Flaviano Labò: "An Operatic Recital"
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Flaviano Labò: "An Operatic Recital"

spacer Arias by Verdi, Ponchielli, Puccini, Giordano. Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma, Previtali. Bonus tracks: “Bruno Prevedi Sings Great Italian Arias” Arias by Giordano, Verdi, Mascagni, Puccini. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Downes, and excerpts from “Le Grandi Voci Dell'Arena di Verona: Gianni Raimondi” Arias by Puccini. Orchestra del Teatro Arena di Verona, Martinotti. No texts or translations. Decca 480 8162

LaboCD

While Decca’s new “Most Wanted Recitals” series offers treasure from its vaults, including some tracks previously unreleased on CD, the packaging — at least in the case of this release — is bewildering. Billed as a Flaviano Labò recital, it actually features another tenor of similar vintage, Bruno Prevedi, in twelve selections (listed as bonus tracks) to Labò’s eight, and for good measure, tenor Gianni Raimondi in three more. Fleshing out an LP of about a half hour in length for CD release is understandable, but the balance is confusing considering the fact that only Labò is featured on the front cover. Also bizarre is the fact that there is no information whatsoever about the three artists, despite two entirely empty pages in the accompanying booklet — hardly an enticement for buyers to favor CDs over iTunes!

Fortunately, some of the material is quite worth having, particularly from Labò. In an era that boasted Del Monaco, Tucker, Bergonzi, Corelli, Gedda, and Vickers at the Met on a regular basis, a fine tenor such as Labò was, logically, overshadowed. His was a ringing Italianate voice of considerable thrust and power, his impressive vocal stature compensating for diminutive physical stature: he was about a foot shorter than Corelli. Labò was not the most compelling physical actor, nor was he the most imaginative vocal actor, but, as this CD attests, his sound could be thrilling, and he boasted an idiomatic style we perhaps took for granted back then and would dearly cherish now. 

Alvaro’s great scenafrom La Forza del Destino opens the disc; the sense of loss and nostalgia in the reading combines with tonal beauty and full-throated high notes to generate considerable excitement. And a heroic “Cielo e mar” (La Gioconda) with its exciting muscularity reminds one immediately of why this was a thrilling voice in the opera house. Virility and passion feature heavily as well in both of Cavaradossi’s arias from Tosca, as well as Calàf’s from Turandot — although one is reminded too of why Corelli’s dynamic play in “E lucevan le stelle” did as much to make him a matinée idol as his considerable good looks. Labò’s reading is comparatively short on atmosphere and risk-taking. And while his “Non piangere Liù” provides a lesson in how and where to “cover” the voice, “Nessun dorma” lacks a sense of anticipation and features a surprisingly brief climactic high B-natural. “Che gelida manina” is ardent, but one misses dynamic variety, and “Amor ti vieta,” from Fedora, is not quite ardent enough.

Prevedi arrived at the Met in 1965, eight seasons after Labò, although he was only a year younger. I happen to have been at his debut — a Tosca opposite Dorothy Kirsten and Ettore Bastianini — and recall that he impressed the public quite favorably. As with Labò, Prevedi became a bit of an “also ran” in the tenor sweepstakes, but he acquitted himself respectably in seven roles during five seasons, running the gamut from Alfredo to Radamès. Prevedi’s handsome voice tended to darkness on top, and in these recordings it often sounds too covered, lacking squillo, that ring so essential to tenors. Although there are flashes of temperament, his three Chénier arias lack consistent poetry and fire, as does Alvaro’s soliloquy from La Forza del Destino. Topping out on an A-natural, “Amor ti vieta” comes off well, but arias (from Tosca, Butterfly, Fanciulla del West)  that ascend to B-flat tend to disappoint the listener in terms of visceral excitement, and the ends of phrases often lose focus. The two exceptions are an “Addio alla mamma,” from Cavalleria Rusticana, in which Prevedi offers an approximation of live-performance energy, and a “Nessun dorma” surprisingly crowned with a stunning high B.

Three more bonus tracks present Gianni Raimondi, who made his Met debut the season after Prevedi (in a memorable Bohème opposite Mirella Freni). Raimondi’s somewhat reedy tenor is captured here in late-career form (1977), recorded “live” at the Verona Arena in both of Cavaradossi’s arias, and “Ch’ella mi creda,” from La Fanciulla del West. He begins with a bit of a wobble, the voice sounding past its sell-by date. But he warms up nicely, and the Fanciulla aria comes off quite well.

Fernando Previtali supports Labò skillfully, and Edward Downes, leading the Royal Opera forces for Prevedi, is his customary excellent self, lending stunning urgency and breathtaking string-playing particularly in the Cavalleria selection. spacer 

IRA SIFF

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