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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino
Ernesto Dominici (bass) – Il Marchese di Calatrava; Maria Caniglia (soprano) – Donna Leonora; Carlo Tagliabue (baritone) – Don Carlos di Vargas; Galliano Masini (tenor) – Don Alvaro; Ebe Stignani (mezzo) – Preziosilla; Tancredi Pasero (bass – Padre Guardiano); Saturno Meletti (baritone) – Fra’ Melitone; Liana Avogadro (mezzo) – Curra; Dario Caselli (bass) – Un alcade); Ernesto Dominici (bass) – Un chirurgo; Giuseppe Nessi (tenor) – Maestro Trabuco
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro dell’E.I.A.R. di Torino/Gino Marinuzzi
Recorded at the Teatro di Torino 21 May, 23–29 May, 8 June 1941. ADD
WARNER FONIT 8573 82652-5 [74:08 + 78:17]

 

 

Let me say from the outset that this is one of the most thrilling recordings of a Verdi opera ever issued. Recorded almost 65 years ago it cannot, of course, compete with more modern stereo sets on sonic grounds. However as a musical and dramatic experience and indeed for much of the singing it can hold its own against most other recordings. Set down by CETRA in Turin in the midst of the war it had limited circulation outside Italy as a 78 set. In 1951 it was transferred to LPs, the box cover of which is reproduced on the back of the CD booklet. As far as I am aware it did not appear on CD until about three years ago, when Naxos released it, to great critical acclaim. For some reason I never managed to get hold of that set so I haven’t been able to compare the sound quality. I don’t know if Warner Fonit have used the original matrices or, as Naxos did, transferred the music from finished pressings on shellac. From the evidence of listening to this set I would think that Warner have had partly worn shellacs at their disposal. Although for most of the time the sound is comparatively clean and fresh, much more so, as a matter of fact, than some much later CETRA recordings, there are some blemishes. Overall we have to contend with an agèd sound, quite boxy and dry but with much orchestral detail. Unfortunately there is quite a lot of distortion, especially on some of the solo voices, who are accorded a whizzing, metallic edge that robs them of warmth and that also becomes an irritant during longer stretches of listening. It is like a semi-transparent curtain that blocks the aural view. Worst affected are Alvaro and Don Carlos in some of their high-voltage controversy in act 3 and 4. Also Leonora’s high notes suffer in her great aria Pace, pace, mio dio (CD2 track 26). In the final trio Padre Guardiano’s warm voice loses a deal of its humanity. I tried several passages through headphones but the problem remained so it has nothing to do with unfortunate resonances in my listening room.

I mention the problem this early in the review so that readers who know they can’t accept this type of shortcomings, can stop here. Everyone else should know that once you have started listening it is very easy to be indulgent with the sound, and you know from the first few chords of the overture that this is going to be a taut drama, holding you in terrible suspense for the next 2½ hours. The short playing time is not only due to Marinuzzi’s high dramatic pulse but also to a lengthy cut in the third act, where the whole of the Alvaro – Don Carlo duet, immediately after the Soldiers’ chorus, is gone. This is a pity since both singers are so good; on the other hand the omission has made it possible to squeeze the whole opera into two well-filled CDs, making it even more of a bargain.

Gino Marinuzzi, whose only complete opera recording this was, turns out to be a conductor in the Toscanini mould. He favours fastish tempos but never sounds hurried, and he keeps the tension high without over-accentuating. He knows where to underline important things in the orchestral score but he doesn’t “dot the ‘i’s or cross the ‘t’s” as some over-emphatic maestros do. The overture is given the most riveting reading I can remember hearing and the choral scenes, notably the first scene of act 2 (CD1 tracks 8 – 17), is so full of life that one totally forgets the sound. In this scene there is also a small change of the sung text: Viva la guerra! (Hurray for the war!) sings Preziosilla and a few lines later all the people shout (in the original text) Morte ai Tedeschi! (Death to the Germans!). This was of course impossible to record in 1941 during the alliance between Mussolini and Hitler, so what we hear on the old recording is Morte ai nemici! (Death to the enemies!). The various departments of the Turin Radio Chorus sing very well, trained by the eminent Bruno Erminero.

However good the chorus, orchestra and conductor are, almost every opera recording or –performance stands and falls with its soloists, and La forza del destino needs a host of good singers. All the singers in this cast are up to the requirements, although to somewhat varying degrees. Once again I am impressed by the care CETRA have devoted to casting decisions and this even extends to the minor parts. The firm-voiced and sensitive Ernesto Dominici sings a fine Marquis of Calatrava; all the more sad then that he is killed so early. Luckily Dominici returns as the Surgeon later in the drama. Another impressive bass is Dario Caselli, whose Mayor is imposing, while tenor Giuseppe Nessi makes the most of Trabuco’s little arietta in the third act (CD2 track 14).

Ebe Stignani, reigning Italian mezzo-soprano since the late 1920s, has a formidable voice but is surely better suited to, say, Amneris and Azucena than to Preziosilla, who should be lighter, livelier. Still, there is no denying the star quality of her voice; listen for example to the second act Canzona (CD1 track 12). The young Saturno Meletti, with his characteristic fast vibrato is a fine Melitone, more serious than one is used to hearing. His mock-sermon in act three (CD2 track 17) has very little of caricature about it and his fourth act aria buffa, sung while distributing soup to the beggars (CD2 track 20), is done with verve and glorious tone. The fourth bass (actually Meletti is more baritone than bass) is the veteran Tancredi Pasero. Also he has a fast vibrato that it may take some time to get used to, but his is a warm, noble voice and he is at his best in the second act finale (CD1 tracks 23 – 24) and also in the final trio (CD2 track 28).

Maria Caniglia, undoubtedly one of the great Italian sopranos, leading prima donna at La Scala for 21 seasons, was at the height of her powers when this recording was made. She considered this to be her very best recording ever. Hers was a true dramatic voice; big, with more steel than velvet and her high notes could cut through even the thickest orchestral texture. She didn’t have the warmth of Tebaldi, who was her heir among Italian sopranos, but she was able to fine down the voice admirably. Take for instance her first act romanza Me pellegrina ed orfana (CD1 track 4) or, even more, La Vergine degli Angeli (CD1 track 24), but the real thrill is in her more “heroic” singing: Madre, pietosa Vergine (CD1 track 19), affectionately delivered with gleaming high notes, and her last act aria Pace, pace, mio Dio (CD2 track 26), where her final Maledizione! is almost horrifying.

The two sworn enemies turned friends in the battlefield and then again turned enemies, Alvaro and Don Carlos, are sung with great intensity by Galliano Masini and Carlo Tagliabue. Both were well over forty at the time of this recording but display voices in fine fettle. Neither of them seems to have been a very subtle singer or actor but they are far from insensitive. Tagliabue, who was probably at his best in verismo repertoire, sings his second act ballata Son Pereda, sono ricco d’onore (CD1 track 16) with a healthy voice, sturdy and with brilliant top notes. At the end of that scene (track 17) he sings Buona notte pianissimo and in the duet Solenne in quest’ora (CD2 track 7) he actually phrases with considerable sensitivity. Carlos’s great scene and aria, which follows, is one of the highspots of the whole recording. Tagliabue recorded this part again, in the mid-1950s with Callas, but by then most of the bloom was gone from his voice.

Maybe the greatest surprize on this recording was Galliano Masini, who is also the least known of principals. His was a true spinto voice, somewhat baritonal, steady, powerful and top notes of stainless steel, cutting through the orchestral thunder like lightning. In the booklet commentaries to EMI’s “The Record of Singing - Volume Three” Michael Scott writes “splendid voice, not aided by intelligence”. A splendid voice it is, and he likes to expose it in all its glory, but I think Scott is a little too harsh on him. Try his third act aria, La vita è inferno ... Oh, tu che in seno agli angeli (CD2 tracks 2-3) and there in the recitative he sings softly with good attention to the text. Of course he grabs every opportunity to show off. The line Sarò infelice eternamente (I shall be unhappy forever) (ca. 1 minute into track 2) is impressively heroic and the aria proper ends gloriously. Before the final note he scales down to a hushed pianissimo. This is definitely not insensitive singing. The last act duet with Carlo, before the duel (CD2 tracks 24 – 25) also has him singing with restraint and feeling. I refrain from comment but his musical instinct is far from negligible.

Of existing modern recordings of this fascinating work, Gardelli’s late 1960s version on EMI with Arroyo, Bergonzi, Cappuccilli and Raimondi is still recommendable. I also have a liking for Sinopoli (DG) with Plowright, Carreras, Bruson and Burchuladze and with Agnes Baltsa the best Preziosilla anywhere. Also we shouldn’t forget Gergiev on Philips with the original version as it was performed in St. Petersburg. Whatever recording you already have, this Warner set is a wonderful complement. Full texts but no translations and numerous cue-points: 24 on CD1 and 28 on CD2.

Göran Forsling

 

 

 

 



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