13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This opera, composed when Rossini was 20 for the somewhat provincial city of Ferrara, is one of the fake oratorios that allowed opera to be performed in Lent. Except for a somewhat -- but not very -- more prominent role for the chorus than one might expect, and a biblical theme, this restriction to being an oratorio does not really limit the work. The theme is only biblical in the sense that Belshazzar does appear in the Bible.
For the opera Rossini, whose invention was still fresh and developing, composed some delightful music, some of indeed also being quite distiniguished. This is what makes the set very well worth having. (Already, however, Rossini is self-borrowing, with the overture the one he used in l'Inganno felce. It is synptomatic of Rossini's peculiar esthetic that the overture of a romantic comedy could serve equally well for a more serious work.) In this production, the singing of the contralto -- yes contralto not mezzo-soprano -- Anna Rita Gemmabella, in the title role and of tenor Riccardo Botta as Belshazzar is highly satisfying, the former especially handling the bel canto demands of her role in marvellous fashion. The rest of the cast is also well up to the requirements of their roles, though rather meanly Maria Soulis is reduced to a one-note aria -- the original singer allegedly having a horrible voice with that one note being her least offensive, so Rossini wrote an "aria" where the orchestra caries all melodic content.
The weaknesses of the set come from the orchestra, and the conducting, though some of this may be problems produced by the recording engineers. While by and large the conductor, Antonio Fogliani, picks satisfying tempos, his dynamics leave much to be desired. In particular, at numerous spots orchestral crescendos quite overwhelm the singers, even though some of them are strong, and the chorus. The winds -- especially the high winds -- often sound very harsh -- indeed quite ugly.
The other weakness with the set is the packaging. The jewel case is flimsy (mine broke of first using) and the booklet is largely inadequate. There is no libretto, though one can be downladed from the internet -- but even then with no translatiuon. The short essay is long on irrelvant trivia and omits useful information such as just what version was used in preparing the edition recorded. The booklet contains a synopsis, keyed to the tracks, and (usefully and unusually) little snapshot descriptions of the performers.