BOITO: Nerone

Up to now I only knew this opera by the San Carlo recording of
1957, which is an acceptable one. I never invested in the Queler-Hungaraton
issue as I didn’t think such a rather difficult work would be served by
Hungarians, even though there were some good singers in it. And I never saw
the Zagreb DVD with former boy wonder, tenor Kruno Cigoy. But this set under
review changed my perspective due to the excellent sonics, as Bongiovanni got
the original tapes RAI made, which MRF didn’t have when they launched
this performance as a pirate.

The first time I heard Nerone, my reaction was probably a common
one: that someone who composed splendid arias like ‘Dai campi’
‘Giunto sul passo’’Ave Signor’ and the hauntingly
beautiful ‘L’altra notte’ had given all his inspiration to
that one Mefistofele. But, even a second and a third hearing
didn’t change much. This set did. Of course, the composer of 1902 (when
La Scala announced a production) or 1912 when Boito asked Caruso to sing the
title role was not the same one as the young man of 1868 (premiËre of
Mefistofele) or 1876 (reworked version for tenor, which is nowadays
always performed). Too much had changed in those 30 years. There was
Boito’s collaboration with Verdi and the revolution Mascagni wrought
with his Cavalleria. But especially there was the all overwhelming
influence of Wagner whose scores were now widely available for study and
performance. The results of all those influences are clear to hear in this
performance. There are melodies but they are not the long sweeping arches of
before. The balance between orchestra and voice is far more equilibrated and
often the parlando is more accompanying the orchestra than
vice-versa; and that makes perfect sound so important if one wants to pick up
the tune. Granted, there are several dry patches where
‘Sprechgesang’ takes over. Yet there are many fine parts as well
and in his choral writing we surely recognize the composer of that grandiose

The cast is a strong one. By 1975, Bruno Prevedi’s big international
career was over. He mainly sang in Germany and Austria and some fine but
still smaller Italian houses. He gladly accepted RAI-invitations to sing
tenor roles in rarely performed operas like Agnese di Hohenstaufen,
Fernando Cortez and this Nerone. In fact, between February,
when he sang Maurizio at Bari, and this RAI-broadcast, no performance is to
be found in his chronology. So he definitely took his time to learn this
difficult score. The voice is still as we remember: a true Italian
lirico-spinto that always betrayed his baritone origins. Though he is never
unmusical, there are certain details that cloud some of his singing. He uses
an unremitting forte and his technique with a lot of glottal attacks is
somewhat crude. Picchi in Naples is a more accomplished singer and brings
more nuance to the role but he hasn’t the power of Prevedi in some of
Nero’s outbursts.

The real star of the set is Ilva Ligabue. During her heyday, she was
shamefully neglected by the big labels. She recorded 3 MP-recitals in not
always typical repertoire (together with tenor Nicola Filacuridi) and then
there was the Solti-Falstaff. As more and more documents become available (an
unforgettable Forza with Bergonzi at his very best on Bongiovanni)
we realize what a great singer she was. The moment she starts her long scene
in the first act, one sits up and takes notice. Here is a soprano with her
own typical sound, basically a lyric voice but with enough steel in it to
climb all vocal hurdles and to dominate the temple scene in the second act or
the orchard scene in the third act. One regrets Boito wrote the libretto for
a fifth act where her death scene is the culminating point of the opera and
then never set it to music.

The rest of the opera, too, is cast from strength. Agostino Ferrin as
Simon Mago has not the house rattling amplitude of Nicolai Ghiaurov but the
voice is fine, cultivated and rolling along. In fact it is a bit too
sympathetic for the bad guy he is supposed to be. Alessandro Cassis is
nowadays mainly remembered as Michonnet in the DVD of the classic La Scala
Adriana with Freni. But he had one of the best Italian baritone
voices in the seventies and eighties, firm and rounded and with more than one
hint of Bastianini. For reasons unknown to me he never had a big
international career (or he didn’t want one) but his singing as Fanuel,
leader of the Christians (not to be mixed up with the Magician in
Massenet’s HÈrodiade), is exemplary. The same can be said of
Ruza Baldani’s performance in the lesser soprano role of Rubria. This
recording is witness to the dying of a great Italian tradition. The many
smaller comprimario roles are taken up by sometimes first class voices like
mezzo Anna Di Stasio (Suzuki in the Bergonzi-Scotto Butterfly),
tenor Corradi, mezzo Corinna Vozza (Lola in the Corelli Cavalleria)
etc. Most of these singers would nowadays have major careers.

Gianandrea Gavazzeni was already a veteran at the time of recording and
one of the last great Italian Maestri Concertatori with direct ties to the
creators. Though he conducted the famous Corelli-Callas revival of
Poliuto, he was something like a specialist of verismo; a
love he later shared with his 50-years younger wife Denia Mazzola. This opera
with hints of late Verdi, Wagner and Puccini of Fanciulla or
Mascagni of Amica or Isabeau fits him to a T; and he brings
it forth with a firm hand that reveals a score and a recording worth
investing in.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Arrigo Boito: Nerone
product_title=Arrigo Boito: Nerone
product_by=Bruno Prevedi (Nerone), Agosto Ferrin (Simon Mago), Alessandro Cassis (FanuËl), Ilva Ligabue (Asteria), Ruza Balsani (Rubria), Antonio Zerbini (Tigellino), Giampaolo Corradi (Gobrias), Alessandro Cassis (DositËo), Anna Di Stasio (Perside), Corinna Vozza (Cerinto), Walter Brighi (Rimo viandante; il Tempiere), Renzo Gonzales (Voce dell’ Oracolo), Vinicio Cocchieri (Secondo viandante; lo Schiavo ammonitore). Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Torino della RAI conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni.
Live recording : Torino 23th of August 1975.
product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2388/89-2 [2CDs]