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Gaetano Donizetti - Don Pasquale - "Com'è gentil la notte" (Lucia Popp & Francisco Araiza)

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Published on Aug 2, 2008

Recently I acquired another two recordings of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" and "L'elisir d'amore" into my collection. Both these pieces are well-known and don't need any kind of introduction. Saying that the works have received numerous recordings would be a very big understatement: according to one of the best sites for discographies, operadis-opera-discography.org.uk, there are, respectively, 62 and 77 recordings of the operas. I have several recordings of the operas with which I am pretty happy: Abbado's recording of "Don Pasquale" with Allen, Mei, Lopardo and Scimone's "L'elisir" with Carreras, Ricciarelli, Trimarchi and Nucci would have to be the highlights... At least, they were before I bought the two new ones.

Heinz Wallberg was a German conductor. He became principal music director in Augsburg in 1954, and in Bremen in 1955, concluding in both posts in 1960. From 1964 to 1975, Wallberg was principal conductor of the Tonkünstler Orchestra, Vienna. He held the same post with the Munich Radio Orchestra from 1975 to 1982, and with the Essen Philharmonic from 1975 to 1991. From what I managed to read on him, most of his recordings are set firmly in Wagnerian operas and verisimo.

And yet, in 1979 and in 1984, with the help of Bavaria Radio and BMG Music, he recorded Donizetti's comic masterpieces (in the order already given at the beginning)... One would imagine that the recordings are bound to be heavy, over-emphasized affairs... They aren't even close to these qualities: both recordings are extremely fresh, wonderfully conducted, superbly recorded endeavors that make one wish that Wallberg had a thicker portfolio in belcanto. They make the works come alive before our very eyes.

A large portion of the success can also be attributed to the fact that Munchner Rundfunkorchester, the orchestra in the present recordings, is extremely responsive to the demands of the music and the drama. The fact that both recordings feature a talented cast of singers is also a big help. Even though the recordings have been made with a five year gap, they feature three recurring singers: Lucia Popp (as the soprano heroines; she has already began heavier roles by the time when these recordings were made, but it doesn't really show), Yevgeny Nesterenko (in the buffo roles of Pasquale and Dulcamara; considering his experience in dramatical roles, such as Boris Godunov, it comes as a surprise that he is outrageously funny in the classical Italian buffo roles) and Bernd Weikl (in the baritone roles of Belcore and Doctor Malatesta; he is actually considered a Wagner singer but his performances in the Donizetti pieces are very persuasive and extremely well-sung). The tenor roles are taken by young versions of Francisco Araiza (Ernesto) and Peter Dvorsky (Nemorino): Araiza seems to have just transferred from bass to tenor, so some of the singing is a bit tentative but it works for the character of the rather timid and unsure Ernesto; Dvorsky is not Pavarotti, but I actually prefer his simpler, gentler, more alive Nemorino to that of his colleague's.

Anyway, I decided to post some of the highlights from these recording to give you an opportunity to judge for yourself. I'm starting with "Don Pasquale", from which I'm uploading several of my favorite numbers: Norina's cavatina, her subsequent duet with Malatesta and notturno with Ernesto. I will post more, if such a need will arise. Anyway, enjoy :)!

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