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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fausto Cleva, cond; Leontyne Price (
); Franco Corelli (
); Mario Sereni (
); Irene Dalis (
); Metropolitan Op O & Ch
SONY 88697-91006-2, mono (2 CDs: 124:50) Live: Metropolitan Opera, New York 2/4/1961
It is not clear
where the major decision-making authority is behind the Sony series of “historic” Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. Does it lie principally with Met officials, or with executives at Sony? It would be interesting to know in particular concerning this release. Was anyone even aware of its almost direct competition with DG’s release (447659), long considered one of
great recordings, of a live Salzburg Festival performance from six months later with the same tenor and soprano, a more famous baritone and mezzo, and one of the era’s most highly regarded conductors (Herbert von Karajan)? As wonderful as this performance is, and as satisfying as it is to have it available in terrifically clear and natural monaural sound, one has to wonder how a careful examination of the Met’s considerable broadcast archives and available competition would have led to the conclusion that
should be one of the earlier commercial releases in the series. Now that it is here, one has no choice but to compare it directly with the DG. The surprise is how well this version fares in that comparison.
Both performances employ the usual cuts from the period. Sony’s track listing claims that Leonora’s last-act cabaletta, “Tu vedrai,” is here, but in fact it is not. Both are in good, natural monaural sound, with the Met’s audience a bit less intrusive during the performance, and the Salzburg/DG’s sound occasionally too heavily favoring the orchestra. Sony’s version includes lengthier applause after big moments. There is a definite advantage to the DG set in terms of ensemble togetherness. Salzburg Festival conditions guarantee greater rehearsal time, and Karajan is a better disciplinarian than Fausto Cleva. There are moments that threaten to fall apart in the Met performance, but they go by quickly. And if this detail is important to you, be aware that in both performances Corelli is permitted to transpose “Di quella pira” down a half-step for a final high B instead of C. DG provides a libretto and translation; Sony does not.
Fanatic collectors like me probably love the fact that we can have both. But even the majority of opera nuts, who will probably also want other
recordings (Milanov/Bjoerling, a classic despite flaccid conducting; or Price/Domingo/Mehta, the best uncut studio effort), are not likely to want two recordings with the same soprano and tenor leads. On paper the obvious choice would be the starrier Salzburg performance, and that is what I anticipated when I set out to compare the two.
It didn’t quite come out that way. No question that Karajan is the more refined and, in many ways, musically accomplished conductor. But that refinement doesn’t always work to his advantage in Verdi. Cleva, an operatic veteran, understood the idiom thoroughly. Cleva was considered a “singers’ conductor” at the Met, meaning that he accompanied sensitively and let singers have their head. Thus Corelli gets to hold a few notes longer on the Met performance (the end of his entrance serenade, for example), and if you’re a purist that might trouble you. If you think that that is what Italian opera is all about, you’ll love it. Overall, to my ears the Cleva performance flows more naturally; the Karajan seems a bit fussy and controlled at times. Ensemble is generally tighter with Karajan, though there are moments with him, too (he and Bastianini don’t seem in complete agreement regarding tempos, and the ensemble that ends the first act threatens to collapse). But it is those gear shifts, from one tempo into another, that just seem more natural, smoother, with Cleva, and more studied, more thought-through (not in a good way) with Karajan.
Price and Corelli are similar in both performances, though both take a few more liberties under Cleva, and sing with a touch more abandon. Price is a glory—her Leonora a triumph in every way. This is Verdi singing for the ages, and it is hard to imagine better. The glow on the voice, the majestic phrasing, and her identification with the character make hers a unique achievement. She sounds, particularly in her last-act aria, just a bit more flowing and comfortable under Cleva—but that difference is slight. Corelli will always be a more controversial singer, though there can be little argument over the basic quality of the voice. This was a tenor whose sound defined the Italian spinto: dark, but with a bright overlay of ring. Corelli could sing softly, and did more than he is given credit for (the end of “Mal reggendo,” for instance). He did scoop into notes, he did take liberties with note values that his admirers felt added to spontaneity and excitement and his detractors felt savaged the intention of the composer. Count me among his admirers (when I listen to the freedom displayed by some of the earliest singers to record, like Fernando de Lucia, many of whom were sought-after by composers, I conclude that today’s rigid adherence to the printed score is historically questionable, at best). At his best, in this kind of repertoire, I find Corelli thrilling, and he is more so under Cleva. Directly comparing Manrico’s outburst at Leonora in the final scene, beginning “Dal mio rivale! … Intendo, intendo! Ha quest’infame l’amor venduto,” one is swept away by the intensity, bordering on rage, one hears in the Met performance. Under Karajan, Corelli is not permitted to let loose to such a degree, and the result is less convincing.
The Karajan performance has one of the great Azucenas on disc, Giulietta Simionato, at her peak. I cannot honestly say that Irene Dalis is her equal. But there is much to cherish in Dalis’s performance, and hers was a career sadly underrepresented on disc because of the competition (Simionato, Barbieri, Cossotto, Gorr, Bumbry, and Verrett). She was a Met mainstay—and in fact one of the finest Amnerises I have ever seen. Today, she would share the spotlight with Dolores Zajic ahead of all competition. Her voice was plummy, her dramatic intensity always at the white-hot level, and having her Azucena preserved in this recording is an important addition to our knowledge of Verdi singing in that era. I believe Kundry for Knappertsbusch is her only commercial recording, adding to the value of her Azucena here.
Vocally, Mario Sereni is no match for Bastianini, the latter blessed with one of the most beautiful, ringing baritone voices of this period. Sereni has the right basic sound for this music, knows how it goes, and sings with involvement. But so does Bastianini, heard in the Salzburg
at his very best, perhaps inspired by Karajan to pay attention to text and dynamics. And there is no denying the ordinariness of Sereni’s voice when compared with Bastianini’s.
The Vienna Philharmonic is a better orchestra than the Met ensemble was in 1961 (that is much less the case today), and the choral singing is better too on the DG. But despite some clear points of specific superiority on the DG, and despite the occasional (and soft) presence of the prompter in the Met/Sony edition, I know that it is that Met performance on Sony to which I will return more often, when I want a recording of
that just sweeps everything before it because of its dramatic thrust and momentum matched with great singing.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
Leontyne Price (Soprano),
Mario Sereni (Baritone),
Irene Dalis (Mezzo Soprano),
Franco Corelli (Tenor),
Teresa Stratas (Soprano)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1853; Italy
Date of Recording: February 4, 1961
Venue: Metropolitan Opera, New York
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Cast Notes March 30, 2012
By W. Sheppard (Arlington, VA) See All My Reviews
"I agree wholeheartedly with Henry Fogel's review, but I thought it might be worthwhile to note that the "Opera News" for the February 4, 1961, broadcast of the opera lists Robert Merrill for the role of the Count and Helen Vanni as Inez, rather than Mario Sereni and Teresa Stratas, respectfully. The leaflet with the recording really should note the changes, probably due to illness. Also, there is a misprint in the leaflet and on the back of the CD set: the bass singing Ferrando so impressively spelled his last name with two "n"s: Wildermann. He was a regular at the Met, the New York City Opera, and Pittsburgh Opera, and I had the pleasure of hearing him in "Das Rheingold" in Dallas many years later."