Anita Cerquetti / Vittorio Gui

Weber: Oberon

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In spite of having a relatively brief period of productivity, Carl Maria von Weber was the preeminent figure in German Romantic opera in the early nineteenth century. Only Der Freischütz remains anywhere near the standard repertoire, but Weber was hugely influential in his day and was significant in Meyerbeer's and Wagner's musical and dramatic development. Weber's final opera, Oberon, was written for Covent Garden and was produced there in 1826, just months before the composer's death. While it contains some very attractive music, and two of its numbers -- the Overture and the soprano aria "Ozean, du Ungeheuer" -- remain popular, it's easy to see why the opera has not fared better. The plot, which has only a glancing connection to Shakespeare, is such a mess that most of the few attempts to revive the opera have been in concert form. It contains substantial sections of spoken dialogue and several of the principal characters never sing.

It's difficult to make a fair assessment of the opera itself based on this 1957 recording made with the RAI Orchestra and Chorus, Milan, conducted by Vittorio Gui. The opera is sung in Italian translation, and the spoken roles have been eliminated and replaced by a Narrator who describes the action and fills in the gaps left by the absent characters. The performance features Anita Cerquetti in the central role of Rezia, and her voice stands out strongly from the mostly mediocre singing on the album. She brings real fire and vocal heft to the role, negotiating its coloratura demands with style, and she really shines in her showpiece aria "Ozean, du Ungeheuer." Mezzo-soprano Miriam Pirazzini sings powerfully and affectingly in the role of Fatima, but the remainder of the cast, particularly the men, is disappointingly lackluster. The strings of the orchestra play well, but the winds are tentative, and the crucial horn solo that opens the opera is so anemic that concern for the player's health is likely to make the listener forget to pay attention to the music. The quality of the recorded sound is fair, but there's a low-level hiss throughout. The set is primarily of historical interest, but should also appeal to Cerquetti's fans.

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