The music always sounded a bit too eclectic to me; too much a mixture of Western
European romantic sounds peppered with some Russian influence, while at the same time clearly
lacking in original melodic ideas. Therefore I hoped this Italian language performance would
remedy some of the weaker parts of the score. And, as this version was specially prepared for the
St.Petersburg Italian Theatre just after the world premiere in 1871, it clearly has Rubinstein’s
approval. This came about three years after the famous Mefistofele première at La Scala and
more than once I was reminded in the Demon’s arias of that other devil’s monologues. It may be
a coincidence as Mefistofele was a famous fiasco and Boito withdrew the score after the
premiere, reworked it and offered it again to the public seven years later. And I have no idea if
Rubinstein was at that first performance.

His demon here is sung by a famous Mefistofele. By 1971 Nicola Rossi’s career at the top was
only a memory. The voice was often throaty and had some holes in it. Roughness had replaced
the necessary smoothness for roles he had sung with success in the fifties like Faust or Mosé.
And yet, Rossi succeeds in making hay from his vocal failures. He was always more of a singing
actor than an acting singer but the snarling, the rough spots, the hollowness that wouldn’t do in
Italian roles suit the demon’s despair to a tee. With his vocal weaknesses, Rossi creates a fully
credible portrait of a lonely being.

His wife Virginia Zeani was not exactly a fresh newcomer either at the time. She had been
singing for 23 years at the time of the radio performance and her bel canto days were long gone
as from the sixties on she specialized more and more in verismo or even modern roles (a fine
Magda Sorel). Her vocal aging doesn’t work out so well as with her husband. She doesn’t sound
at all like a young and innocent princess. The voice is too mature, quivers with emotion from the
first note and has a small wobble in the first act. Zeani fans won’t mind but I think her Tamara
overripe and not very convincing.

Agostino Lazzari as the prince does the listener a pleasure by dying in the first act so that we
don’t have to suffer his whining sounds for too long. And Mario Rinaudo as Gudal (Tamara’s
father) only has to offer a big but very vile sound. Maurizio Arena, maybe influenced by Rossi
and Zeani, makes the score more noisy than it really is. He prefers big orchestral outbursts and
treats it more like a verismo drama than a romantic opera.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Anton Rubinstein: Il Demone
product_title=Anton Rubinstein: Il Demone
product_by=Virginia Zeani (Tamara), Nicola Rossi Lemeni (Il Demone), Mario Rinaudo (Gudal), Agostino Lazzari (Principe di Sinodal). Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI conducted by Maurizio Arena. Radio performance of December the 12th 1971.
product_id=Myto Records 065335 [2CDs]