Maria Callas / Luigi Alva / Alceo Galliera

Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia [Highlights]

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EMI's 1957 Il barbiere di Siviglia remains near the top of the pack of recorded performances of the opera, and this disc of excerpts includes the highlights of the performance. As important as the fine cast is in making this a memorable version, it's a work that needs top-notch conducting to make its fullest impact, and Alceo Galliera leads the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus in a quicksilver performance that delivers the work's humor with lightness and its lyricism with warmth. The orchestra's playing is pristine and Galliera makes the most of Rossini's all-important dynamic gradations and subtle demands for rubato; this one of the very finest orchestral performances of the opera. Callas was better known for her tragic roles than as a comedian, but her Rosina is dazzling both musically and dramatically. Her "Una voce poco fa" succeeds both as a breathtaking coloratura showcase and as high comedy. She has seldom sounded better on disc; she has plenty of power and is in absolute control, with no evidence of the vocal problems that plagued her later career. She has the judgment and discipline to sing with great discretion when necessary, so that she never overwhelms the ensemble spirit needed to make Il barbiere really sparkle. Tito Gobbi's mastery of the role is absolute, and he makes an unusually charismatic Figaro, singing with bravado and roguishness. He has all the star quality to convincingly anchor the opera, and his singing is warm, rounded, and full. Luigi Alva's tenor is a little lighter than that of some of the best-known Almavivas, but it gives him appealing boyishness, and he has the vocal heft he needs to easily hold his own in the ensembles. The supporting cast is excellent, with no weak links; Nicola Zaccaria as Basilio, Fritz Ollendorf as Bartolo, and Gabriella Carturan as Berta are especially strong. EMI's sound is admirable and cleanly engineered, with excellent balance. This is a version of Il barbiere that is easy to recommend without reservation.

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