OP3219. FEDORA, recorded 1931, w.Molajoli Cond. La Scala Ensemble; Gilda dalla Rizza, Antonio Melandri, Luba Mirella, Emilio Ghirardini, etc.; FEDORA – Excerpts: Gemma Bellincioni, Enrico Caruso, Titta Ruffo, Amadeo Bassi, Nora de Rosa, Fernando de Lucia, Bianca Lenzi, Emma Carelli, Elvino Ventura, Alessandro Bonci, Gianna Russ, Edoardo Garbin, Giuseppe Anselmi, Giacomo Rimini, Emile Scaramberg, and Galliano Masini; SIBERIA - Cena di Pasqua, w.Molajoli Cond. La Scala Ensemble. 2-Malibran 816. - 7600003778161
“If enjoying FEDORA is a guilty pleasure, I plead guilty. Yes, it represents some of the worst aspects of verismo, but it also represents some of the best: big tunes that great singers can sink their teeth into and music with a strong connection to the emotions. I won’t even try to summarize the quite absurd story here, as you can find it easily enough online. If you enjoy Giordano’s one truly lasting opera, ANDREA CHÉNIER, you will probably find much to like in FEDORA despite the fact that it lacks the stream of really good tunes found in CHÉNIER. It does have one great one, the famed tenor aria ‘Amor ti vieta’, and Giordano is smart enough to have the recur at key points in the opera. If none of the music for the title character is as memorable, it is juicy enough to have attracted important sopranos throughout its history, starting with Gemma Bellincioni who sang the premiere (along with a certain tenor named Caruso). In more recent times, while Freni and Tebaldi have sunk their teeth into it, it would be Magda Olivero who was the most successful Fedora, and whose Decca recording with del Monaco and Gobbi was reviewed with enthusiasm in FANFARE 40:5 by me, and 41:1 by James Altena. (Neither of us is in any way apologetic for our love for the opera).
Malibran has re-issued here the work’s first recording, made in 1931 (33 years after the work’s composition, and 17 years prior to Giordano’s death). Gilda Dalla Rizza was one of the great verismo sopranos in the first half of the 20th century, with a two-decade career at La Scala (1915-1934). Dalla Rizza (1892-1975) had a major career in all the important Italian houses, in South America, and other European houses as well. She never appeared in the United States. She specialized in many of the verismo operas that have now all but disappeared from the repertoire (ISABEAU, SIBERIA, L’AMORE DEI TRE RE, ADRIANA LECOUVREUR) as well as in operas that have stayed with us (TOSCA, LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST, LA BOHÈME, MADAMA BUTTERFLY, etc.). She was much loved by Puccini, giving the European premieres of SUOR ANGELICA and GIANNI SCHICCHI. Puccini is reputed to have said about her Minnie ‘At last I have seen my FANCIULLA’. He wrote LA RONDINE for her, and she did create that role.
Dalla Rizza was one of a handful of great singing actresses of the verismo school (Eugenia Burzio, Giannina Russ, Celestina Boninsegna, and Gemma Bellincioni were others) whose success depended not on purely vocal means, but on viscerally expressive singing that might sacrifice vocal beauty for dramatic effect. Magda Olivero was a logical successor, singing in a similar manner. Dalla Rizza would distort tone for emphasis, would effectively hold a moment by stretching a note or a phrase, and would vary the rate and intensity of her vibrato to amplify the emotional content of the music. Her voice as heard here has a lovely glow to it, her top is free and open, and the abandon with which she performs makes clear why she was chosen to make the first recording of FEDORA.
Antonio Melandri was a La Scala stalwart in the 1920s and early 30s, and was thought of highly enough to have been featured in four early Scala complete opera recordings (in addition to FEDORA, there was CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, ERNANI, and MEFISTOFELE). He seems to have been a good spinto who could sing with power but also with sweetness of tone and a good feeling for the lyrical line. The voice seems a bit limited in color, but it has abundant ring at the top and he knows how this music has to go. He gets the opera’s big tune, and he clearly relishes it. He and Dalla Rizza are also effective in their recitatives, interacting believably.
While both Dalla Rizza and Melandri can be safely compared to their Decca counterparts of Olivero and del Monaco, that is not the case with Emilio Ghirardini, who pales when set aside Gobbi. The latter turns in one of his great recorded portrayals, whereas Ghirardini s just adequate, singing the notes in tune and correctly but without creating a real character. The rest of the cast in this recording is more than adequate, and Lorenzo Molajoli’s conducting is, at it was on almost all of his many opera recordings, splendid. Molajoli is a most curious case - a conductor we know nothing about other than that he was Columbia’s conductor for a great many of its La Scala operatic recordings in the 1920s and 30s. He knows how to lean into a phrase, how to yield to the give and take of the musical line without letting it sag, and his forces play with energy under his baton.
If FEDORA is only of passing interest to you, the Olivero/del Monaco recording on Decca should be sufficient for your collection. But if the verismo style is of interest to you (as it is to me), this wonderful recording, made during the composer’s lifetime with singers who knew and worked with him, can be heartily recommended. A successful performance of FEDORA depends on singers and a conductor who truly believe in the music, and that is what we have here. The bonus tracks include some great solo recordings and duets from FEDORA, including some by singers who created their roles, and they have been wisely assembled. There are five recordings of ‘Amor ti vieta’, all of them enjoyable.
Malibran provides no program notes at all, rather minimal documentation, and I can imagine Andrew Rose, Richard Caniell, Ward Marston or Mark Obert-Thorn all doing better sonic restoration. But this is more than adequate, and the thrilling performance comes through. It is available through Norbeck, Peters & Ford @norpete.com.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“FEDORA at this date seems unlikely to ever attain a firm place in the repertory, but as heard here, it is possible to understand that at one time, it seemed to have earned that distinction. A short opera with a confusing, unconvincing libretto, it needs performers who truly believe in it. There is true ‘golden age’ glamour in the singing of Gilda dalla Rizza, the Fedora whose revenge for her fiance’s death leads to her own suicide when she realizes she has destroyed the loved ones of the killer she has come to love. A tight vibrato and crisp enunciation give her performance a conversational quality, although she certainly lets fly with some passionate outbursts. The heart of the opera, a long duet in act two, finds her well-matched with the Loris of Antonio Melandri. He gives out almost as many sobs as he does ringing high notes, but in the red-blooded context of this opera, his handsome voice can be excused some excess."
- Chris Mullins, OPERA TODAY
“Especially acclaimed in the verismo repertory, Gilda dalla Rizza was regarded as being Giacomo Puccini's favorite soprano, creating Magda in his LA RONDINE, in 1917. She also gave the first European performances of his SUOR ANGELICA and GIANNI SCHICCHI, at Rome in 1919. She also created roles in Mascagni's IL PICCOLO MARAT and Riccardo Zandonai's GIULIETTA E ROMEO. She was also an important interpreter of that composer's FRANCESCA DA RIMINI. One of dalla Rizza's unexpected successes at La Scala was in LA TRAVIATA, under Arturo Toscanini."
-Zillah Dorset Akron
"The shadowy figure of Lorenzo Molajoli is a mystery in the annals of opera. Nothing seems to be known of his career other than that he conducted many recordings in the 1920's and 1930's, mostly for Columbia in Milan. From the evidence of those discs he was clearly a very competent musician, experienced at handling large orchestral and vocal forces - and yet where? What can be established is that he served with considerable distinction as the house conductor in Milan for Italian Columbia, recording complete operas and accompanying a large number of singers, in addition to making recordings of a number of operatic overtures. Molajoli conducted twenty complete or abridged operas for Columbia between 1928 and 1932.”
- Paul Campion