Gianandrea Gavazzeni

Ildebrando Pizzetti: Debora e Jaele

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Ildebrando Pizzetti: Debora e Jaele Review

by Stephen Eddins

Ildebrando Pizzetti's 1921 opera Dèbora e Jaéle has had a fluctuating reputation since its premiere at La Scala. Advocates for Pizzetti generally consider it his masterpiece, and in 1956, a panel of Italian critics voted it the third most important opera of the twentieth century, tied with Salome for the honor. It has subsequently received few productions, however; this release dates from a 1952 recording. The plot is loosely based on the Biblical story of the Hebrew Judge, Deborah, and her triumph over the Canaanites, with the assistance of Jael, who murders Sisera, the Canaanite captain. Pizzetti, who wrote the libretto himself, invented a romance between Jael and Sisera; she kills him only to save him from the cruel vengeance of the Hebrews. The set lacks a libretto, and contains only cursory notes and synopsis, in a marginally comprehensible translation. Lacking a libretto or a detailed summary, it's difficult to comment on the opera in terms of its success as a musical expression of the drama. Taken purely on its own terms, the music, while conscientious and skillfully constructed, sounds more illustrative than driven by an inexorable musical logic. The music is tonal, largely lyrical, and has some dramatic urgency, but it only rarely opens out into the full-throated lyricism that makes for compelling musical theater. The final scene is genuinely gripping; if the opera had more such moments, it would be easy to imagine the work finding a larger audience, but as it is, its obscurity is understandable. The soloists, including Cloe Elmo, Clara Petrella, Maria Amadini, and Gino Penno, sing with conviction and passion, successfully bringing the characters to life. The Orchestra Sinfonico di Milano della RAI, led by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, plays raggedly. The music for chorus, some of the most effective writing in the opera, is sung with precision and high energy by the Milan RAI chorus. The recorded sound is tolerable, but there is some persistent background noise.

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