Naxos continue to storm ahead with their re-mastering
and re-issuing. This classic Met Trovatore from the 1950s
has often been available at mid-price, but now opera lovers can
hear it in cleaned up sound and with a number of useful extras,
all at super-budget.
Bjoerling is shown on the cover and, like many
of the great Swede’s classic recordings, is usually the main selling
point. In fact, all the principals are caught in their prime,
so the singing as a whole is hugely enjoyable. Cellini’s conducting
sometimes tends towards workman-like rather than truly inspired
(though it is nowhere near as bland as some critics make out)
but this must certainly rank as one of the best-sung sets available.
Bjoerling could be accused of simply relying
on his vocal powers rather than proper characterisation. This
set disproves that theory. Coached carefully by Cellini (with
whom Bjoerling worked successfully a number of times) this is
a moving portrayal as Manrico. From his first off-stage ballad
through to the big set-pieces, that creamy tone and effortless
top end are put to the service of the music. The many climaxes
are fuelled by a passion that is almost overwhelming in its directness,
though it never descends into cheap melodrama. The tendency to
sing sharp (which Tully Potter notes in the booklet) is in evidence
in places (Di quella pira, for one) but it is so thrilling
a sound as to make this a small price to pay.
Leonard Warren (who was Bjoerling’s exact contemporary)
had an equally exciting baritone voice. He too could effortlessly
rise to the high notes, and the blood-and-thunder verismo
really gets going in their Act One duel. Warren revelled in the
heavy Verdi roles, and he is matchless in this part.
Zinka Milanov made her Metropolitan debut in
this very role in 1937, and her experience in the part is obvious.
The steady tone and variety of phrasing are a delight to listen
to, and she clearly enjoyed working with Bjoerling. Her great
Act Four Miserere is subtle and moving, and her final scenes
as intense as any on record.
Fedora Barbieri (who only died this year aged
83) is also as good as it gets. Like all the others, she was in
magnificent voice for these sessions, clearly relishing recording
a role she knew well for posterity. The blazing intensity, as
well as moments of simple utterance, is captivating. She spits
venom with the best of them at the end (‘Egli era il tuo fratello!’)
but is aware that, on occasion, less is more.
The sound quality is generally excellent, with
the well-disciplined orchestra caught in full-bodied mono. As
usual with Naxos, there is a cued synopsis rather than full text.
There are timing mistakes on the cover, where Act One is given
The 18 minutes of extras are worth having, though
we have no idea what Yugoslavian ‘gems’ Milanov is performing,
as there are no texts, or even titles, to the songs. They sound
like simple folk-songs and are performed in a suitably simple
manner, with no operatic ‘treatment’ to beef them up. Accompanists
are uncredited. [The song titles and their English translations
are indeed in the booklet after the track listings for "Trovatore."
This is an obvious ‘must’ for opera lovers, and
lovers of great singing. Although there is only one true Italian
among the principals, you will not hear a more authentically Italian-sounding
Trovatore anywhere on disc. Whichever version you have,
this has to be worth another tenner.