Notes and Editorial Reviews
Richard Bonynge, cond; Joan Sutherland (
); Kenneth Collins (
); Jonathan Summers (
Count di Luna
); Lauris Elms (
); Donald Shanks (
); Cynthia Johnston (
); Elizabethan Sydney O; Australian Op Ch
OPERA AUSTRALIA OPOZ 56013CD (2 CDs: 139:56) Live: Sydney 1983
This 1983 performance of
from the Sydney Opera House has for years been available on video, first on VHS cassette and later on DVD. At one time the rather spare production was a bit controversial; I doubt it would be deemed such today. In any case that does not concern us here, as we are dealing with an audio-only reissue by Opera Australia.
This set is of interest at least to Joan Sutherland fans (and there are many of us still out there) because of the unlikely material she performs. Although La Stupenda sang some Verdi supporting roles at the beginning of her career and a
or two here and there, the great Italian composer’s works were never a central part of Sutherland’s quite large repertoire while she could still supply all the coloratura fireworks. She always experienced difficulty learning new roles, and to take on one such as this in her mid-50s only underscores the fact that she and husband-conductor Richard Bonynge were seriously looking to augment the aging soprano’s bel canto base.
In 1983 Sutherland still had some claim to being one of the finest sopranos in the world, and the role of Leonora, with its rather high tessitura, suits her vocal abilities nicely. She sings the dickens out of Leonora’s beautiful music on this recording, her fabulous top still obviously in place, and she ornaments like few before, especially noticeable in “D’amor sull’ali rosee” in act IV. And yes, fans, the unparalleled Sutherland trill is still in evidence. At this point in her career Dame Joan’s rather worn midrange and pedestrian chest voice will make none of us forget the velvet glory of Leontyne Price in the role, but there is actually very little of that type of singing required and Sutherland’s performance here is a real
tour de force.
The other three principals—the tenor imported by the Bonynges from England, and a local baritone and contralto—are all solidly competent artists but never considered among the ranks of the elite. Yet in this recording they all turn in surprisingly strong performances. The tenor Manrico, Kenneth Collins, sings very nicely and achieves a real Italianate “ping” in the troubadour hero’s bravura passages. The Azucena of Australian Lauris Elms is sung very well indeed, if without some of the rich lower registration of a Ewa Podles or Dolora Zajick that we have lately come to enjoy. Jonathan Summers as the villain di Luna turns in a well-sung and appealing performance if not achieving quite the top rank of some others on disc.
Standard cuts are taken, unusual for Bonynge, but even in the former colonies patrons must be sent home before midnight and the orchestra kept off overtime. Bonynge, as usual, caters to the singers, letting them have the kind of tempos that maximize the vocal line. Some have claimed that the maestro willfully smoothes over some of Verdi’s raw energy and power here, but I don’t really hear it. The Verdi score is served well enough in some of his most memorable music. I find conductor and orchestra almost uniformly excellent in creating the expectant frisson of a good live performance. If I have any small criticism it would be with the amount of applause left on the recording. That sort of thing is OK on video, where you can watch the artists taking it in and basking in the glory; it’s another thing when it just uses time and holds up the opera on audio disc.
The competition on CD is numerous and fierce. This issue will not displace the top recordings of
the classic Price-Domingo set from 1970, the 1952 RCA recording with Milanov and Björling, the 1956 EMI production with Callas and di Stefano, nor even the more recent 2001 recording with Gheorghiu, Alagna, and Hampson led by Antonio Pappano. The Bonynge-led set does slide in nicely with the recordings just a cut below the great ones, a good representative recording of the opera to have, and with the incandescent Sutherland to the fore, one many opera fans will covet. No libretto; booklet synopsis is provided in English, French, and German.
FANFARE: Bill White
Works on This Recording
Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
Kenneth Collins (Tenor),
Jonathan Summers (Baritone),
Lauris Elms (Mezzo Soprano),
Dame Joan Sutherland (Soprano)
Australian Opera Chorus,
Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra
Written: 1853; Italy
Date of Recording: 07/02/1983
Venue: Sydney Opera House
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