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This was Katia Ricciarelli’s debut recital, released in 1972 when she would have been 26. For this 1991 CD release, BMG added two items from a duet recital with Domingo, made at the same time.

Ricciarelli had an illustrious career and prolific recording career, but, it always seems to me, has never enjoyed the acclaim of her slightly older Italian contemporaries, Mirella Freni and Renata Scotto. She perhaps asked a little more of her essentially lyrical voice than it would deliver but, unlike singers like Sass and Souliotis, she was intelligent enough to later drop some of her dramatic roles in favour of more lyric fare. Her Turandot might have been ill advised but, like Sutherland’s, it was confined to the studio.

This Verdi disc catches her at her peak singing, for the most part, a selection of unfamiliar arias from Giovanna d’Arco, I Masnadieri, Jérusalem, Il Corsaro and I Vespri Siciliani as well as arias from Otello, Il Trovatore and Don Carlo, plus duets from Un Ballo in Maschera and Otello with Domingo.

The voice is a beautiful one and she is an imaginative singer, responsive to mood and text, but there are occasions when her legato is not as good as one might wish. If one were to compare her performance here of Medora’s Non so le tetre immagini with a late one by Callas, made in 1969, it is to find that, despite Callas’s by this time waning resources, the long line is maintained, the wide intervals bound more closely together, where Ricciarelli can be a little angular. Nor is Ricciarelli’s coloratura technique as clean as Callas’s. One is grateful for the beauty of the tone and her dramatic involvement, nonetheless.

Ricciarelli is a singer I have come to appreciate more with the passing of the years. I heard her live a few times, on the last occasion at a concert at the Barbican when her voice was probably past its best. The programe consisted mainly of bel canto arias, and I remember well her outstanding singing of Giulietta’s Oh quante volte, so good that it held the audience in rapt silence. She was forced to repeat the aria as an encore at the end of the night.

She is always musical, always alert to the drama, always imaginative and this Verdi disc is a good reminder of her excellence in the field. There are very few sopranos singing today who could touch her in this repertoire.

6 thoughts on “Katia Ricciarelli – Verdi Arias & Duets

  1. Ricciarelli was quoted as saying in David Lowe’s book, CALLAS AS THEY SAW HER (Robinson Books, 1987): ”Don’t believe those sopranos who say they don’t listen to Callas’ records…All sopranos get up in the morning, pour the orange juice and coffee, and then settle down to listen to Callas’ recordings to try to learn from them.” Recciarelli had certainly learned much by listening assiduously to La Divina.

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    1. I remember that quote very well. I think it was also in a Gramophone Tribute to Callas. She is a singer who has grown on me over the years, I’d pretty much dismissed her Turandot, but I listened to it recently and quite liked it. Given it’s really the wrong voice for the role, she makes amends for the fact most intelligently and creates a more interesting chracter than some with bigger voices.

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  2. In one 1998 issue of the long out-of-print International Opera Collector, a survey of recordings of Anna Bolena gave very high praise to Ricciarelli’s 1977 Parma performance. La Divina’s 1957 La Scala performance was of course upheld as the paragon, yet the reviewer seemed to imply that Ricciarelli’s rendition was his personal favourite. I had listened to a recent YouTube upload of the mad scene from the 1977 Parma performance and found it quite excellent (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm_6WjtUmRY). Ricciarelli had apparently listened and learned from Callas’ Mad Scenes album, but gave her own emphasis on Anna as the wronged woman. Her Anna may lack Callas’ incomparable queenly dignity and nobility of utterance, but is nevertheless quite vulnerably poignant and moving on her own terms. Her musicianship is quite impressive, even if her fioriture are not as fluent and seamless as Callas’ and some places seemed rushed. Ricciarelli’s is an Anna to return to and savour after Callas’ hors concours and musically and dramatically it goes far above Sutherland’s and Caballe’s and in terms of vocal resource Ricciarelli is far better endowed than Sills.

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