> VERDI Il Trovatore Molajoli [CF]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore

Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano
First performance 19 January 1853, Apollo Theatre, Rome
Leonora - Bianca Scacciati (soprano)
Il Conte di Luna - Enrico Molinari (baritone)
Azucena - Giuseppe Zinetti (mezzo soprano)
Manrico - Francesco Merli (tenor)
Ferrando - Corrado Zambelli (bass)
Ruiz - Emilio Venturini (tenor)
Ines - Ida Mannarini (soprano)
An old gypsy - Enzo Arnaldi (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan
Lorenzo Molajoli (conductor)
Recorded on 28 sides by Italian Columbia 10-23 September 1930
Appendix: Selected recordings by Bianca Scacciati
VERDI: I Lombardi
with Francesco Merli (tenor) and Nazzareno de Angelis (bass)
9 December 1931

with Francesco Merli (tenor)
20-21 February 1929
GOMES: Il Guarany

with Francesco Merli (tenor)
26 February 1929
CATALANI : Loreley
with Francesco Merli (tenor)
21, 26 February 1929
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110162-63[150.09] Superbudget

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One of several striking features of listening to this pre-war disc is the impeccable diction of the singing. Il Trovatore, with its convoluted plot the unravelling of which will not be attempted here, gets to the heart of the matter with barely a prelude from the (slightly distant) orchestra followed by Ferrando’s narrative to the chorus laying out the scenario. Listening to his r’s is a lesson to all singers in the art of single clipped and doubled rolled examples of this idiosyncratic and vital consonant in the Italian language. No place for Woy Jenkins or his ilk here. It is slightly overmannered, rather like the British black and white films of the 30s and 40s in which heroines pronounced ‘Daddy’ as ‘Deddy’, but enjoy Zambelli’s diction; it is quite astonishing.

Another feature is the wonderful unanimity of ensemble, either within the orchestra (which has a rather dead timbre in the strings, lacking bloom) or between orchestra and singers. We tend to take a rather snobbish view of the past and assume with all our technological aids that music-making of a high standard is something of our own age alone. When it comes to style, now that is another matter. Mannarini as Leonora’s companion, Ines, sounds as if there’s not a great deal of shelf-life in the voice, with a bleat when under pressure; but as for Scacciati as the heroine Leonora, the voice is notable for its range of drama. Occasionally the line of the music comes apart without sufficient portamento, but she has the agility to carry off such moments as the cabaletta ‘Di taleamor’ with brilliance and fervour. That eminent Verdian baritone Molinari acts the role of Di Luna with his voice, either when describing the light of Leonora’s smile when he sings ‘Il balen’, or when he trembles (‘Io fremo’) at the offstage voice of Manrico (Act one , Scene two). You feel the shudder of his jealous rage. The ensuing trio, with its ‘illegal’ top D flat from Scacciati, is an early delight on this excellent transfer from the original 78s by the indefatigable Ward Marston for Naxos. In the pit Lorenzo Molajoli is an old hand with a firm grip on the whole performance, accompanying even the trickiest florid arias with consummate skill and spot-on precision.

The Anvil Chorus gets the full treatment, accomplished choral singing as well as timely and tuneful anvil playing. Then in ‘Stride le vampa’ the distinguished Zinetti goes for vocal colour at the expense of clarity of diction, the almost Butt-like chest voice in full cry (sometimes ‘shout’ would be a more appropriate word). She only just manages to get her voice around the ornaments and turns in this famous tune. More famous of course is the tenor’s aria ‘Di quella pira’ with another ‘illegal’ but conventional top note (C) in its second verse, which Merli holds for a full six seconds. Woe betide any tenor who dares to sing what Verdi wrote (G) changing nothing from the first verse. The voice is thrilling even if you are aware of the effort it takes. Now to Scacciati, best judged by the fourth act scena beginning with ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ and its beautifully crafted cadenzas through which she glides effortlessly. This is followed by the Miserere (intonation pretty good from the unaccompanied chorus but the bell somewhat sharp). There is a terrific build-up by the two principal soloists (Manrico offstage in his tower cell - is he really playing that harp under such dreadful conditions?), but regrettably no cabaletta ‘Tu vedrai che amore in terra’ from Leonora. She and Molinari excel in their duet at the end of the first scene in this final act. This is just before the gruesome conclusion to this convoluted plot of unintentional fratricide (and that’s only the half of it)!

As a filler, there is an appendix of selected recordings by Bianca Scacciati (a favourite of Toscanini), many of them with Francesco Merli as her tenor partner, from 1929 and 1931. This is a glorious feast of singing from a golden age. An apt addition to Naxos's Historical series.

Christopher Fifield

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