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alternatively Crotchet

Mario del Monaco Live
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
1. Svanire le voci … Meco all’altar di venere [8:01]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
2. Mercè diletti amici … Come rugiada al cespite [5:42]
Il trovatore:
3. Qual d’armi fragor … Di quella pira [8:51]
4. Madre, non dormi? Ecco l’istante [16:52]
La forza del destino:
5. Ah, per sempre, o mio bell’angiol [9:22]
6. La vita è inferno all’infelice … O tu che in seno [9:04]
7. Se quel guerrier io fossi … Celeste Aida [4:18]
8. Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida [13:03]
Mario del Monaco (tenor)
Athos Cesarini (tenor) (1; 3); Leyla Gencer (soprano) (3; 4); Fedora Barbieri (mezzo) (4); Ettore Bastianini (baritone) (4); Maria Callas (soprano) (8); Giuseppe Taddei (baritone) (8); Oralia Dominguez (mezzo) (8)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI/Tullio Serafin (1); Metropolitan Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos (2); Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI/Fernando Previtali (3; 4); Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Dimitri Mitropoulos (5; 6); Orchestra del Palacio de Bellas Artes/Oliviero de Fabritiis (7; 8)
rec. live, 1951 (1, 7, 8), 1953 (5, 6), 1956 (2 – 4)

Mario del Monaco was born in Florence in 1915 and studied singing in Pesaro. He made his operatic debut at the early age of 22 at Cagli, where he sang Turiddu in Cavalleria rusticana. Singing mostly in small opera houses during the war, mainly in more lyrical parts, after the war he moved over to dramatic roles: Calaf, Andrea Chenier and Radames. As Radames he made tremendous success at the Arena di Verona in 1946 and this was his springboard to fame in the big houses. He came to Covent Garden shortly after Verona, singing Canio in Pagliacci, and in January 1949 reached La Scala. In 1950 he sang his first Otello, which was to be his signature role. He reportedly sang this strenuous part 427 times until 1972, but a book published by Elisabetta Romagnolo: Mario del Monaco, Monumentum aere perennius, Azzali 2002 lists only 218 appearances as Otello.

Be that as it may he was equipped with a glorious voice, baritonal in timbre, a heroic ring and a lung capacity that made it possible to hold high final notes for ever. He was riotously admired in his native land while elsewhere he was often criticized for his unsubtle style complete with Giglian sobs and intrusive ‘h’s and a tendency to sing everything at forte and above. On most of his commercial recordings – and he was busy in the recording studios for close to 25 years – his can belto singing can be rather exhausting, but no one can deny that he was a wholehearted singer. He was never bland, even though nuances were not his cup of tea. His best recording, and one of the great classics, is probably his second Otello, recorded in magnificent Decca sound in Vienna with Karajan conducting and Renata Tebaldi and Aldo Protti in the other central roles. There Karajan forced him to scale down and save blood and thunder for the big dramatic outbreaks; the result is impressive. Del Monaco himself was very disappointed with this recording. I have owned it for more than 40 years and it is still my preferred version. Most of his other complete opera sets are thrilling but insensitive and that was what I expected from these live recordings, made between 1951 and 1956, when his voice was at its most glorious. Luckily my misgivings turned out to be only half justified.
Initially I heard exactly what I had expected. The Norma aria is glorious but stentorian and the Ernani scene, which he recorded on a recital disc somewhat later, isn’t much better. When we reach Il trovatore it’s time to modify the verdict a bit. The first excerpt is the whole second scene of act 3, starting with the dialogue with Leonora, followed by Manrico’s Ah! si, ben mio, the short duet in unison, the dramatic dialogue with Ruiz and finally Di quella pira. Here Del Monaco surprises with a quite poetic Ah! si, ben mio, sensitively phrased although a bit over-emphatic. The duet is beautiful and Di quella pira is as full-throated as could be – impressive but rather clumsy in places.
Even more does he impress in the final scene of the opera, where he sings with true feeling for the vocal line and the dramatic situation: lyrical restraint in Ai nostri monti and then with all the glowing golden tone that was his hallmark. With the exception of the aforementioned Otello with Karajan this is the best I have heard of him. It may be that the partnership with the superb Fedora Barbieri as Azucena had inspired him. The little recorded Leyla Gencer is also heard as Leonora in both scenes. At the very end of the opera we also get a couple of glimpses of another glorious but often also unsubtle singer, Ettore Bastianini.
The two excerpts from La forza del destino also show Del Monaco in a positive light. In the first scene, from the first act, we hear a good soprano, un-named in the booklet. Del Monaco is again both virile and sensitive. The ovations after the aria are close to hysterical, only to be expected in his native town. Unfortunately the two concluding numbers, from Aida, find him at his most unsubtle. The recitative Se quel guerrier is as forceful and martial as one could wish but the aria proper is totally devoid of poetry. It’s glorious but insensitive. Even worse is the end of the Nile scene, where it’s full throttle all the way and his poor Aida’s first lines seem to be sung from a very distant corner of the stage where she was obviously blown by the sheer air-pressure of his singing. When finally she has staggered to the footlights we hear one of the finest Aidas imaginable, girlish in timbre, inward and nuanced and when she opens up she is formidable. Yes, it is the young Maria Callas; such glorious steady tone was to become increasingly rare only a couple of years later. Towards the end of the scene, in the trio, we encounter another superb singing actor, Giuseppe Taddei, as an expressive Amonasro.
Admirers of Mario Del Monaco will need no encouragement to buy this disc and will not be discouraged by this review. Readers who think they know Del Monaco may be in for a couple of surprises and are recommended to try the Trovatore excerpts before purchase. They should also know that the sound quality is variable and at its worst barely tolerable. Playing time is generous. The booklet has a biography in Italian and English and a photo of the tenor, who will be long remembered.
Göran Forsling


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