Eugene Onegin (in Italian)
Carteri, Zarewska, Pini; Valetti, Taddei, Ariè; Orchestra and Chorus of RAI Milan, Sanzogno. No text or translation. Bongiovanni HOC007/8
This 1953 Radio Italiana Eugene Onegin, sung in Italian, belongs to that category of performance that transcends language — and as a result to some degree style — in favor of great singing and impassioned vocal acting. Despite the opera's distinctly national musical flavor and its depiction of certain aspects of Russian life and manners, Pushkin's story of intense emotional turmoil within an intimate domestic setting, coupled with Tchaikovsky's hyper-romantic score, makes Onegin a work that adapts easily in musical and dramatic terms to an Italian operatic aesthetic; the opera was first performed at the Met, in 1920, in an Italian translation. The characters of Tatyana, Lenski and Gremin are all given numbers that correspond to those these characters might have in an Italian (or French) opera. The serenade of Monsieur Triquet at Tatiana's birthday party, much like the core melody in the aria for the Old Countess in Pique Dame, allows Tchaikovsky to indulge in Grétry-like couplets to evoke an era — and as an entertainment within the opera, sung in its original French, it transplants perfectly. Only the enigmatic title role lacks the sort of big baritone moments a Verdi might supply, but the moments Onegin does have perfectly reflect the lost state of this superfluous man who lacks any focus or purpose for his life.
Giuseppe Taddei wisely embodies Onegin's ennui and aloofness through scaling down his generous baritone and singing with sustained elegance. Even in the overwrought final scene, one never feels a swing toward a specifically Mediterranean vocal style. Rosanna Carteri, whose career began in 1949 at age nineteen and ended with a decision to retire to domestic life in her mid-thirties, establishes Tatiana as youthful, passionate and self-effacing; later on, she is clearly angry to find herself sought after by her one great love, after having resigned herself to domestic contentment. Only a shade more dynamic play in the letter scene would be welcome from the soprano, but this is a fully committed portrayal.
Cesare Valletti was a singer of such extraordinary natural elegance and vocal allure that his presence in a cast guarantees a high level of artistry. His Lenski delivers lyrical rapture in his Act I aria to Olga, hurt and restraint in the jealous outburst at Tatiana's birthday party and a predictably ravishing reading of Lenski's famous "Kuda, kuda" (here "Or dove siete") in the duel scene. Rafael Arie is an adequate Gremin. Eugenia Zarewska and Mario Carlin contribute nice cameos as Olga and Triquet, and the Madame Larina of Amalia Pini is a real standout — rich in vocal color and loaded with personality.
Conductor Nino Sanzogno seems to have taken great care to maintain the feel of Tchaikovsky's score and not have the piece lose its original Russian flavor. The result is quite a beautiful performance, with excellent playing from the RAI orchestral forces and spectacular choral singing. As it originated as a broadcast, the sound quality is quite acceptable.
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