- Bel Canto - The Opera of Vincenzo Bellini [Recommended Recordings]
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Vincenzo Bellini
Recommended Recordings

Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
(Jennifer Larmore, Hei-Kyung Hong, et al.; Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Donald Runnicles, conductor)
Don't expect to find much of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" in this version of the star-crossed lovers and their fate; Bellini's opera offers a very different take. But it is Bellini and therefore rich in melodies that seem almost too beautiful to bear. Read our comparison of this new recording--featuring Jennifer Larmore and Hei-Kyung Hong as the two lovers--with RCA Victor's 1998 version.

I Puritani (Callas Edition)
(Maria Callas, Aurora Cattelani, et al; Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus, Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra; Tullio Serafin, conductor)
This dates from near the beginning of Maria Callas's recording career. It was for many fans their first encounter with her, and it contains some of the most beautiful singing she ever did before a recording microphone. Set in 17th-century England, during the struggle between the Puritan supporters of Oliver Cromwell and the Cavalier royalists who supported the Stuart dynasty, this opera focuses on the problems of Elvira, a young Puritan woman in love with Arturo, a member of the Cavalier faction. Complications arise, Elvira believes she has been betrayed by Arturo, and she loses her mind. Her mad scene (a kind of music for which Callas developed a formidable technique) is the opera's musical and dramatic climax, but by no means the only reason for getting to know it. While the role of Elvira towers over the others, ensemble singing is a strong part of I Puritani's appeal. Callas's voice was in its top form for this recording, and her superb acting skills convey many subtle shades of anguish. She dominates the performance, but her supporting cast is better than those she usually got before becoming a major international star, and they work well together. (review by Joe McLellan)

La Sonnambula
(Isobel Buchanan, Nicolai Ghiaurov, et al;London Opera Chorus, National Philharmonic Orchestra London; Richard Bonynge, conductor)
Joan Sutherland, never noted for dramatic intensity, seemed more at home in roles that appealed to sentimentality rather than the tragic emotions of pity and fear. She still had that appeal and a voice in prime condition when this, her second Sonnambula, was recorded. Her appealing, uncomplicated musical personality is just right for this simple, innocent little story of a peasant girl who sleepwalks into--and later out of--a compromising situation that temporarily endangers her impending marriage. She has been given a supporting cast that is (with occasional small lapses) a joy to the ears. (review by Joe McLellan)

Norma (Callas Edition)
(Maria Callas, Paolo Caroli, et al; Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus, Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra; Tullio Serafin, conductor)
A recording of Norma is essential for any Maria Callas collection. This intense and musically demanding drama deals with forbidden love, infidelity, conflicting emotions, and death that comes almost as a relief from overwrought passion. It gives Callas golden opportunities for characterization and dramatic gestures in her timing, vocal coloration, verbal and dynamic emphases. Of the half-dozen or more perennially on the market, the first choice is this one, dating from 1954 when her voice was in relatively good shape (although the 1960 EMI recording, also conducted by Tullio Serafin, had even better acting and, in Christa Ludwig, a much better supporting cast). Callas is essential to those who enjoy opera primarily as theatre. The singing is vivid, if typically uneven, and reinforced by Serafin's expert conducting. (review by Joe McLellan)


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