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Verdi: Il Trovatore / Mercurio, Bocelli, Villarroel, Et Al

Release Date: 06/15/2004 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 000262902   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Verónica VillarroelElena ZarembaCarlo GuelfiCarlo Colombara,   ... 
Conductor:  Steven Mercurio
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Catania Teatro Massimo Bellini Opera ChorusCatania Teatro Massimo Bellini Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Tenor sensation Andrea Bocelli shifts the focus on his third full-length opera recording from the lush romanticism of Puccini to the grandeur and immensity of Verdi. 'Il Trovatore' is perhaps the great composer's most popular work. It's a riveting tale of passion and revenge loaded with magnificent music, including the arias "Ah si, ben mio," "D'amor sull'ali rosee," "Miserere," and the rousing tenor showpiece "Di quella pira," as well as the famous "Anvil" chorus.
Bocelli may not have the vocal heft usually associated with Verdian tenors, but he makes excellent use of his supple phrasing and idiomatic command of the text to give a dramatically nuanced portrayal of the mysterious hero
Read more Manrico. Kudos to the set's producers for assembling a solid cast around the superstar singer, notably the fine Chilean soprano Veronica Villarroel as the heroic love interest, Leonora, and Elena Zaremba (acclaimed for her work in heavier repertoire) in the demanding mezzo role of Azucena. Carlo Guelfi (Il Conte di Luna), Maria Grazia Calderone (Ines), and Carlo Colombara (Ferrando) acquit themselves admirably in their respective parts. Steven Mercurio and the forces of the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Massimo Bellini di Catania offer capable support throughout.

Full review from FANFARE Magazine:
I suppose the inevitable reaction to this release will be something to the effect of “Did we really need another Il trovatore?” The answer is “No, we didn’t but . . .” Obviously, the reason for this one is to provide another operatic outlet for the celebrated Andrea Bocelli, a tenor whose bad reviews may have caused him to, as the joke goes, “cry all the way to the bank.” So far as I know, his one attempt at live opera in the United States was a Werther in Detroit. How does a blind tenor do Werther? Well, for one thing, his Charlotte, Denyce Graves, led him around the stage while, presumably, making it look as if he were leading her. A competent director can deal with that problem. What can’t be dealt with is his small-sized voice, which, by the end of the evening, was raw from his strenuous efforts to fill a large opera house. He cancelled his remaining Werthers and Detroit had to scramble to get someone else. Yet his records have sold extremely well, and why not? He’s a creature of the microphone, all right, but the beauty of his voice came from a Higher Power than his publicist.

On this new Trovatore, he finds himself pitted against Veronica Villarroel, Elena Zaremba, and Carlo Guelfi, singers whose voices sound like the real thing. Welcome to the world of recording, where Beverly Sills is as loud as Eileen Farrell, Jussi Björling can hold his own against Birgit Nilsson, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf can dub a high note for Kirsten Flagstad. Anna Barry is the producer responsible for the rich, yet detailed sound of this release, the sonic vividness and power of which struck me right away. Maybe she got a little help from the theater. I might also say that the conductor, Steven Mercurio, takes full advantage of it, not pushing the tempos along too fast (the “Anvil Chorus” might almost be described as stately, but it also has dignity and power when it’s done his way). Some other spots have a “lift” and bounce that they lack when some conductor whips them up. He also bends the tempos enough to give his cast some freedom of expression. His approach reminds me of Carlo Maria Giulini’s. Like some of his more celebrated colleagues, Mercurio demonstrates that Il trovatore is a “conductor’s opera” when the man in the pit knows what he’s doing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a conductor make more of the spooky opening scene and here, as well as elsewhere, the chorus is involved in the drama, partly because they have presence—they don’t sound like they’re 200 feet away.

The Ferrando, Carlo Colombara, has an imposing, dark voice and does all right until he, like other Ferrandos, can’t quite handle the final few pages of the scene, which Verdi, unfortunately, has marked “Allegro assai agitato.” A curiosity: Decca has provided a four-language libretto that omits this scene. You are instructed to put CD number one in your computer, which then reads it with Adobe Acrobat. Then I suppose you can print it out if you want to. It is likely that most purchasers of this recording will already have a libretto from an existing version or won’t care about the libretto anyway. On to the rest of the cast: Veronica Villarroel, if she lacks the creamy sound of some of her predecessors, has a bright, pleasant voice that has enough juice to allow her to hold her own against the orchestra. Her technique is sometimes a bit bumpy and she skips all Verdi’s D?s and simplifies a cadenza, but there’s ample precedent for that on previous recordings of the opera. She also gets to sing both verses of both cabalettas—in fact, the entire performance is without cuts, another plus.

Some people will have a problem with Andrea Bocelli, if they don’t have one already. Some of the reviews I’ve read seem to hold him to a higher standard than “real” opera tenors, as if the music needs to be defended against some interloper from the pops world. No, it’s not a particularly robust voice but, if anything, I think Decca has overcompensated, trying to make him sound like the second coming of Mario Del Monaco. Making things worse is that he has little dynamic variety, sometimes dropping down to a pianissimo but usually just singing with all stops out. His “off-stage” appearances in acts I and IV are only token ones, as if he stepped a couple of feet further from the mike. He has no trill (a fault with most Manricos, it must be said) and even his punchy attempts at some of the rapid, alternating notes are sloppy. I was particularly annoyed by the way he banged out “Ah si ben mio,” even though his sound, per se, struck me as gorgeous. And he sings “Di quella pira” in C Major, taking the “optional” high Cs and holding the final one forever. Just occasionally, he’s momentarily in “the cracks,” but makes quick recoveries. Once again, let me say that there is ample precedent for every “bad” thing he does and it’s easy to forgive so impassioned and unstinting a piece of singing; he does a lot of very nice things, too.

So do Elena Zaremba and Carlo Guelfi, singers who seem amply equipped to do justice to their parts. Sometimes Zaremba’s enthusiastic assault on Azucena’s music sends her into “the cracks,” too, but she, like, Bocelli, is unstinting. She skips one naked high C that Verdi, in a moment of sadism, put in one of Azucena’s cadenzas. Once again, there is ample precedent. Guelfi has an arresting dark baritone voice and a modicum of agility that gets him through even the rapid-fire stuff with honor (he does, however, simplify a cadenza). Perhaps he can’t quite get Verdi’s requested “ dolce” into his voice in “Il balen” but, unlike some more famous baritones, he doesn’t butcher the aria, either, by gasping for breath and barking. To not answer an obvious question, I don’t know if he is any relation of Giangiacomo Guelfi, a celebrated baritone of several decades past.

No, I suppose I would not recommend this recording as your only Trovatore but neither would I trash it. I’d rate it behind those of Mehta, Giulini, Pappano, and I suppose, Cellini and Karajan 1, despite the stupid cuts those two conductors make. For this review, I went through the recording once with, and once without, a score. I’ll be listening to it some more for my own pleasure—for my taste, it’s the best-sounding one I’ve ever heard and it has a lot going for it, even for those who are not Andrea Bocelli enthusiasts. I’ve never heard any of his previous recordings—only how lousy he supposedly is. Now that my curiosity is piqued, I’ll have to do something about that. In any event, I don’t begrudge him his next trip to the bank.

James Miller, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Verónica Villarroel (Soprano), Elena Zaremba (Mezzo Soprano), Carlo Guelfi (Baritone),
Carlo Colombara (Bass), Maria Grazia Calderone (Mezzo Soprano), Salvatore Bonaffini (Tenor),
Salvatore Todaro (Tenor), Barbaro Sciuto (Tenor), Andrea Bocelli (Tenor)
Conductor:  Steven Mercurio
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Catania Teatro Massimo Bellini Opera Chorus,  Catania Teatro Massimo Bellini Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1853; Italy 
Date of Recording: 2001 
Venue:  Teatro Massimo "Bellini", Catania 
Length: 3 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Language: Italian 

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