This Decca release -- with star conductor, new position, short operatic excerpts -- might seem an album safely headed for best-seller territory without remapping that territory in any way. Actually it's better than that: conductor Riccardo Chailly, with the Filarmonica della Scala (the house orchestra of the great Italian opera theater), contributes an interesting look at a genre not known for instrumental music, and he walks some rarely trodden paths. There are a few well-known pieces, like the "Dance of the Hours" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda (better known to pop fans as Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah or the hippo ballet in Disney's Fantasia). But Chailly also extracts some gems from operas that, taken as a whole, may be tough going. Sample the second-act prelude to Umberto Giordano's Siberia. This work has been recorded fewer than half a dozen times during the long-play era, but this little orchestral piece is an entirely convincing depiction of what it was like for an Italian opera composer to encounter the new winds from the east: the Russian tropes are there, but done in an entirely Italian way. The program is well structured; Chailly offers some peppy overtures and divides them up with mood pieces of various kinds. The program ends with three rarely heard preludes, two from the almost unknown I Medici of Leoncavallo and one from the "Prelude to the Prologue" to Boito's Mefistofele, and all are well worth having in one's library. Recommended for anyone looking for an opera instrumentals album that offers more than the usual stuff.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Il finto Stanisloa|
|I Lombardi alla prima crociata|
|La pietra del paragone|
|Ugo, conte di Parigi|