why would anyone want to replace his CD’s on LO taken from this same
performance? Just play the prologue and the answer is right there. The LO
CD’s originated with an excellently taped radio broadcast. This new
Bongiovanni-issue uses the original RAI-tapes and I am still surprised at the
difference in sonics. The sound picture is so much clearer, so much more
incisive and this results in more than just sound. I’ve never had
problems with complete recordings of the early electric age like
Pampanini’s, Arangi-Lombardi’s, Merli’s or Pertile’s
complete sets; but these were always recordings of bread and butter operas
that I already knew by heart the moment the historical recordings entered my
home. This I Lituani is different. Apart from a few historical
shellac solos, I knew nothing of the opera when I purchased the LO version
some ten years ago in Boston. I played it several times and enjoyed it,
though considering it more or less a first attempt that would finally result
in the beauties of La Gioconda that premiËred two years later (and
which I’ll finally see once again in the Walloon opera, 26 years later
after a Ghent performance). Lituani seemed to be well-crafted music
but not much more than that. Ponchielli’s melodic genius clearly had to
mature a few extra years. A recording in perfect sound changed my perception.
The composer was 39 when I Lituani premiËred in 1874 and he clearly
already knew how to write a good tune. Granted there is no aria worthy of
“Cielo e mar” or a ballet like the Dance of the Hours
(but which other opera has a ballet on this level of inspiration?). Yet,
there is more than just a generalized humming possibility, especially some of
the many choruses, which are just as fine, if not better, than in

The cast has some strong singers. Baritone Alessandro Cassis will be a
name that only vaguely rings a bell, though he is in several important
productions like the French JÈrusalem (Carreras, Ricciarelli), the
Boito Nerone or the Adriana Lecouvreur DVD from La Scala
with Freni. Cassis had quite a career, though he mostly limited his
appearances to the Italian peninsula, singing in all important houses while
in the summer he was busy in Verona and Caracalla. The sound is noble and has
the burnished brown of the real Italian baritone. Indeed he maybe is the
nearest thing to Bastianini I have heard; and it says a lot on the decline of
Italy and the reputation of its singers in the operatic world that he is not
better known.

Next comes Yasuko Hayashi. An earlier generation would maybe have
Italianized her name but it is always something of a surprise to hear this
lirico-spinto. She could be any good Italian singer as the technique is fine,
the voice sounds appropriately Italian and she knows how to ride an
orchestral climax. If one didn’t know better, she could easily be taken
for one of those fine Italian sopranos that still abounded at that
time—someone like Rita Orlandi, Luisa Maragliano or Orianna
Santunione—honest artists with good vocal endowments maybe just lacking
a very personal and intrinsic beautiful sound.

Bass Carlo De Bortoli brings an appropriate black voice and years of
experience with Verdi roles to his part.

There remains the problem of the title role. Now Ottavio Garaventa is
something of a case. He started out as a baritone singing as Silvio in the
same Pagliacci that saw the dÈbut of Bruno Prevedi, not as Canio but
as Tonio. Garaventa later promoted himself to lyric tenor. I heard him a few
times and I cannot say I was very impressed. It was straight singing without
much insight or musical phrasing. Moreover, I thought the voice made a finer
(and especially a bigger) impression on record than in the flesh, where it
sounded more tight and squeezed. He did make the rounds of Italy and some
European and South American theatres; but contrary to what is said on his
live solo album, he never made it to the Met and for good reason. When this
recording was made he had been singing for 24 years. The voice sounds clearly
more robust but thicker as well; and the finer qualities of the timbre are
less noticeable. What is especially galling is this insouciant singing of
notes without any attempt to use some dynamics or to phrase. As a result his
brindisi and his romanza go for nothing; and one is sure that even an older
Bergonzi would have made so much more of this music such that one would
immediately have grasped its tunefulness. A pity, as Gianandrea Gavazzeni was
not a conductor who would throw away his gifts on an unimportant score. The
way he sculpts the many choral moments and the concertati (already a
Ponchielli feature) proves that he believed in a revival of the opera.

Another advantage of this recording is the libretto in Italian and
English—LO has Italian only—with a fine introductory article by
Fernando Battaglia. Any opera lover of the ottocento who has become
somewhat tired of his too well-known Verdi recordings should not hesitate to
buy this set.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Amilcare Ponchielli: I Lituani
product_title=Amilcare Ponchielli: I Lituani
product_by=Alessandro Cassis (Arnoldo), Yasuko Hayashi (Aldona), Carlo De Bortoli (Albano), Ottavio Garaventa (Walter/Corrado), Ambrogio Riva (Vitoldo), Susanna Ghione (un menestrello). Orchestra sinfonico e coro di Torino della RAI conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni.
RAI performance of May the 6th 1979
product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2390/91-2 [2CDs]