Johnson - Minnie duet is passionately sung. The tension rises with the arrival of Rance and Savarese presents a strong, menacing sheriff (although there are baritones that have sung the part with far more character). Campagnano is rather varied, excellent in act two, but weak elsewhere. The conducting makes a good case for the work without standing out as superlative.

    Whilst I enjoyed listening to this set, I don't think it essential for an opera collection.

    N.

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    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
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    Of the recordings in at least pretty good stereo that I'm aware of, Tebaldi is easily the best Minnie, Domingo easily the best Johnson. Not so crazy myself about either Del Monaco's performance with Tebaldi or Neblett's performance with Domingo. So I endorse the Capuana since the Minnie is more important than the Johnson, basically, but the Mehta is certainly a worthy contender. I'm not crazy about the Dessi myself, and I'd definitely give the Zampieri a pass.

    Steber's and Frazzoni's live recordings are very worth hearing, particularly the Frazzoni with Corelli and Gobbi, but ultimately the lush orchestration is a big part of the draw of this opera, and the muddy and boxy sound of those 50s live recordings are an impediment. There's also a very enjoyable Opera Depot release of Olivero with Basile from the mid 60s that is in pretty decent mono.
    Last edited by howlingfantods; Jun-17-2019 at 20:26.

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    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by howlingfantods View Post
    Of the recordings in at least pretty good stereo that I'm aware of, Tebaldi is easily the best Minnie, Domingo easily the best Johnson. Not so crazy myself about either Del Monaco's performance with Tebaldi or Neblett's performance with Domingo. So I endorse the Capuana since the Minnie is more important than the Johnson, basically, but the Mehta is certainly a worthy contender. I'm not crazy about the Dessi myself, and I'd definitely give the Zampieri a pass.
    Well I suppose it's a matter of taste. I think Neblett is at least Tebaldi's equal and I actually prefer her for the greater freedom she has on top. Tebaldi, as usual, is strained by the top Cs, which, as so often with her, are under the note. Like Ponselle she had a short top, and she pretty much had to pray for her top Cs. No wonder she so abhored the constantly rising concert pitch of modern orchestras.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tsaraslondon View Post
    Well I suppose it's a matter of taste. I think Neblett is at least Tebaldi's equal and I actually prefer her for the greater freedom she has on top. Tebaldi, as usual, is strained by the top Cs, which, as so often with her, are under the note. Like Ponselle she had a short top, and she pretty much had to pray for her top Cs. No wonder she so abhored the constantly rising concert pitch of modern orchestras.
    Neblett has the better Cs, but Tebaldi has the better of her in every other note of the score. Dramatically and musically on completely different levels, from my perspective.

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    I retain a strong affection for the old EMI recording with Birgit Nilsson, Joao Gibin and Andrea Mongelli, under Lovro von Matacic's direction. It's a fine performance all around, at least as well-sung and conducted as most of the competition. Whether it's for you will depend mainly on how you feel about Nilsson's stainless steel timbre. She plays a perhaps unexpectedly delicate, vulnerable Minnie, who nevertheless has the high notes of a valkyrie when she needs them - a winning combination for me. Gibin, a tenor I know only from this recording, is a lyrical Johnson who also conveys an appealing vulnerability, and the equally unfamiliar Mongelli is dark-toned, tough and commanding in a manner worthy of Tito Gobbi (he too must have been a great Scarpia). Matacic brings terrific tension and theatrical instinct to the score. I prefer this performance to the Tebaldi (problematic high notes)/Del Monaco/MacNeil, and like it as much as the Neblett/Domingo/Milnes (or maybe more...)
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jun-18-2019 at 00:03.

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    The 1961 RAI broadcast under Basile with Tebaldi, Barioni, and Guelfi is excellent. Tebaldi has more beautiful top notes here than in the studio recording. I like Barioni a lot, although this isn't my favorite recording of his voice. This has much better sound than the live recordings from the 50s (it's available commercially with better sound than in this YT clip). Frazzoni also made an RAI film with Neate that is pretty good. Overall, my preferences are for the Tebaldi/Del Monaco/MacNeil/Capuana and the live recording with Steber, who is just out of this world in this part. The former has two faults: 1) Capuana, who up till then had been doing very well, totally blew Ch'ella mi creda by taking it way too fast; 2) MacNeil's "Buona notte" is pretty boring. The latter recording has one moment out of sync at the end of act 2, and the extension to the love duet doesn't do much for me. Otherwise, it's thrilling start to finish. In contrast, the Ch'ella mi creda is at the perfect temp, and in this aria Del Monaco does some of the best dramatic singing I've ever heard. It would make an excellent project for Andrew Rose to see if he could make much with the sound.

    Dorothy Kirsten was also an outstanding Minnie.

    As for the quality of the opera, it seems to me, together with Tabarro (and followed by Rondine and Schicchi), to be his best. There's tons of melody all over the place, but it's woven into the orchestral fabric instead of constantly standing out in the voice, although there are many vocal highlights. The finale is gorgeous, and the last 20 or so minutes of the opera is Puccini's most inspired work in every respect, imo.
    Webern, interestingly enough, gave a very positive review of the score to Schoenberg, much to his own surprise.

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    Senior Member DarkAngel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vivalagentenuova View Post
    The 1961 RAI broadcast under Basile with Tebaldi, Barioni, and Guelfi is excellent. Tebaldi has more beautiful top notes here than in the studio recording. I like Barioni a lot, although this isn't my favorite recording of his voice. This has much better sound than the live recordings from the 50s (it's available commercially with better sound than in this YT clip). Frazzoni also made an RAI film with Neate that is pretty good. Overall, my preferences are for the Tebaldi/Del Monaco/MacNeil/Capuana and the live recording with Steber, who is just out of this world in this part. The former has two faults: 1) Capuana, who up till then had been doing very well, totally blew Ch'ella mi creda by taking it way too fast; 2) MacNeil's "Buona notte" is pretty boring. The latter recording has one moment out of sync at the end of act 2, and the extension to the love duet doesn't do much for me. Otherwise, it's thrilling start to finish. In contrast, the Ch'ella mi creda is at the perfect temp, and in this aria Del Monaco does some of the best dramatic singing I've ever heard. It would make an excellent project for Andrew Rose to see if he could make much with the sound.

    Dorothy Kirsten was also an outstanding Minnie.

    As for the quality of the opera, it seems to me, together with Tabarro (and followed by Rondine and Schicchi), to be his best. There's tons of melody all over the place, but it's woven into the orchestral fabric instead of constantly standing out in the voice, although there are many vocal highlights. The finale is gorgeous, and the last 20 or so minutes of the opera is Puccini's most inspired work in every respect, imo.
    Webern, interestingly enough, gave a very positive review of the score to Schoenberg, much to his own surprise.
    Will give the 54 Mitropolous with Stebber a try, also the 61 Basile with Tebaldi.....used at Amazon, checking 61 Basile now on Tidal very good sound for live




    There's also a very enjoyable Opera Depot release of Olivero with Basile from the mid 60s that is in pretty decent mono.
    Bel Canto Society also has stereo 67 Olivero which I assume will be better sound, do not have now but going back to my slogan......when you see issue by Bel Canto Society "you buy first and ask questions later"

    Last edited by DarkAngel; Jun-25-2019 at 04:53.

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    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DarkAngel View Post
    Bel Canto Society also has stereo 67 Olivero which I assume will be better sound, do not have now but going back to my slogan......when you see issue by Bel Canto Society "you buy first and ask questions later"

    I have this one and the sound is pretty good. Here are sound clips for it. Notice how they have the whole opera divided out to only six tracks of extremely different lengths (from 1:46 to 35:06).


    My Tebaldi set is Capuana. Sound is very good.
    Last edited by Fritz Kobus; Jun-25-2019 at 05:08.
    "All of Italian opera can be heard in [Bellini's] "Ah! non creda [mirarti]."
    --Renata Scotto in "Scotto, More Than a DIva."

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    Quote Originally Posted by DarkAngel View Post
    Will give the 54 Mitropolous with Stebber a try, also the 61 Basile with Tebaldi.....used at Amazon, checking 61 Basile now on Tidal very good sound for live






    Bel Canto Society also has stereo 67 Olivero which I assume will be better sound, do not have now but going back to my slogan......when you see issue by Bel Canto Society "you buy first and ask questions later"

    That 67 live Fanciulla is one of my favourites, however, it is in better sound on the OOP Myto if you can get it. My set looks like this:

    Fanciulla.jpg

    (I used to have the Bel Canto Society version and then tried it against the Myto and found the Myto much cleaner in terms of sound - as if it were a couple of generations closer to the master than the BCS.)

    N.

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    It's great to see everybody's contributions to this thread and see some of the more unfamiliar recordings (especially the live ones) being taken into consideration.

    As expected most comments compare the merits of the two main studio recordings (Capuana on Decca and Mehta on DG). Here are my thoughts on the Decca recording.

    Fanciulla.jpg

    This may be the recording with the best sound (that classic Decca warmth and richness allows us to hear Puccini's masterpiece in all its glory). I liked the singing of Tebaldi and Del Monaco and I disagree with those who find her unsuited to the role (La nonna del West!) The issue I have with this recording is that I don't get a sense of the characters and the drama in the piece. That may be because I am comparing it with the excellent live recordings (of which there are two which head the field, but also a couple of others that do the work justice). Everything is right with this recording except this one ingredient that is absolutely essential for an opera.

    N.

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