'Edgar' is Puccini's second opera and, as in his first opera 'Le Villi,' it is hampered primarily by its clumsy and outlandish plot. Nonetheless it represents a major advance in Puccini's ability to write music that is apt for the situations depicted by the words and there are ample evidences of what later came to be considered Puccini's musical fingerprints--brilliantly illustrative orchestration, frequent pentatonic melodic outlines and harmonies, underlining of melodies by lush string writing, memorable arioso-like recitatives, soaring melodies. One hears the influence not of Verdi so much as Ponchielli here, although there is one instrumental passage that sounds for all the world like it was cribbed from 'Falstaff'; one wonders if it was added in Puccini's 1892 revision of the score. Possibly the best course of action in listening to this opera--listening, since one is unlikely ever to see a staged production--is to let the music wash over you without paying too much attention to the drama unfolding. There are simply too many flaws in the story to give it much credence. For instance, why does Edgar burn down his own house? Why all the sudden and unmotivated changes in the nature of Edgar's and Frank's characters? They make the Queen of the Night look like a Steady Eddie. Why does Edgar stage his own fake funeral, while appearing on the scene as a mysterious monk who makes false accusations about the 'dead' Edgar? We'll never know, but then we probably won't much care, either.
I'd never heard Edgar before. But it's been playing repeatedly since I got this recording; it's that engaging. I know it had been recorded by Eve Queler and her opera orchestra in New York, a performance starring Renata Scotto (Fidelia), Gwendolyn Killebrew (Tigrana) and Carlo Bergonzi (Edgar), a recording I never came across. But I was familiar with a couple of the arias: Fidelia's 'Addio, addio, mio dolce amor' (sung at the funeral before Fidelia finds out that Edgar is still alive), and Edgar's 'Orgia, chimera dall'occhio vitreo' (when Edgar has become disillusioned with the life that the gypsy Tigrana has led him into) and knew that they were stirring pieces. I had no idea that the opera is, musically speaking, delightful from start to finish.
It begins with a brief and delicate prelude that leads into one of Puccini's patented pentatonic choruses--shades of 'Turandot'! Then comes a gorgeous Micaela-esque aria for Fidelia--sung here with youthful ardor and tonal purity by Julia Varady--'O fior del giorno.' What follows is a string of soaring melodies, including a dramatic aria for Fidelia's brother, Frank, 'Questo amor, vergognia mia,' sung here by talented Dalibor Jenis, a Slovakian baritone who is, I think, headed for big things. The requiem sung at the fake funeral is Puccini's rehearsal for the Te deum in 'Tosca,' in that it advances the plot, and is very effective in its own right. And on and on. There is not a slack moment, musically, in the whole opera.
This performance originated with an unstaged production from Radio France in December 2002 and as the director of Radio France, René Koering, says in the introduction to the enclosed booklet, 'Of the dozens of concerts given by Radio France every season, there are some which deserve to be preserved for posterity.' I thought that statement a bit self-serving until I listened to the this 2 CD set. But M. Koering was right, this one's a keeper.
The conductor is the talented Yoel Levi, until recently the conductor of the Atlanta Symphony and before that an assistant to Lorin Maazel at the Cleveland Orchestra. Fidelia is Julia Varady, sounding in exceedingly fresh voice for someone who has been a major singer for thirty years. Tigrana, the gypsy tigress, is taken by American Mary Ann McCormick, who has a rich mezzo suited for this Carmen-like character; she would make terrific Carmen, I suspect. Carlo Cigni, basso, sings Fidelia's and Frank's father, Gualtiero, with a sturdy bass. The real find here is the tenor Carl Tanner, another American of whom I'd never heard, who sings the title role. I can easily imagine him singing the heavier Puccini roles (Cavaradossi, Dick Johnson) and, of course, the similar role of Don José, to great effect. The voice has baritonal heft and squillo, the high notes are there, and he sings with real musicality and dramatic aptness. The Orchestre Nationale de France, the Choeur de Radio France, and the children's chorus, Maîtrise de France, give rock solid support.
A strong recommendation.
CD 1 = 53:22
CD 2 = 41:29
TT = 93:51