Nicola Rescigno

Gian Carlo Menotti: La Medium

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There's little to recommend GOP's Italian-language release of La Medium, taken from a live 1957 performance in Milan. The technical quality if the recording is low: the attack of the opera's first note is missing and the ending just fades away. Also, some tracks are accompanied by a prominent, sour buzz, like a distant lawnmower, and the balance is badly skewed; it makes the opera sound like a piano concerto accompanied by singers and a chamber ensemble. There is nothing in the performance that offers any fresh insight into the piece or comes anywhere close to the vocal or dramatic excellence of the CD with Joyce Castle, Menotti's film featuring Marie Powers and Anna Maria Alberghetti, the DVD starring Maureen Forrester, or, especially, the LP version with Regina Resnik and Judith Blegen. Graziella Sciutti is adequate, if a little mature sounding for Monica, but she does capture her character's horrified final outburst better than just about any other recording. Dancer Leo Coleman, the original Toby in the opera's 1946 premiere and the opera's Broadway run, is credited, even though his character is mute and his presence is detectable only by his tapping a tambourine in "The Black Swan." Madame Flora is a brilliantly complex creation -- an accomplished professional charlatan, a frightening bully capable of vicious cruelty whose paranoia and profound insecurity are suggested to be the result of trauma she endured in her youth. In Gianna Pederzini's characterization, she comes across as a cranky lady having a bad day, with none of the power and fury required to make Madame Flora truly scary. Nicola Rescigno leads Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI in a choppy reading and gets almost everything wrong in shaping the opera's dramatic contours. The portentous opening, which is marked molto largo, is briskly perky, and the moments of skittering frenzy are sluggish and leaden. The orchestral playing is sloppy and thin sounding, and as noted, the piano is overbearingly prominent. The recording would be of interest only to the listener with an urgent need to hear the opera in Italian translation.

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