Monday, May 12, 2008

Gobbi as Wozzeck

It is no surprise to read that Tito was the leading Wozzeck in Europe in the 40's & 50's and hearing him in this performance with a decade or so of Wozzeck's under his belt, it is clear to understand why. What an opportunity for this most giving of Italian singers who loved to act, completely inhabit one of 20th century operatic literature's most fascinating characters. Gobbi resists every impulse to overplay the patheticness of the role, and finds something one doesn't necessarily always associate with the role - a sort of vulnerable sweetness. Odd, I know, but it's there. His slow, unraveling of both mind and spirit are pure "lump-in-your-throat" drama and his really must be viewed as one of the greatest of Wozzecks we've had. The Orchestra Sinfonico della RAI Orchestra under Nino Sanzogno doesn't give the most illustrious or clean reading of this difficult score - especially when compared with, say, Mitropolous from around the same time. Nonetheless, everything is fired off with an incredible sense of drama. Interestingly, according to everything I've been able to find, no Italian soprano at the time was interested in learning Marie, so many of the performances throughout Italy of Wozzeck went to the lovely American soprano Dorothy Dow. And so we get her Marie in this set and she matches Gobbi in intensity, and that lovely gleaming voice adds a bit of a different character to the darker-hued (or weightier) voices I'm used to in the role. (Interesting side note: On the famous Mitropoulos Wozzeck with Mack Harrell & Eileen Farrell - a "bonus" to the set is Dorothy Dow's marvelous go at Schoenberg's "Ewartung.") Dow would also be Marie to Gobbi's anti-hero in the now legendary La Scala premiere of the work. That's the one that began with booing, and shouts of "Vergogna! Vergogna!" - before the entire house fell under the spell of the work and demanded 10 curtain calls prompting the Widow Berg (seated in the Royal Box) to say "Everything was right" and the next morning's paper proclaimed the night would go down as a historic on in La Scala's grand history. This Rome performance has surprisingly decent sound for a live performance and, again, everyone is caught up as if by spell. It's also rather remarkable to hear this work in Italian. One might be tempted to think that of all works to be translated into Italian one relying so much on language as does Wozzeck might end up being too "soft" on the ears. Nope. The Italian as sung by Gobbi and company makes a convincing case for Wozzeck in Italian. About that company. Joining Dow and Gobbi is no less than Hugues Cuenod as the Captain, Mirto Picchi as the Drum Major, and Italo Tajo as the Doctor. This inexpensive set's booklet includes neither libretto nor synopsis - it seems to have been put out for freaks like me who can't get enough of this opera. What it does have is extensive excerpts from two other live Wozzecks: Geraint Evans, Anja Silja & Bohm from Salzburg 1971, and a 1934 performance from London featuring Richard Bitterauf and May Blyth. I purchased this at Amazon for less than $17.00 and for anyone interested in this opera (both of you!) I really can't recommend it highly enough. p.


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