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Verdi: Il Trovatore / Gavazzeni, Bergonzi, Tucci, Simionato

Verdi / Gavazzeni / Bergonzi / Tucci
Release Date: 07/31/2012 
Label:  La Scala   Catalog #: 8   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Gabriela TucciPiero CappuccilliCarlo BergonziGiulietta Simionato
Conductor:  Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala OrchestraMilan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

VERDI Il Trovatore Gianadrea Gavazzeni, cond; Carlo Bergonzi ( Manrico ); Gabriella Tucci ( Leonora ); Piero Cappuccilli ( Count di Luna); Giulietta Simionato ( Azucena ); Ivo Vinco ( Ferrando ); Mirella Fiorentini ( Inez ); La Scala O/Ch Read more LA SCALA MEMORIES 8 (2 CDs: 125:57 Text and Translation)

Caruso’s epigram that Il Trovatore only requires the world’s four greatest opera singers for success, is well known. Less so (because it isn’t associated with a clever comment) is Verdi’s repeated stricture throughout his surviving correspondence that vocalists should carefully follow the score when performing any of his works. Many of the casts of large-voiced singers that have recorded Il Trovatore would not please him in this respect, given the rabid letters dashed off to his publisher whenever the matter was brought to his attention.

The observation comes to mind upon listening again to this 1964 live performance of the opera, given in Moscow by a touring La Scala. The voices are strong, the characterization ample, but the attention to musical detail is sometimes sketchy at best. Yes, that’s to be expected from performances caught live, but it was just as true of studio recordings from Italy that began appearing a few years after World War II. One respected British critic was of the opinion that verismo training blunted operatic interpretation and cost vocal finesse, but I suspect the answer was more complicated than that: a 19th-century tradition (as noted above) of easy disregard for the letter of the score, a general loss of the earlier bel canto style, and an Italian opera house system that allowed impresarios to establish punishing regimens for their singers. All likely contributed to the result.

Gabriella Tucci and Piero Cappuccilli provide examples of this. Certainly neither is bad, though Cappuccilli sounds tired throughout. Both are expressive. Although out of sorts in the early part of the evening, by act IV Tucci’s voice has warmth, power, and focus. But they treat all the music as though it were written on one level, and vented without emotional variation.

Standing against this pair are the other two principals. Giulietta Simionato was drawing to the end of her lengthy career by the time of this performance—her debut was in 1928, her La Scala debut in 1936. Yet there’s no questioning her attention to detail here, her enunciation, or the fine, aristocratic thread of her tone, especially when compared in their act III duet to Cappuccilli. The voice is slightly worn at times, but the coloring she evokes through a range of shades makes so much more of this Azucena than the usual one-dimensional harridan. As much can be said of Carlo Bergonzi. His Manrico is more ardent and spontaneous than in the studio (1962; currently on DG 0289 477 5662), though of reasonable scrupulousness. “Ah si, ben mio” is finely lyrical and attentive to some of the score’s markings in a way that so many other versions of his time and place were not—right down to the repeated trills. Their scenes together are the highlights of this performance.

It helps to have Gianadrea Gavazzeni on the podium. He was a firm disciplinarian and a fine stylist, adept at integrating his singers and orchestra into taut, flexibly phrased performances that made all their required theatrical points.

The engineering is very good, after some recording imbalances in the first scene that favor the orchestra. The Soviet audience is attentive, and for the most part quiet, and significantly, they applaud not merely the show-stopping moments, but the lyrical ones, having been well trained by their own horde of superb, poetic lyric tenors over the years.

One positive point about this recording is that it has more to offer than the four white cardboard boxes holding reel-to-reel tapes by which I first became familiar with the performance, and broadcast it on my Dallas opera show back in the mid 1970s. There’s an only moderately translated but decently researched essay on the opera’s early years at Rome’s Apollo Theater; a bland essay about the Moscow tour in which we are told at length that everything and everyone was fantastic and wonderful; a chronology of new Il Trovatore stagings at La Scala from 1853 onward; an excellent series of production and publicity shots; poster shots; CD track listings; and a bilingual libretto. The whole thing is packaged in a digest-sized book format that fits easily next to DVDs, but not on your CD shelf.

Worth getting? For Simionato, Bergonzi, and Gavazzeni, certainly. If the rest of the cast lived up to their work this would be a major contender, but even so, it has a good deal to offer.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Gabriela Tucci (Soprano), Piero Cappuccilli (Baritone), Carlo Bergonzi (Tenor),
Giulietta Simionato (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1853; Italy 
Date of Recording: 1964 
Language: Italian 

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