Review by: Robert Levine
Artistic Quality: 5
Sound Quality: 7
Cilea wrote very few operas, and no one has ever claimed that any of them was a work of unmitigated genius. L’Arlesiana has its fans (the big tenor aria, “E la solita storia”, is magnificent), Gloria was recorded once and I seem to recall being entertained by it (but not enough to summon up details), and everyone loves Adriana Lecouvreur, with its two gorgeous melodies and unabashed emotionalism. Gina, recorded here for the first time (taped live in November, 2000) was Cilea’s first opera, and it sounds it. The orchestration is chatty and tries to be effective, but the pastoral, sweet use of the harp and the unsubtle percussion and brass eventually pale–and nowhere is there a melody to love.
The work is a countryside comedy about a girl (mezzo, Gina) who promises to marry the man (tenor, Giulio) who takes her brother’s (baritone, Uberto) place in the army. Somehow there’s a mix-up after Uberto’s military service (he apparently has to go anyway), with Uberto promising an army buddy his sister’s hand. But the mix-up is solved: Uberto returns with Giulio, who is the buddy (an army sergeant named Flamberge, a cross between Dulcamara and Belcore in L’Elisir d’amore, unravels the mystery), and all ends happily.
It doesn’t matter that the plot is as deep as a teaspoon, but the music certainly doesn’t have to be as uninspired as it is. The tenor hero is in the opera only for the first 10 and last 20 minutes and he has the best music (and oddly, is the best singer on this set). In general, the vocal parts have a certain monotony, with the highest voice belonging to a lowish mezzo. In the final act she has an aria with some unexpected fiorature: it’s uninteresting and performed with great mediocrity. The basso role of Flamberge lacks the charm of its buffo predecessors, and the baritone Uberto is similarly unoriginally drawn, although his second-act Romanza contains a string melody or two that presage Adriana’s.
This isn’t a nightmare, but even those who adore Adriana (and I can’t resist its morbid melodies or overblown, 20-minute death scene) will find little to latch onto in this student-like piece of fluff, performed with verve but little allure. The sound is good, the orchestra is sincere, and the audience occasionally works itself up into enthusiasm. The accompanying booklet contains a wealth of information–historical and otherwise–about the opera and discusses it in the kindest light. Other labels should spend as much time on their opera recordings. Over to you, Cilea-completists.
Buy Now from Arkiv Music
Recording Details:Reference Recording: none
FRANCESCO CILEA - Gina