The reason I ended up with two recordings of Verdi’s early, unsuccessful comedy, is that one day I was browsing in Gramex in Lower Marsh, Waterloo – a haven for those of us still attached to CDs. Amongst the stash of CDs I was buying that day was the RCA recording of Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, which led Roger, the owner to ask me if I was a Verdi fan. I answered that indeed I was, whereupon Roger thrust the Simonetto recording of Un Giorno di Regno at me, telling me I must have it. I said that I already had the Philips recording, but he insisted that I took it away and wouldn’t accept any payment.
Verdi’s second opera was not a success at its premiere at La Scala, though five years later (as Il Finto Stanislao) it was something of a triumph at the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice, a theatre with a strong tradition in comedy and opera buffa.
Whilst not according it the same merit as Donizetti’s great comedy L’Elisir d’Amore, which was clearly Verdi’s model, it is brim full of lively tunes and very enjoyable in its own right. It may never become a repertory opera, but it is definitely worth the occasional revival.
The Philips recording is of course in excellent 1970s stereo sound, has the Ambrosian Singers and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in splendid form under the experienced hand of Lamberto Gardelli, and a starry cast, and I must say I was very happy with it, but, after hearing the Simonetto, it now all sounds a bit dull and heavy, and the women at least are, I think, miscast.
Cossotto, a dramatic mezzo, doesn’t sound in the least bit comfortable with the light soprano role of the Marchesa. She tries to lighten her tone and style, but she doesn’t have the charm and clear voiced mastery of Lina Pagliughi, who is pure delight on the Cetra. Jessye Norman, who sings the mezzo role of Giovanna, also sounds a mite too heavy, and, though a soprano, her voice too sounds heavier than Laura Cozzi on the Cetra. The two buffo roles, sung here by Vincenzo Sardinero and Wladimiro Ganzarolli are also a trifle heavy handed when set beside the experienced buffos Sesto Bruscantini and Christiano Dalamangas on the Cetra. Renato Capecchi also sounds more naturally right as Belfiore than Ingvar Wixell.
The one role I prefer on the Philips is that of Edoardo, sung by the young Jose Carreras with honeyed tone and youthful charm, not that he totally eclipses Juan Oncina on the Cetra, but his tone is definitely more ingratiating.
Simonetto conducts with a sure sense of Italian opera buffa style, and the whole set comes to life in a way that the Philips doesn’t quite. The Cetra is a totally joyful experience , fizzing and popping like a good prosecco. His orchestra and chorus, the Orchestra Lirica e Coro di Milano della RAI, may not be as accomplished as their British counterparts, but they play with enthusiasm and dash at Simonetto’s more jaunty tempi.
Admittedly there are cuts, and the Cetra plays about 10 minutes shorter than the Gardelli. Well, this isn’t Falstaff, and losing a few notes doesn’t bother me that much, so I would have no hesitation in granting the palm to the 1951 Simonetto recording, despite ancient sound.