Il prigioniero (1944-48)
Prima Serie dei Cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane (1933). Estate (1932)
Italian libretto and English translation included
The Mother – Anna Maria Chiuri (mezzo)
The Prisoner – Michael Nagy (baritone)
The Jailer / The Grand Inquisitor – Stephan Rügamer (tenor)
First Priest – Adam Riis (tenor)
Second Priest – Steffen Bruun (bass)
Danish National Concert Choir
Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Producer: Bernhard Güttler. Engineer: Mikkel Nymand
Recorded September 20th and 21st at the Koncertsalen, DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: September 2020
CD No: Chandos Musica Italiana CHSA 5276 [SACD]
Duration: 55 minutes 46 seconds
Whether or not his greatest work, Luigi’s Dallapiccola’s The Prisoner is certainly his most representative through its depicting a situation of greatest emotional stress in terms the more powerful for its visceral immediacy. What ostensibly occurred, moreover, at the height of the Spanish Inquisition had renewed relevance for the period in which this opera was conceived; the composer pointing up the connection, over four-and-a-half centuries, to when Mussolini’s fascism aligned itself wholly to Nazi doctrine with all that that implied for racial annihilation.
While its brevity might have lessened frequency of staging (the most recent in the UK a not wholly successful one by English National Opera two decades ago), there have been several concert performances and this new recording, part of Gianandrea Noseda’s invaluable Musica Italiana series for Chandos, is the sixth to be made available commercially. At 43 minutes it is also the swiftest – yet, other than passingly in the (relatively) lengthy dialogue of Prisoner and Jailer, then at the close of the final scene, Noseda secures a convincing balance between cumulative dramatic tension and that interiorized speculation as characterizes the Prisoner’s ‘escape’. That he relates the piece stylistically more to Dallapiccola’s music of the previous decade than the ever more abstracted idiom which followed could itself be thought an asset.
Michael Nagy encompasses the agony and ecstasy of the title-role with no mean eloquence, while Stephen Rügamer exudes empathy without archness as the Jailer. Anna Marie Chiuri overcomes some initial unsteadiness to give an affecting portrayal of the Mother, with Adam Riis and Steffen Bruun ominously complementary as the two Priests. The Danish National Concert Choir acquits itself superbly in the ‘Intermezzo Chorales’, and the Danish National Symphony conveys both the subtlety and potency of Dallapiccola’s masterful orchestration.
As to comparisons, Ettore Gracis’s 1967 account from Venice (Mondo Musica) is of mainly historical interest (worth having for the only recording of the ‘sacra rappresentazione’ Job). Esa-Pekka Salonen’s 1995 version from Stockholm (Sony) and Dirk Kaftan’s 2017 reading from Graz (Oehms) both have real clarity and incisiveness, albeit at the expense of emotional fervour; which latter quality Alan Gilbert’s 2013 performance in New York (NYPO) evinces in spades. As, too, does Antal Doráti’s 1974 account from Washington (Eloquence); indeed, with arguably the most instinctive pacing and sound that wears its years lightly, this remains the benchmark – not least in its inclusion of the composer’s own ‘Notes on my ‘Prigioniero’’ that proves rather more substantial then Paul Griffiths’s annotations for the Chandos release.
The new account offers attractive couplings with the engaging First Series of Choruses after Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger and brief if ebullient Summer after Alcaeus, both from near the outset of the composer’s published output. Hopefully Noseda will go on to tackle the earlier one-act opera Volo di notte, inexplicably still to be recorded (there is a download-only version from Leon Botstein). In the meantime, this is a worthy successor to his two previous Dallapiccola releases (CHAN10258 and 10561) and can likewise be warmly recommended.
Further information is at https://www.chandos.net/products/catalogue/CHAN%205276
The conductor’s website is at http://www.gianandreanoseda.com/home_e.aspx