Nino Bonavolontà

Umberto Giordano: La cena delle beffe

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Italian composer Umberto Giordano composed a respectable number of operas in his long lifetime, but only one, Andrea Chénier, has gained permanence in the repertory. It is not that Giordano's other mature operas are bad; just that they are subject to the same forces that control most of the operatic repertoire. Only 30 or so operas are popular enough that they are revived all the time, and as opera companies can only expend so much effort upon reviving operas that are comparatively little-known, operas like Giordano's Le cene delle Beffe (The Dinner of Mockers) must simply wait their turn. Such a turn came in Milan in December 1972, and Opera d'Oro's Umberto Giordano: Le cena della Beffe reproduces the results.

This is one of the most "adult" operas written before Ginastera's Bomarzo, set during the reign of Duke Lorenzo the Magnificent. Giannetto, friend to a nobleman, has had his lover stolen and damage done to a most tender part of his anatomy by a couple of losers, Neri and Gabriello. Invited to a dinner under the pretext of reconciliation, Giannetto decides to make use of the opportunity to set up his revenge on the pair. What follows is a striking round of betrayals, seductions, mistaken identities, murder, madness, and general mayhem -- all pretty good ingredients for an opera. In addition, musically it is a very good opera -- it is fast moving, with generous writing for the voices and a strong sense of drama; by this time, Giordano was moving away from verismo and this work overall sounds more like Richard Strauss than Puccini. In short sections, Giordano makes use of a modernistic-sounding, dissonant idiom even a little more advanced than that of Strauss, although mostly in places where it tends not to call attention to itself.

The cast here is made up completely of unknowns -- why not? It's an "unknown" opera. They do a great job, and the orchestra under Nino Bonavolontà seems to have Giordano's score under control. The sound, though, is constricted and distorts badly at times; the recording as a whole sounds like a shortwave radio broadcast that has been digitally "cleaned up." An earlier Milan revival of Le cena delle Beffe was given in 1955 under Oliviero de Fabritiis, and that recording, issued on Myto, actually sounds a little better than this one. The only "modern" recording of this opera, made in 1988 by Bongiovanni, is a miss, with surprisingly bad sound and a cast sub-standard even for an Italian opera recording.

One aspect of the Bongiovanni release that has an advantage over all others is the fact that it is equipped with a libretto. Although a summary of the action is included, one really wants a libretto for an opera like this, and as with all Opera d'Oro products, you're on your own in terms of accessing the text. Opera d'Oro's Umberto Giordano: Le cena della Beffe can really only be recommended to those who are devoted enough to Giordano to withstand the sound quality, though it does make the case that this particular opera deserves a modern recording in good sound and a decent cast and, hopefully, some way to get at a libretto to boot.

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