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The Opera Quarterly 21.3 (2005) 556-560

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Mala vita. Umberto Giordano
Vito Amante: Maurizio Graziani
Annetiello: Massimo Simeoli
Cristina: Paola Di Gregorio
Amalia: Maria Miccoli
Nunzia: Tiziana Portoghese
Marco: Antonio Rea
Coro Lirico Umberto Giordano di Foggia
Orchestra Lirico Sinfonica della Capitanata
Angelo Cavallaro, conductor
Live recording, Foggia
12 and 14 December 2002
Bongiovanni GB 2348-2 (1 CD)
Siberia. Umberto Giordano
Stephana: Francesca Scaini
Vassili: Jeong-Won Lee
Glèby: Vittorio Vitelli
Ivan/The Cossack: Domingo Stasi
Miskinsky/The Lame Man: Giulio Mastronotaro
Walinoff/The Governor: Pietro Naviglio
The Captain/The Inspector: Giuseppe Ranoia
Bratislava Chamber Choir
Nikona: Eufemia Tufano
A Girl: Annalisa Carbonara
Alexis/The Sergeant: Nicola Sette
Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia
Manlio Benzi, conductor
Live recording, Martina Franca, August 2003
Dynamic CDS 444/1-2 (2 CDs)

This double dose of unfamiliar Giordano certainly enlarges our image of the composer. He was a solid enough craftsman whose operas are always theatrically effective. Musically, though, they are uneven: the big moments tend to stand out in relief against the merely workmanlike background, and this is true even of Andrea Chénier and Fedora, the two Giordano works that are now performed most often.

These new live recordings of Mala vita and Siberia both stem from staged performances in small Italian cities (respectively, Foggia, the composer's birthplace, where the opera house now bears his name, and Martina Franca, where Dynamic has recorded a number of novelties mounted during an annual music festival). The performances compensate, in enthusiasm and careful preparation, for an undeniable lack of professional polish. Provided one does not expect the level of execution that can be heard on the best recordings of Andrea Chénier and Fedora, these releases are most enjoyable.

Mala vita, the less sophisticated of these two works, is—perhaps for that very reason—the more interesting. It was a success at its Rome premiere in 1892. Two months later it flopped in Naples—possibly, as Bongiovanni's introductory essay suggests, because the audience found its depiction of low life in their city unflattering (to say the least). Aggressively promoted by the publisher Edoardo Sonzogno, the opera made the rounds of other Italian theaters, and, translated into German, it was surprisingly successful in Germany and Austria. In 1894 Giordano revised the opera, altering and sanitizing the plot; the rewrite, titled Il voto, was first performed in 1897. The Bongiovanni recording is of the original 1892 score, which seems to have been preferred for the few modern revivals. [End Page 556]

Mala vita is in three concise acts, totaling seventy-four minutes in this performance. The libretto, by Nicola Daspuro, is based on a play by Salvatore Di Giacomo and Goffredo Cognetti. The action takes place in a Neapolitan slum, where Vito's affair with a married woman, Amalia, appears to be common knowledge—to everyone, that is, except Amalia's easygoing husband, Annetiello. Vito has been trying to break off the affair. He suffers from tuberculosis, and he and his neighbors see his illness as divine punishment for his sins, sexual and otherwise. Impulsively, Vito vows to marry a prostitute—any prostitute—and thus save her from her life of degradation, in hopes of a cure. A likely candidate, Cristina, happens to work in the neighborhood brothel, and after what must be the shortest courtship in opera (Elsa and Lohengrin aside!), she agrees to the marriage. Annetiello—who, the libretto implies, is a regular visitor to the brothel, where he has enjoyed Cristina's favors—finds all of this terribly amusing. In act 2, Amalia confronts Cristina, warning her to stay away from Vito. Amalia even pulls a knife on Cristina, who defies her. Unfortunately, when Vito in turn confronts Amalia, the latter has little difficulty luring him back into her bed. Act 3 opens with a bit of local color as the community prepares to celebrate the festival of Piedigrotta. Vito admits to Cristina that he cannot give up Amalia, so the marriage is off. Vito escorts Amalia to the festival. Cristina has a beautiful aria in which she laments that Jesus obviously does...


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