Error processing SSI file

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore (1851-53)
Manrico (tenor) – Jussi Bjoerling
Leonora (soprano) – Zinka Milanov
Count di Luna (baritone) – Leonard Warren
Azucena (mezzo) – Fedora Barbieri
Ferrando (baritone) – Nicola Moscona
Robert Shaw Chorale
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/Renato Cellini
Recorded at the Manhattan Center, New York, February 21 – March 16, 1952 Mono
Appendix – Zinka Milanov in ‘Song Gems of Yugoslavia’, performed with anonymous violin and piano accompaniments, recorded New York, 1944
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110240-41 [2CDs: 62’07+72’34]


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

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 as 9’47!

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." - Ed]

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.

Tony Haywood

Error processing SSI file

Return to Index

Error processing SSI file