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
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
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
Robert J Farr