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La Scala, Milan – cond Gianandrea Gavazzini



Recorded 1954 – 2 CDs – 137 minutes (inc bonus tracks)


Fiorilla – Maria Callas

Selim – Nicola Rossi-Lemeni

Narciso – Nicolai Gedda

Geronio – Franco Calabrese

Zaida – Jolanda Gardino

Albazar – Piero de Palma

Il Poeta – Mariano Stabile


Naxos Historical have unearthed more treasure from the vintage years of opera recording. 1954 proved a vintage year as a result of the new freedom to record complete works provided by the advent of the LP format. Il Turco in Italia was a remarkable choice; firstly as a little known Rossini score, and secondly casting the great Maria Callas in an ensemble opera, and a comic one at that. Comic, but not the usual knock-about Rossini farce – rather, with a nod to Pirandello, a work that could be sub-titled “Six characters in search of a Plot”. Romani's libretto satirises Italian society in the early 1800's and makes fun of its conventions.


The cast assembled is an impressive one; apart from Callas as the bored wife, Rossi-Lemeni stars as the Turkish intruder, while the inimitable Stabile appears in his usual ‘puppet-master' role as the Poet. Add the young Nicolai Gedda as Fiorilla's lover, the experienced Calabrese as the put-upon husband, and Jolanda Gardino as a Gypsy and you have the makings of a true gramophone classic.


What sets it apart from more modern (and complete) versions is its zest and high spirits. Rossini's wit flashes like a rapier – sharp and lethal, sparing no-one. An account of an early Milan performance recounts how the singer Geronio imitated the familiar mannerisms of a local celebrity, causing great amusement in the audience, which turned to hysteria when the gentleman in question appeared in the theatre and took a prominent seat near the stage!


The accompanying notes details the highlights in the vocal portrayal by Callas of the flirtatious Fiorilla – mainly in half-voice, there are no sour notes or harsh c lima xes to worry about. But this is not intended to be a Bel Canto display – what counts here is lively delivery of the text and characterful vocal acting. We get this in abundance from Stabile and Rossi-Lemeni; the sounds may not be seductive but their theatrical experience helps them to exploit to the full any opportunity for comedy. The mono sound, taken from LP pressings, is kind to the voices. There is an Italian libretto on the Naxos website.


As a bonus, four coloratura arias from 1954 are added, showing Callas in good voice. At the Naxos budget price this is a unique bargain which should not be missed by admirers of Rossini or the diva.


+ final scene of Capriccio

Philharmonia Orchestra – cond Herbert von Karajan



Recorded 1954 – 2 CDs – 149 minutes (inc bonus tracks)


Prima Donna / Ariadne – Elizabeth Schwarzkopf

Zerbinetta – Rita Streich

Composer – Irmgard Seefried

Tenor / Bacchus – Rudolf Schock

Major Domo – Alfred Neugebauer

Music Teacher – Karl Domch

Officer – Gerhard Unger

Dancing Master – Hugue Cuenod

Wig Maker – Erich Strauss

Lackey – Ottakar Kraus

Naiad – Lisa Otto

Dryad – Grace Hoffman

Echo – Anny Felbermeyer

Arlecchino – Herman Prey

Scaramuccio – Gerhard Unger

Truffaldino – Fritz Ollendorf

Brighella – Helmut Krebs


Also in 1954 at the EMI studios, the all-powerful producer Walter Legge was toiling to ensure that his wife, the soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, completed as many recordings as possible while her voice was in prime condition. Four Johann Strauss operettas were recorded, and room was also found for the other Strauss – Richard. was chosen and No expense spared to make Ariadne auf Naxos a memorable issue. The Philharmonia Orchestra, Legge's creation, was contracted to play, and, Herbert von Karajan to conduct. Legge found the equally ruthless Karajan congenial company and the product of this cooperation certainly benefits from their single minded approach.


Distinguished artists, such as the tenor Rudolf Schock, soprano Irmgard Seefried, and coloratura specialist Rita Streich were engaged, together with other talented singers.The composer had died only five years previously and several of the participants would have known him and worked with him. This ensured that this, the first complete studio recording, would set the standard for future versions of Ariadne .


The title role is one that Schwarzkopf was born to sing – her commanding tones as the Prima Donna ring true, even if in later life they tended to surface in off-stage situations. Schock manages the testing role of Bacchus, if not quite producing the Tauber magic it requires. Rita Streich is an outstanding Zerbinetta, reaching dizzy heights in her solo Grossmachtige Prinzessin .


None of the supporting singers disappoints and the Philharmonia plays this luscious score superbly under Karajan's direction. Perhaps the only possible flaw is the lack of any appropriate hustle and bustle in the Prologue when back stage preparations for the evening show take place – only a live performance could provide this.


Fifty years later, all the record guides are careful to mention this version of Ariadne among their recommendations. The sound of these CDs, taken from LP pressings, is remarkably good and does full justice to orchestra and singers. Any defects in the original edition have been ironed out – but the strange acoustic for the Major Domo in the Prologue remains.

To derive full enjoyment from Ariadne it is essential to understand and follow the subtleties of Hofmannstal's text whilst listening; unfortunately Naxos does not have the libretto on their website; a casualty of the "progress" from LP to CD. [Amazon has a libretto on sale, but it looks likely to be in German only.]


S Jenkins