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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore
(Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano after a play by Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez)
Manrico - Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor)
Leonora - Maria Callas (soprano)
Count di Luna - Rolando Panerai (baritone)
Azucena - Fedora Barbieri (mezzo)
Ferrando - Nicola Zaccaria (bass)
Inez - Luisa Villa (mezzo)
Ruiz - Renato Ercolani (tenor)
An Old Gypsy - Giulio Mauri (bass)
A Messenger - Renato Ercolani (tenor)
Chorus of La Scala, Milan/Norberto Mola
Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Herbert von Karajan
rec. 3, 4, 6-9 August 1956, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
First issued on Columbia 33CX 1483-1485
NAXOS 8.111280-81[68:02 + 61:59]
Experience Classicsonline

According to the online performance archive available on the Herbert von Karajan Centrum website, there were no performances of Il Trovatore from him in the opera house between an early 1931 event in Ulm and the 1962 revival in Salzburg. His 1956 La Scala recording therefore came after a gap of some 25 years, and this allowed Karajanís approach to Verdiís old warhorse to be strikingly fresh. Rhythms are pointed and the playing of the La Scala orchestra is well-drilled and accurate, which was not always the case around this time.

This recording has been much reissued in recent years by EMI; both in a Great Recordings of the Century incarnation and on the cheaper EMI Classics bargain line. As with other issues in the Naxos Historical series, this one uses pristine original LPs transferred faithfully by Mark Obert-Thorn. They preserve the original realistic balance and perspective of Walter Leggeís production, made at the same time as the sessions for Un Ballo in Maschera which I reviewed earlier.

Unlike Amelia in Ballo or the Forza del Destino Leonora, Callas had sung the Trovatore Leonora several times in her career and did so to great acclaim. Notwithstanding her greatness in the recordings of the other operas, the benefit of stage experience allows Callas to add an extra dimension. That, coupled with a rare vocal security, creates a portrayal that is deeply affecting both in its dramatic and musical aspects. Those who prefer voices with the spinto qualities of a Tebaldi or Milanov may feel Callasís tone production is something of an acquired taste but her dramatic involvement is never in doubt.

The late Giuseppe Di Stefano was not Leggeís first choice for the role of Manrico - originally the part was to have gone to Richard Tucker who withdrew due to the conductorís wartime associations. Di Stefano makes a brave shot at it and it is refreshing to hear much of the role sung with a finesse that is often absent. However in the big moments like Di quella pira we are made aware that Di Stefano is singing outwith his natural compass, although he covers it with consummate skill. Around this time the tenor began to take on a number of roles that were, with hindsight, too heavy for his essentially light voice. These contributed to his subsequent vocal decline.

Fedora Barbieri is a powerful Azucena, her Stride la vampa sung with an old-school, no-holds-barred approach and Panerai a competent if hardly outstanding Di Luna. Smaller roles are cast from strength from the La Scala ranks.

As usual with this Naxos series there are good notes on the performance and a synopsis but no texts or translations.

Karajanís imaginative, pointed conducting and Callasís noble Leonora are this setís two selling points. A bargain - donít miss it!

Ewan McCormick


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