A Gioconda Barely Worth Its Bargain Price

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 7

I really wanted to love this new Gioconda, recorded live in Salerno last year and offered at an enticing bargain price, but it’s a very ordinary performance. Conductor Yishai Steckler, of whom I’d never heard before, is a time-beater, with no sense of the over-the-top melodrama of this work, but his orchestra plays well and the chorus sings better.

The title role is taken by Chinese soprano Hui He, whom I’d seen on a DVD of Aida a while ago and who seemed to have potential. She still does: the top of the voice gleams brightly and with power, and she will occasionally use chest voice to good effect; but the middle of the voice is weak and her pitch is all over the place. Tenor Hugh Smith’s Enzo is as loud as humanly possible, with a startling amount of strain: his final B-flat in “Cielo e mar” will remind you of the last bit of toothpaste being squeezed out of a tube. The few times he sings softly are entirely lacking context or spontaneity.

Lado Ataneli sings Barnaba with a nice sneer and an appealing baritone, but he runs out of steam partway through Act 2 and sounds exhausted thereafter. The Laura of Luciana D’Intino is quite wonderful—involved, musical, and sung with dead-center pitch. Carlo Striuli, who sings the role of the jealous, vindictive Alvise, sounds gentle and kind and Francesca Franci’s Cieca is as dull as dirt.

The two recordings starring Maria Callas remain the recommended ones, with Milanov, di Stefano, and Warren trailing just behind.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Callas (EMI); Milanov (RCA)

  • Hui He (soprano); Luciana D’Intino (mezzo-soprano); Hugh Smith (tenor); Lado Ataneli (baritone); Carlo Striuli (bass); Francesca Franci (contralto); others
  • Orchestra Filarmonica Salernitana Giuseppe Verdi, Yishai Steckler

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