OP0635. L'AMORE DEI TRE RE (Montemezzi), recorded 1976, Walthamstow Town Hall, London; Nello Santi Cond. London S.O., Ambrosian Opera Chorus; Anna Moffo, Plácido Domingo, Pablo Elvira, Cesare Siepi, Ryland Davies, etc. 2-RCA 50166. Slipcase Edition w. Elaborate 72pp Libretto-Brochure in Italian & English. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 743215016625
“First performed in 1913, THE LOVE OF THE THREE KINGS (to use its English title) attracted the best singers and conductors in its day. Now it is largely forgotten, and I believe that this RCA recording, newly reissued, is the only one that the work has received in the stereo age.
One might expect it to be a verismo opera. Hints that it is not come from the plot. In Act II, the old, blind king Archibaldo strangles his young and vibrant daughter-in-law Fiora with his bare hands, and then slings her over his shoulder. She spends all of Act III dead onstage, bearing a pair of poisoned lips, which first her lover Avito and then her husband Manfredo kiss, with fatal results. Not very realistic! It has been said that the plot is allegorical; Fiora represents Italy, and her obligations are to her people, not to her conquerors. As for the music, it resembles the work of Richard Strauss far more than that of Puccini, Leoncavallo, or Mascagni. Its tortured chromaticism would not have been out of place in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, and it would not take a lot of effort to convince most listeners that this was not the work of an Italian composer. The opera is relentlessly melodic, but not ‘tuneful’. Its melodies do not instantly stick in one's head, and there are no set-pieces; the arias, as such, are seamlessly integrated into the opera as a whole. The orchestration is savvy and opulent - again, more characteristic of Strauss, or maybe Respighi. Perhaps this is not a great opera, but the level of workmanship is high. Its lurid plot and opulent score recommend themselves.
RCA recorded this in 1976. At the time, Moffo's career was winding down, and so was Siepi's. They both sound a little frayed on top, but not distressingly so. Moffo's voice largely retains it glamour, she's an accomplished vocal actress, and I like the screams and gurgles she makes as Siepi's character throttles her. Elvira is a fabulous baritone. I don't know what became of him, but he didn't seem to last very long on the international scene, and I know of only a few other recordings that he made. All around, he is the strongest of this recording's leads. Domingo, as one would expect at this stage of his career, sings beautifully, but apart from a generalized ardor, he's not extremely interesting in the role of the only king who is loved by Fiora. Santi conducts like an old pro, and the chorus, orchestra, and supporting cast are excellent. The recording is excellent too, although some of the climaxes get a little rough.
- Raymond Tuttle, Classical.Net
“Some of the most memorable nights in this country's opera houses have been occupied with impassioned performances of an opera that today suffers from a lack of imaginative singing, conducting and stage direction. It is Italo Montemezzi's L'AMORE DEI TRE RE or THE LOVE OF THREE KINGS.
Written in 1912, its dramatic sweep and lyric beauty are in the direct line of Verdi's OTELLO and Puccini's LA BOHEME. Montemezzi's orchestra is marked with the same rich texture that enhances Verdi's great masterpiece, and his singers are given melodic lines that soar like the most famous passages of Butterfly, Tosca, Mimi and Rodolfo. In addition, Montemezzi's opera sets a play by Sem Benelli that is in itself luminous and moving even without a note of music. It is a part of this opera's greatness that its composer found music worthy of the post-drenched play.
To speak of ‘memorable nights’ in this country when L'AMORE was being given is to recall its Metropolitan premiere under the baton of Toscanini, followed by performances in that house when the role of Fiora was sung by Lucrezia Bori and Rosa Ponselle, with tenors named Caruso, Martinelli, Gigli and Johnson as Avito and the great basses Didur, Mardones and Pinza as the terrifying Archibaldo.
But the cult that grew up worshipping this opera was not an exclusive New York property. Chicago, too, had its special splendors in the opera. Claudia Muzio, who sang it at the Met, took her glorious singing with her when she moved to Chicago, where she shared the role of Fiora with the woman who, some say, was the greatest of them all: Mary Garden. In the Chicago houses, Garden and Muzio used to sing in tandem with Edward Johnson before he went to the Met, with Richard Bonelli as their heroic Mandredo and the unforgettable Virgilio Lazzari as an Archibaldo for all time.
Thirty years ago, just as these historic performances were ending, Montemezzi came to this country to give a special aura to performances he conducted in New York and at the Cincinnati Opera, where he showed the advantages of what a musical Supreme Court might call ‘deliberate speed’. He brought the best out of Grace Moore, and with a cast headed by Lily Djanel, Charles Kullman, Robert Weede and Lazzari, proved the strengths of his own music.
In ensuing years, one of the most venturesome evenings in the history of the ‘NBC Opera Theater’ was their account of this opera. With Alfred Wallenstein as a superb conductor, things could have been distinguished except for a cast of young singers among whom only Giorgio Tozzi was up to his assignment. For L'AMORE is not an opera that yields up its proven gold except to choice artists who care and who are given ideal conducting and direction.”
- Paul Hume, THE WASHINGTON POST, 26 June, 1977