> Verdi - Il Trovatore [RJF]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore (1853)
Manrico, Roberto Alagna, (ten). Leonora, Angela Gheorghiu, (sop). Di Luna, Thomas Hampson, (bar). Azucena, Larissa Diadkova, (m sop). Ferrando, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, (bass). Ines, Federica Proietti, (sop). Ruiz, Enrico Facini, (ten)
London Voices
London Symphony Orchestra/Antonio Pappano
Recorded, No 1 Studio Abbey Road, London, August-Sept 2001
Full Price
EMI CDS 5 57360 2 [2CDs: 132.17]


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As all opera lovers know, Caruso was reputed to have said that all that was needed for a performance of Il Trovatore was 'the four greatest singers in the world'. As far as a recording is concerned the venture requires at least four other components. First, a good sonorous steady bass for the part of Ferrando who dominates, with the chorus, the opening scene; second, a virile and vibrant chorus who have a significant and more varied contribution to make in addition to the famous 'Anvil Chorus' (CD 1 tr13); third, a conductor who has a feel for a Verdian phrase and the intimate as well as the martial moods within the work; finally, a recording that can encompass those various moods, and wide dynamic, without distorting the relationships within the opera and between the protagonists. As far as those four parameters are concerned it is pleasing to report that this welcome issue scores full marks.

Il Trovatore has fared well on record from the early LP years with Callas conducted by Karajan a favourite, albeit in mono, and the early 60s stereo version conducted by Serafin with Bergonzi an immaculate Manrico in an all-Italian cast (now a bargain double on DG). Domingo has recorded the part of Manrico three times. By common consent his first recording ((RCA mid price - one of his earliest visits to the studio in 1970) is his best. With a fine all round cast, including an outstanding Leonora from Leontyne Price, Mehta a vibrant conductor, the whole well recorded, it is still the benchmark thirty plus years on!

In this issue, the part of Manrico is sung by Roberto Alagna. As the off stage troubadour serenading Leonora he starts well, with good open voiced tone (CD I tr10). His 'Di quella pira' (CD2 tr11) is thrilling to the point of visceral excitement; he holds the climactic high note far beyond Domingo in any of his recordings, and only just within the bounds of over indulgence, and not without a little strain. However, in the preceding 'Ah si, ben mio', after providing pleasing 'mezza voce' phrasing, his tone seems to be squeezed as he raises the vocal level, spoiling the evenness of emission. There are similar instances elsewhere as in his Act 4 duet with Azucena (CD2 tr23). This characteristic of his singing was largely absent from his recent Cavaradossi and I personally find it, at the very least, a distraction from his fine characterisation and a significant vocal weakness, although to my ears it seems to be more prevalent in his singing in Italian.

The Leonora of Angela Gheorghiu is an outstanding portrayal. Somewhat leaner of tone than Price, and sounding appropriately younger, her singing throughout is smooth and well focused. She provides vivid and varied expression with subtle vibrato and shading. The evenness of production of the voice over its range is particularly impressive. A good example is as she lowers towards the chest register in the 'Miserere' (CD2 tr14). This is not to distract from the virtues of her coloratura or clear soaring flight up to B flat in her Act I cavatina (CD 1 tr9). Only her trill leaves me unmoved. For beauty of singing and characterisation this portrayal can stand with the very best.

Count di Luna, the villain of the opera, is sung by Thomas Hampson. I have long been an admirer of his even lyric voice, but have never considered him a Verdi baritone, a view somewhat reinforced by his disc of arias by that composer. However, after this assumption I am forced to reconsider. His singing is, as we might expect, even, firm-toned and with exemplary legato, and unexpectedly for me, plenty of Verdian colour and heft when needed. Most importantly these qualities are subsumed into his portrayal of the jealous, all hating, character of di Luna. His 'Il balen' (CD I tr24) is a little over-pointed; he would have been better to have let the voice follow Verdi's melodic line, gaining expression by varying tone and dynamic and the use of a little vibrato. His Italian stands comparison with the natives Zancanaro (for Giulini on Domingo's second recording) and Bastianini (for Serafin) with his clarity of diction and range of expression superior to the latter.

The role of Azucena the Gypsy, putative mother of Manrico, is the first of a glorious line of principal parts that Verdi wrote for the lower soprano register. Indeed, he considered Azucena to be the principal role in the opera. The part is central to any performance or recording; a weak Azucena and the opera is a non-starter. The great Italian mezzos Stignani, Simionato and Cossotto (twice) have graced earlier recordings with distinction. Here the task falls to the Russian Larissa Diadkova and how well she sings. Somewhat lighter than the distinguished Italians mentioned, her tightly focused tone, smooth legato and good diction, allied to innate musicality, make for both superb characterisation and vocal excitement. There is no excessive use of the chest register for effect. Rather, the singer moves easily and smoothly up and down the registers varying colour and dynamic to give a formidable portrayal. Diadkova's 'Stride la vampa' (CD 1 tr14) and Ai nostri monti' (CD2 tr25), are veritable tours de force.

The booklet has a track related synopsis (regrettably not cross referenced to the pages of the libretto), a brief essay by the Verdi scholar Roger Parker and an extract from an interview by Alagna on Trovatore, all in English, French and German as are the translations of the libretto. I would have liked some up-to-date biographies of the singers, not least of the secondary parts, which are all at least adequately sung. Given Pappano's brisk but well shaped conducting, excellent chorus, clear atmospheric recording with the voices well forward, were it not for my reservations about Alagna's contribution, this issue would be vying to be tops in a highly competitive league. Nonetheless it is a welcome and enjoyable addition to the catalogue and certainly the best in the wholly digital stakes. There are some rather long lead-ins to some tracks.

Robert J Farr

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