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Franco Corelli, Renata Tebaldi, Live in Tokyo – 1973
1. Introduction
2. DENZA Occhi di fata FC
3. BELLINI Soave sogno FC
4. GLUCK Paride ed Elena O del mio dolce ardour RT
5. VERDI Rigoletto La donna è mobile FC
6. MASSENET Manon Je ne suis que faiblesse … RT
7. VERDI Otello Gia nella notte densa FC, RT
8. MASSENET Le Cid Ah! tout est bien fini … O souverain, ô juge, ô père FC
9. PUCCINI Madama Butterfly Un bel di vedremo RT
10. GRIEG I love thee FC
11. MONTEVERDI Arianna Lasciatemi morire FC
12. ROSSINI La regatta veneziana RT
13. VERDI In solitaria stanza RT
14. PUCCINI La Bohème O soave fanciulla FC, RT
15. DE CURTIS Tu, ca’ nun chiagne! FC
16. TOSTI L’ultima canzone FC
17. DONIZETTI Me voglio fana casa RT
18. CARDILLO Core ‘ngrato FC
19. PUCCINI Gianni Schicchi O mio babbino caro RT
Renata Tebaldi (soprano) (RT); Franco Corelli (tenor) (FC)
Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra/Tadishi Mori (2-14), N.N. (piano) (15-19)
rec. live, NHK Hall, Tokyo, 21 November 1973
Sound Format: Dolby Digital 2.0; Picture Format: 4:3; Colour
DYNAMIC 33542 [89:00]

Franco Corelli and Renata Tebaldi were two of the greatest Italian opera singers of the 1950s and 1960s. They were roughly the same age and died within roughly a year of each other: Corelli, b. 8 April 1921, d. 29 October 2003; Tebaldi, b. 1 February 1922, d. 19 December 2004. At this concert in Tokyo they were both past fifty and had lost something of their former lustre. Even so, they were both in fairly good shape and were singing in repertoire they obviously liked. With their expected professionalism the result was in the main thrilling. The Japanese audience were ecstatic and almost invaded the stage during the encores. Thirty-four years later we can now make a more sober assessment. The atmosphere in the hall does make a difference. Being surrounded by an over-enthusiastic audience makes it difficult to remain coolly analytical. With the way now clear for dissent it still remains a privilege to be able to experience these two legends in live surroundings. 

Perhaps the most serious obstacles to full appreciation of the concert are the technical shortcomings. This was obviously a live broadcast and it is shown in full, without any attempts at editing. This creates a feeling of presence but for repeat viewing there is really too much applause, too much waiting for the next entrance and too much walking in and out. I can put up with that and I do have a fast-forward button which will allow me to skip some portions. 

The sound is more than acceptable, as far as the voices are concerned – not in any way comparable to studio recordings of the same vintage, but never mind. The balance is acceptable but the sounds of the orchestra are more constricted. The violin tone in particular is rather thin and wiry and the overall sound picture tends to sprawl. This may have something to do with the placing of microphones, since I believe the Tokyo Philharmonic was a splendid band in 1973.

When it comes to the visual experience one needs a fair amount of indulgence. There is a lack of focus, the pictures are soft-centred and the long shots are decidedly blurred. When Tebaldi walks onto the stage her red robe seems to be double copied and the copy follows her at arm’s length. The close-ups are better and one gets used to the lack of a truly sharp image. The video direction isn’t particularly imaginative but, honestly, how thrilling is a concert visually? 

There is a long spoken introduction in Japanese with subtitles in Japanese but eventually we reach kick-off. Corelli, a bit tense, opens with a couple of Italian songs, where he impresses with his superb breath control, especially in Occhi di fata. His singing of whatever material he has had at hand has always been a bit larger than life. He is notable for his powerful baritonal low register, his ringing upper register with long held top notes, his emotional intensity and his spectacular diminuendos. It’s all here and much of it is admirable. Mind you this does not stop his indulging in the lachrymose and in glottal stops. So his taste is not impeccable and La donna è mobile lacks everything that makes a memorable Duke of Mantua: lightness, elegance, charm and a bit of haughtiness. Corelli is foursquare and sings at a relentless forte, apart from a fine diminuendo in the second stanza. This insensitivity comes as a backlash after Tebaldi’s restrained and stylish O del mio dolce ardour. She comes back after the Rigoletto aria with another sensitively sung aria, Adieu, notre petite table from Manon, sung in Italian to be sure but otherwise stylishly done. The difference between the approaches of the two stars is clearly demonstrated in the duet that concludes act I of Otello. Tebaldi, in one of her most famous roles, is infatuated, soft and genial, floating her tone beautifully; Corelli rather gruff and stentorian. Visually the end of the duet becomes almost embarrassing: two grown-ups, supposedly in love with each other, behaving so awkwardly – like amateur actors. Tebaldi tries to achieve something that approaches contact but Corelli is not interested. 

He makes amends by delivering a superb version of O souverain from Le Cid. Here his body becomes liberated, he moves naturally, his gestures are alive and again his extraordinary breath control allows him to sing long unbroken legato phrases. And Tebaldi follows this up with another of her great impersonations: Cio-Cio-San, alias Madama Butterfly. Un bel di vedremo again shows her at her best. 

Grieg’s Jeg elsker dig has survived all kinds of readings and arrangements through the years but Corelli’s version is a borderline case, bawled in English – well, sort of. He also performs a compact version of Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna – sung as though it were a verismo aria – but with a beautiful pianissimo end. Tebaldi’s readings of two songs by Rossini and Verdi – beautiful and finely nuanced – are balm to your soul, to quote Samuel Butler. Then comes the final number of the announced programme, O soave fanciulla from La Bohème. This is quite fascinating to watch. Corelli starts as though Mimi were standing at the other end of the hall, bawling out his lines, Tebaldi again adopts her infatuated expression and looks smilingly at her Rodolfo. When her turn comes she fines down her tone to a lovely mezza voce. Corelli bawls on and Tebaldi, singing even softer, smiles forgivingly, thinking: ‘OK! Have it your own way, but I sing it as Puccini wanted!’ And, wonder of wonders, contact is established and they end the duet – fortissimo of course – looking like two lovers. 

After uproarious applause, flowers and lots of curtain calls, the orchestra walk out. There’s more applause and a sudden cut. Now there is a grand piano on the stage and we are treated to no less than five encores. Corelli starts and now he is relaxed and smiling. He tosses off two songs with great intensity and also visual thrill. Tebaldi’s Donizetti song reinforces the utterly charming impression she has radiated all through the concert, whereupon Corelli shows his true mettle in Core ‘ngrato with superb pianissimos and ringing top notes. Tebaldi gets the last word with an almost casually light and swift O mio babbino caro. 

There are some numbers I will do my best to avoid in the future when returning to this concert. Readers have already figured out which arias I mean. For Tebaldi admirers this DVD is a must and I believe many others could derive a lot of pleasure from it. Primarily it’s the visual aspects that prevent a more general recommendation. On the other hand many of us listen for hours and hours to historical recordings with bacon-frying in the background so a choice must rest upon which is the most important: the pearl or the mounting. 

Göran Forsling 



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