Alfan's "Sakuntala" Finally
(From my review previously posted February/2006)
For years I’ve heard snippets (some long, some not so) of the work, and looked for a complete recording in vain. No more.
There is so much Debussy and Strauss influence in the score it’s almost not “Italian” sounding! Quite simply, Alfano’s instrumentation and use of color is nothing less than remarkable and gorgeous - exotic. One definitely can hear where Puccini got some of his ideas for Turandot here. (Similarly, part of the long first act duet between the King and
Sakuntala is strongly reminiscent of what Alfano would do in Turandot’s finale). That first act duet between the lovers is nearly Tristan length and Alfano never seems to run out of ideas.
There’s a moment or two toward the beginning of Act II which sounds like where Philip Glass seems to have gotten his best ideas, as well!
In the second act Sakuntala has an enormous, 9 minute voice busting aria that is just breathtaking as it segues into the next scene. Holy Moley, this is a BIG sing.
Alfano’s vocal writing here is far different than Puccini’s - longer phrases, more Wagnerian-style parlando (but not Wagnerian sounding - at all).
A dance/ballet opens the final act that (very) strongly recall’s Strauss.
(Side note: I believe those who’ve enjoyed Enescu’s Oedipe will find much to enjoy here.)
This performance was from 1979. The principal roles are sung by:
Sakuntala - Celestina Casapietra
The King - Michele Molese (anyone remember him from City Opera?!)
Kanva - Aurio Tomicich
with the RAI Symphony and Chorus conducted by Ottavio Ziino.
Casapietra is unknown to me. I would have liked a juicier, firmer voice but she handles the difficult high music quite well and sings with a lot of feeling. The lower voice can be a bit shaky (often) with a hollow quality that isn’t particularly lovely. The third act goes much better for her with the top notes opening up in a way they hadn’t earlier and that is quite thrilling (except for one squally high C, unfortunately on the word “orror!). Again, her commitment shows and that’s an important thing in this work.
Molese starts off just a wee bit thin, but within minutes the voice takes on a rich bloom and his voice past the passagio is often thrilling. Like Casapietra he sings the music with conviction and the two of them almost seem to get carried away by Alfano’s sumptuous outpourings.
The final scene looks so much to the final bars to what he composed for Turandot that no doubt can be left who’s ideas closed that opera.
Though the sound is not flawless (there appears to be some bleed through in spots which I’m guessing stem from the original tape source) it is more than good enough to convey the sense of wonder Alfano infuses through much of the work.
I really couldn’t be more pleased to have discovered this, and as ever: Bravo, Alfano!