Once upon a time, long,long ago (1952) Radio networks had excellent orchestras and some even had opera choruses. Italian Radio in Milan was one and it hired a leading, up-and-coming conductor, the reigning mezzo soprano diva, and a collection of very talented singers to perform a very obscure opera by Cimarosa. The conductor was Giulini, the mezzo was Giulietta Simionato and the result is fabulous. Giulini inspired a nuanced, dramatic performance, Simionato displayed faultless technique and superb musicianship, the other principles are all first rate and the orchestra and chorus are outstanding.
The opera is a tragedy, a sort of ancient Roman Romeo and Juliet, that premiered in 1796. It anticipates in many ways 19th century dramatic opera -- including bumping off the soprano in the final scene -- rather than the typical 18th century opera seria based on texts by Metastasio. However, you wouldn't necessarily know that this is a tragedy just by listening to the music, much of which sounds more suited to a comic opera rather than a serious one. This is, surprisingly, the case especially with the final, tragic scene. But appropriateness aside, this opera has a wealth of wonderful music that is a delight to hear.
There are three downsides to this set. The recording -- excellent for the time -- shows its age and is, of course, in mono. The second is the booklet, which is minimal, and includes only the sketchiest of synopsis and no libretto. Third, there are some cuts, but they really do not matter.
There is another version of this opera available, namely one by OEHMS classics of a 2005 production. That one has very good contemporary recording and an informative booklet that includes the libretto in Italian, German and English. However, the conducting, orchestra and cast are not nearly as good as in this treasure from the past.
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