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FACCIO: Amleto

CD Button Hamza, Worra; Richardson, González, DeVine, Curran, Beruan; Chorus and Orchestra of Opera Southwest, Barrese. No libretto. Opera Southwest (2)

Recordings Amleto Cover 916
Critics Choice Button 1015

THOSE WHO KNOW of Franco Faccio have hitherto remembered him as an associate of Verdi who conducted Otello’s 1887 world premiere. We now realize Faccio had other arrows in his quiver, thanks to the musicological labors and persistent advocacy of American conductor Anthony Barrese. Years before Verdi worked with Arrigo Boito on his two final masterpieces, Boito assisted Faccio the composer to write a Shakespearean music drama, Amleto. First heard to some acclaim at Genoa in 1865, Faccio’s four-act work foundered when revised and presented at La Scala six years later. 

Barrese led the work’s modern premiere at Albuquerque’s Opera Southwest; that 2014 production was recorded live for this well-engineered release, with applause and stage noise. The orchestra, though not first-rate, is well prepared, and Barrese’s tempos seem reasonable. The chorus fares well in the many ensembles, which are both musically engaging (I’d cite Gounod as well as Verdi as Faccio’s melodic and coloristic influences) and formally noteworthy. Boito’s libretto creates—as in Otello and Falstaff to come—multiple mini conversations taking place during single ensembles.

Other composers tackling this iconic play have summoned full-voiced baritones for its lead—Jean-Baptiste Faure, Verdi’s first Rodrigue, for Ambroise Thomas (Paris, 1868), and the late, great Tom Krause for Humphrey Searle (Hamburg, 1968). A true Italian, Faccio wanted a tenor Hamlet, Mario Tiberini, who was well known internationally: a year after creating Amleto he sang in the premiere of the revised Forza del Destino at La Scala. Unfortunately, Tiberini (ill and under-rehearsed) was disastrous, after which Faccio withdrew the piece from circulation. 

Here, Alex Richardson applies his substantial tenor to Amleto’s marathon part, generating impressive squillo and excitement. Tiberini’s wife, Angiolina Ortolani-Tiberini, created Ofelia, in Faccio’s conception less unhinged and sentimentalized than was typical in the nineteenth century. Abla Lynn Hamza’s high notes make an impression in the role, but lyric, midrange passages display too much air. Caroline Worra brings warm tone, wide range and notable agility to the oddly placed “falcon” role of Geltrude. The King (Claudio) is here the baritone, a role written for Antonio Cotogni, then an international star. Shannon DeVine tends to blare, lacking distinction of timbre or diction. As Laerte, a larger part here than in Thomas’s opera, Javier Gonzalez shows a bright tenor and crisp articulation. Matthew Curran capably doubles as Polonio and the comic Gravedigger. Jeffrey Beruan excitingly animates Hamlet’s father’s ghost.

This important release lacks an appended libretto; sure, most people know the story, and the booklet does have a brief, scene-by-scene synopsis. But the particular choices Boito made in editing and shaping what Hollywood calls “the basic material” aid in elucidating Faccio’s considerable achievement. His Amleto is not a masterpiece, but it’s a valid, musically solid opera more credible and castable than its contemporaries Mefistofele and La Gioconda.  —David Shengold

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