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Notes and Editorial Reviews
The most vital and uninhibited singing you will ever hear from Leontyne Price. Self-recommending as long as you are tolerant of mono sound.
Thomas Schippers, cond, Carlo Bergonzi
; Leontyne Price
; Cornell Macneil
; Carlotta Ordassy
; Giorgio Tozzi
(Don Ruy Gomez de Silva)
; Roald Reitan
; Robert Nagy
; Lilian Benningsen
; Liselotte Fölser
; Metropolitan Op O & Ch
SONY 88691 909962 (2 CDs: 104:28) Live: New York 12/01/1962
“I know what good music is, I just don’t want to record it” has to be one of the nastiest, most cynical statements allegedly uttered, even by record executive standards. Haunt him as it hopefully will, I as an outsider have been pleasantly surprised by Peter Gelb’s modernization and opening-out of the Metropolitan Opera. Pure speculation, but I assume that Gelb, a former Sony Classical head, had a hand in bringing this Met Opera Archive series to fruition. This is my first experience of Sony’s much trumpeted series, and it is something to get excited about, as surprisingly little of the Met archive has been officially published. The legendary Mitropoulos
Ballo in Maschera
or inevitable Franco Corelli
aside, Sony has wisely not always gone for the obvious artifacts, possibly because most avid collectors will already have them in one of the many European bootlegs kicking about. Instead, we can now hear Pilar Lorengar’s Eva and Richard Tucker’s Hoffmann in cleaned-up sound and at a low price, promoting singers who otherwise didn’t get enough chances in the studio. This
, however, is a curious choice to spend money restoring, as RCA (part of Sony BMG) recorded the opera with the same principals and conductor.
Still, please don’t take that as a complaint. Although the live broadcast is heavily cut in comparison to the studio effort, hearing Leontyne Price and Carlo Bergonzi live and unplugged is a very special thrill. The Metropolitan Opera seems to rather like
, even though Verdi’s early but already mature Victor Hugo adaptation has a pretty silly story to sell. Not so much of a love triangle, more some preposterous love square set in 16th-century Spain, the busy plot sees Elvira, pursued for marriage by her uncle, her bandit lover Ernani, and (would you believe it?) the King of Spain. Still, if good dramaturgy turns a blind eye, it is a very effective sing-off for two great leads.
I do maintain that great singers do exist, and that rose-tinted glasses and formative experiences taint judgment of the so-called Golden Age, but seriously, where are the new Bergonzis and Prices? It is not true that they had an old-fashioned way of singing Italian opera. One has to remember that far from being typical Verdi singers, they represented a lyrical, good-taste approach to repertoire that was (and is) too often bellowed. Price’s voice was a juicy lyric soprano that didn’t seem to mind being pushed to fit
music. Bergonzi, in many ways, is as improbable a Verdi singer as Fischer-Dieskau (both share a respect for Verdi’s
) and certainly a change from Franco Corelli’s and Mario del Monaco’s decibeled machismo. In short, Bergonzi sounds more like a cello than an Italian tenor, complementing Price’s smoky, sensual shimmer. Out of the studio, they both take risks (with admittedly some pretty tasteless held notes here and there), being not merely content to bathe in their sound, and they color words with real dramatic force. This year’s Met
, with some beautiful sounds in Dimitri Hvorostovsky and Marcello Giordani, seemed to tread water by comparison.
Cornell MacNeil is in superb form here as Don Carlos. Blasphemy, I know, but I have often found his refusal to vary his full, rich sound could make him a dull dramatic baritone, but I sort of see what the fuss is about here. He lacks the fiery tone of Mario Sereni, but he sings with real light and shade, as well as a clean instrumental line. Giorgio Tozzi is fine as Silva, but lacks the huge presence and clean vocalism of Ezio Flagello on the RCA studio set, or Ghiarov on Muti’s live EMI version. Still, his act I aria is impressively sung. Thomas Shippers keeps things moving furiously, while keeping things relatively tidy in the pit. The Met orchestra’s high standards didn’t necessarily start under James Levine.
Sound has clearly been tidied up but surely nobody can be expecting spacious, SACD clinicism. The slightly boxy congestion is all part of the audience-coughing, smell-of-the-greasepaint theatrical experience. Presentation is awful, with just a brief synopsis and a couple of photos. Dodgy labels like the old Myto had far more to tell you in their booklets. Still, Sony is charging very little for these Met memories, so that’s not the end of the world. Wonderful document as this is, one does wonder how necessary it is for Sony BMG to have two Bergonzi/Price/Shippers
s in the catalog. The proper studio version not only comes with a more complete score and with text and translations but also has a far more interesting Don Carlo and Silva in Mario Sereni and Ezio Flagello. Still, I don’t think anyone intended this crackly memento of great singing to be a first-choice
. Best to go for Muti’s complete EMI version for that, but who couldn’t or wouldn’t spend the tiny outlay Sony is asking to have this as a supplement?
FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
The more of these Met archives live broadcasts we hear, the more we become aware of a standard of cast and performance that might then have been taken for granted but which seems impossibly exalted today. The only pity is that they were not recorded in stereo. As it is, we must be content with clean, slightly boxy mono sound occasionally punctuated with some wow and fade such as we hear at the end of the great ensemble “Oh sommo Carlo” which concludes Act III. Supposedly re-mastered for this first Met-authorised release, the sound is apparently little different from or better than previous unauthorised releases but no-one will complain at the price. We are not exactly short of good recordings of
Ernani. There is the excellent, stereo 1967 RCA studio recording with the same two principal singers and conductor. A classic vintage performance exists from RAI in 1950 with Caterina Mancini, Gino Penno and Giuseppe Taddei conducted by Previtali. There’s also the celebrated live blockbuster from Florence in 1957 starring Del Monaco, Cerquetti, Christoff and Bastianini – beat that for a cast!
Having said that, I think there are still very good reasons for buying this set, not least the opportunity to hear Leontyne Price in such youthful, vibrant voice that she sounds positively reckless in her attack on her music; she is as thrilling as Mancini and Cerquetti but with even more beauty of tone. True, one or two top notes squawk a little, but by and large this is the most vital and uninhibited singing you will ever hear from her. Bergonzi, too, while he will never have the heft and squillo of Del Monaco, is as elegant as ever and immensely touching in his lament “Solingo, errante e misero”, but also extraordinarily released, capping the cavatina to his opening aria with a prolonged B flat that raises the roof. To complete a trio of superb singers, Cornell MacNeill is in massively authoritative voice, firm and expressive if occasionally slightly vibrato-heavy; he twice caps his big moments with ringing A-flats. The singers’ grandstanding results in spontaneous audience applause over the music but that just adds to the drama of what was clearly a great occasion. The supporting cast, led by a black-voiced Giorgio Tozzi as the implacable Silva, is very good, especially Robert Nagy in the small tenor role of Riccardo.
Schippers conducts a brisk, urgent, flexible performance which has a small cut in the chorus for the “Festa di Ballo” opening Act IV but is otherwise complete. This is not a subtle opera: there are lots of “oompah-pah” 3/4 passages and the melodramatic plot, with its insistence upon honour over common sense or morality, is rebarbative to a modern audience; Hugo condemned the adaptation of his play “Hernani” as a “travesty”. On the other hand, the succession of great, rollicking tunes and strong characterisation whereby a persona is closely linked to its voice type, make this, Verdi’s fifth opera, first performed in 1844 and his first real success since “Nabucco”, a tempting bargain. The music is by no means all rum-ti-tum; there is a lovely orchestral introduction to Elvira’s first appearance on stage which is reminiscent of the one Bellini used to introduce Adalgisa in “Norma”. The set-pieces, such as the aforementioned ensemble and the great trio which concludes the work, are both stirring and sophisticated.
For the record the libretto was by Francesco Maria Piave. It was based on Victor Hugo’s play
Hernani. The opera was first performed at the Teatro la Fenice, Venice, on 9 March 1843.
This issue of yet another of the Met Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts is self-recommending as long as you are tolerant of mono sound.
-- Ralph Moore, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi
Cornell MacNeil (Baritone),
Leontyne Price (Soprano),
Carlo Bergonzi (Tenor),
Robert Nágy (Tenor),
Giorgio Tozzi (Bass),
Carlotta Ordassy (Soprano),
Ronald Reitan (Spoken Vocals)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1844; Italy
Date of Recording: 12/1/1962
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Magnificent Quartet of Singers March 27, 2012
By Craig R. Gates See All My Reviews
"The present recording of the December 1, 1962 performance of Ernani is truly overwhelming in the shear beauty of singing of the four leading roles. Both Bergonzi and Price were to go on to record their roles for RCA in 1967 with Mario Sereni and Ezio Flagello. I have owned that recording for 44 years and always receive great pleasure from the performance. It is complete, whereas the present recording suffers from some traditional cuts common to performances of that time. For me, the live performance allows the listener to experience both Bergonzi and Price in full bloom of the glorious top of their form. The joy of the 1962 Met performance is the experience of two remarkable singers enjoying themselves being totally committed to what they are doing at the moment. Giorgio Tozzi embodied the masculine sound of what a bass voice should be. I have loved every performance of his that was captured for posterity. His was the first bass voice I fell in love with in the motion picture version of South Pacific and the 1st opera recording I bought Le Nozze di Figaro. His sound is unique and instantly recognizable. He sound is noble, not just the character he portrays. While I do not think any baritone could sing Viene meco, sol di rose in the second act as lyrically as Sereni does in the studio recording, MacNeil makes the greatest impression of all the singers in Act 3 of the live performance. MacNeils singing of the great scene at the beginning of Act 3 including the aria Oh, deverdanni miei maybe the single most beautifully sung Verdi aria on record. The concluding high A-flat is beyond belief. In the concerted number beginning with the words O sommo Carlo, piu del tuo nome MacNeil soars up to another high A-flat that rigs through the Met and forever sets the standard for this role. The very last phrase of the finale is sung to the words A Carlo Quinto sia gloria e onor! Price & Bergonzi sing the last word of the F at the top of the staff, but you can here the last note being toped by the A above the staff....not written....but sung by MacNeil. If you ask me, the price of this recording is worth every penny they are asking for the whole evening, but MacNeils stunning in this early recording and lucky for us, the preserved performance is now ours."