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Il Barbiere Di Siviglia Recording Review

American Record Guide, March-April 1997 v60 n2 p207(1) by Charles H. Parsons

it’s good to have two old friends back in circulation - big names, big personalities, big singing. RCA recorded the comedy in 1958; EMI in 1975. Both are almost complete - only two very minor cuts in the RCA. EMI also omits Almaviva’s big Act 2 Finale aria, ‘Cessa di piu resistere’. it’s a difficult piece, but I would think it would hold no difficulties for Gedda. Too bad he didn’t record it. Both use the “traditional” re-write of the role of Rosina for coloratura soprano. With the remarkable Jennifer Larmore and Cecilia Bartoli singing Rosina, we have now become accustomed to the mezzo version.

Leinsdorf hardly seems like the logical choice to conduct an ebullient Rossini comedy, but he pulls it off with sparkling aplomb - a real contrast to Levine. Levine is more subtle, but Leinsdorf more exciting. Leinsdorf’s cast is typical of those performing at the Met at the time - very strong. Levine’s cast is just as strong, with a more international flair. Both Rosinas sing elaborate ornaments, some of them even by Rossini.

It’s a real toss-up between the two. Peters or Sills? Merrill or Milnes? The Almavivas are more of a contrast: Valletti lighter, with more character, Gedda the warmer voice. But now the choices become easier. Capecchi’s nasty, strangled Bartolo is a distinct contrast to the sunny, broad one of Corena. Raimondi’s Basilio is plain, restrained, almost too serious; Tozzi sings magnificently, bubbling with malicious glee. Barbieri’s decrepit sounding Berta is no match for the brightly chirped Berta of Margaret Roggero; Joseph Galiano’s Fiorello is superior to Marsh’s.

A few technicalities: EMI’s sound is often cavernous, hollow - particularly in the recitatives - but acceptable. Excellent English notes and an Italian-English libretto are included, but the libretto page numbers are completely wrong. RCA released this opera before, but this Living Stereo release has more presence, a wider lateral span, more bass, more of everything. The libretto and plot synopsis are the same in both releases, but the Living Stereo adds a charming introduction by Francis Robinson, a few line drawings, and photos of the principals. To choose between RCA and EMI is more difficult: both are superior performances, but I must give the edge to RCA.