The refined no-nonsense Tancredi (Horne, 1983)

Once again, Horne’s Tancredi is a proper knight, no stranger to chopping enemies in cold blood. Amenaide is no ingenue either. She sounds like a twenty something and she won’t swoon easily. The feeling is of mature people getting in a rather childish entanglement. It’s low on subtlety but its energy is fun.

But this isn’t a verismo opera, so too much reality isn’t helping the entertainment value. The knight created by Rossi and Rossini is both macho and soulful. This is probably not true to reality but it makes for better theatre. The challenge is, then, to integrate both these sides of the character.

  • Tancredi: Marilyn Horne 
  • Amenaide: Lella Cuberli
  • Argirio: Ernesto Palacio
  • Orbazzano: Nicola Zaccaria
  • Isaura: Bernardette Manca di Nissa
  • Roggiero: Patricia Schumann

Conductor: Ralf Weikert | Venezia (11 June 1983)

This is an audience recording from the early ’80s and sounds like it. Often I had to strain my ears and still wasn’t sure if what I heard wasn’t warped by the limitations of the recording technology of the time. There are breaks in the middle of some arias where the sound turns better or worse, I guess depending on how the singers moved on stage or when the bootlegger moved the equipment. Luckily no consumptives were sat nearby.

Act I

Overture: pretty leisurely, probably the slowest I’ve heard, some very nice touches. There’s a sense of impishness about it.

Intro choir: Isaura1 has a very nice tone; Argirio sounds extremely young, although he’s ballsy and copes well with the tessitura. I can’t see him as Amenaide’s father, though, as her sound is fuller than his. Orbazzano is pleasantly low in tone but completely lacking in menace. Their duettino is mundane and the cabaletta workmanlike.

Amenaide’s entrance aria: Amenaide has no problems with the tessitura or the coloratura but she isn’t as girly as I’d like.

Oh, patria/Di tanti palpiti: nice pace on the “rolling boat” intro; recit very slow. Horne is reprising her stern and macho Tancredi, maybe a tad more emotional than in ’77. The tune itself is nicely paced and she does a good job with it, very secure in execution. Still not a fan of her vibrato.

The following recit where Tancredi sends Roggiero to tell Amenaide that a mysterious knight would like to speak to her privately: Horne, surprisingly, flies through this recit. I liked it better than when she lingers on syllables.

Argirio’s “think of England” aria: well sung but, again, fatherly he ain’t. I like him, he copes very well2 with the music per se yet he is miscast.

Amenaide/Tancredi recit and duet: Horne likes to be very declamatory in the recits but that sounds too artificial to me. Horne and Cuberli’s voices match very well; so maybe a girly Amenaide would not have worked so well with a very strong, no-nonsense kind of Tancredi.

Chorus that sends Orbazzano into battle: one of my favourite bits yet somehow I failed to mention it so far. Nicely done, martial and energetic. It was likely done with more gusto in this very manly Tancredi context and it fits.

Argirio reads the infamous letter: rather uninvolved.

Act I finale: from where the bootlegger was sat you could hear the timpani real well – that was a plus. Argirio still ballsy. Horne cold but not overly dark. Orbazzano still underwhelming. Amenaide not very compelling in her solo bits. Good job the choir. All singers doing a good job as an ensemble; robust feel from all, great conducting on the tremendous conclusion. Easily my favourite bit so far, replay button breaker.

Act II

Isaura’s aria: nice aria nicely done in the sense of the tone. Can’t say I’m feelin’ it, whatever it is I’m supposed to feel. But I really like the tone. Let me say it again: I like the tone.

Amenaide’s waiting for death aria: frankly this one is the low point of the opera for me. Cuberli tries but I don’t think she’s much of an actress.

Tancredi/Orbazzano face-off: Horne declaims again, pretty effective. Cuberli’s triumfa, mio… guerrier is once more not convincingly acted.

Argirio/Tancredi duet: wistfulness isn’t Horne’s strong point. I don’t believe her son si misero for a moment. Palacio is all right.

Amenaide’s second aria: hm. The public liked it but I’m rarely impressed by technique alone.

Fiero incontro/Ah, come mai quell’anima: Horne just can’t do hurt. Somebody should’ve told her you drop the tough act when you mean to show hurt. Her Tancredi either isn’t heartbroken or refuses to reveal his feelings. For a strong, pragmatic warrior to get into this wahala and not even be in love, eh… that’s not very credible. Horne then fell through a trapdoor of something, as the beginning of Ah, come mai… was barely audible. The cantabile is done very slowly and is rather neat, they blend well. Too bad Horne sounds nasal when she goes soulful. Some ardent fans broke through with the clapping but Weikert did not cower – good job! – and launched the trumpets for the cabaletta.

Well… after a bit of soulfulness, which Rossini made inescapable, we return to the dialog and Tancredi is detached again. Trema!, in respone to Amenaide’s Seguerti! is downright strange. I don’t even know how to read it. It should be fierce and outraged but Horne is almost askance. Yea, she should tremble, she’s bloody cheeky to ask you to take her back after what she’s done to you. Duh. What’s worse, her si, crudel tu sei la cagion del mio dolor sounds almost jolly. Err… Maybe big warrior dude is a masochist at heart. This was rather awful, in spite of the technical facility of Horne and Cuberli.

Isaura reveals to Roggiero that Amenaide is innocent: it amuses me that the squeaky voiced Schumann went on to sing Vitellia a decade later. Proof a decade makes a difference, because based on her mini aria here, I would have not guessed in a million years that she would ever sing that big meanie.

Ove son io?: says Tancredi from under the stage. Clearly the bootlegger’s seat was not central. Weirdly, Horne is doing a bit better with the self pity here. Maybe her Tancredi has trouble expressing weakness in front of the ladies. I still think she went too slow to milk the emotion she couldn’t express through voice alone.

Ecco, amici, Tancredi!: our hero expresses sarcasm and disgust. He was much better with these emotions. I still don’t like the over-extending of syllables.

Perche turbar la calma: sigh. Talk about inappropriate fioriture, although not many. Luckily the piccolo could be heard well; I enjoyed that.

The sad ending: the sad ending is boring as fuck, as far as I’m concerned. There’s a lot of acting and no singing except by the choir. And if your singers ain’t much actors…

Verdict: Horne is more emotional here and manages to integrate the tough and soulful side of the title character better here than in ’77, reason for which I recommend it. Some weirdness, some big misses dramatically speaking; all good singers but not very good voice actors, excellent Act I finale, good conducting.


  1. Manca de Nissa would go on to sing and record the title role herself. 
  2. As he should, I hear he’s JDF’s teacher. 
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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on January 16, 2014, in mezzos & contraltos, rossini and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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