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Historical - Verdi: Il Trovatore / Karajan, Callas, Et Al

Release Date: 01/16/2007 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 77365   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Maria CallasGiuseppe Di StefanoRolando PaneraiGiulio Mauri,   ... 
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala OrchestraMilan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 2 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

VERDI Il trovatore Herbert von Karajan, cond; Maria Callas ( Leonora ); Giuseppe Di Stefano ( Manrico ); Rolando Panerai ( Count di Luna ); Fedora Barbieri ( Azucena ); Nicola Zaccaria ( Ferrando ); La Scala O & Ch EMI 77365 (2 CDs: 129:18) Read more />

You wouldn’t go to a role like Il trovatore ’s Leonora to hear how well Callas handles the cut and thrust of drama, but there’s more than enough of interest in this 1956 EMI recording to draw attention. The soprano’s aristocratic treatment of the line, for one thing. Another is her ability to make every moment count. The high notes aren’t completely secure, but the intensity of treatment commands respect. Elsewhere, I found her “Tacea la notte” a shade rushed and prosaic, but “D’amor sull’ ali rosee” possessed plenty of poetry (and a few requested though seldom performed trills).

By this time in his career, Di Stefano was performing a great deal, beginning to jettison the scrupulous production imbued through his earlier training, and accepting heavier roles. Examples of all this show up in his Manrico. He sounds a lot more at ease in “Di quella pira” (save the final high notes) than he does in “Ah sì, ben mio,” which is not a sign of increasing vocal power, but rather of increasing difficulty in moving the tone easily over a bel canto line. The latter piece still exhibits that golden sound for which Di Stefano was justifiably renowned, as well as pleasurable moments where the voice recalls the elegant instrument of the live 1949 Mexico City Mignon (currently on Enterprise 1244). However, there are also smudges and scoops, exaggerated vowels, and shortened phrase endings along the way.

Panerai’s flicker vibrato is immediately attractive, though he never showed much ability to modulate his basic sound. His “Il balen” is well sung, despite a tendency to cut short phrases in louder passages. Barbieri was the Azucena both here and in the 1952 recording with Björling and Milanov. I find her more tremulous and breathy in the softer, intimate passages (“Ai nostri monti”) of 1956, equally fine as both vengeance harpy and maternal figure in 1952. Nor should we forget Zaccaria as Ferrando, doing a superior job of making his one big scene establish the dramatic frame for the entire opera.

As for Karajan, he was usually a thoughtful colleague at this point in his career, focusing on the needs of the drama and usually attentive to his vocalists. He proves so on this release, with the La Scala musicians on their best behavior. Fans of traditional performances of this score may find it lacking in some of the sudden shifts of tempo that have almost become sacrosanct, but it is curious to hear a straight-forward treatment that refuses to halt or speed up simply because it’s been done that way to satisfy audiences for a century or more.

Good on paper, less so in the studio, this Il trovatore nonetheless boasts several qualities that move it beyond the routine—but then, there was never anything routine about the likes of Callas or Karajan. If an archival recording interests you, I prefer Björling/Milanov, most recently on RCA 2060 (though Cellini is no Karajan). For the rest, despite its flaws, this remains a persuasive performance.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Maria Callas (Soprano), Giuseppe Di Stefano (Tenor), Rolando Panerai (Baritone),
Giulio Mauri (Bass), Renato Ercolani (Tenor), Nicola Zaccaria (Bass),
Luisa Villa (Soprano), Fedora Barbieri (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1853; Italy 
Venue:  La Scala Theater, Milan, Italy 
Length: 129 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Language: Italian 
Notes: La Scala Theater, Milan, Italy (08/03/1956 - 08/09/1956) 

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