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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore - opera in four acts (1853)
Manrico - Bruno Prevedi (tenor); Leonora - Gwyneth Jones (soprano); Di Luna - Peter Glossop (baritone); Azucena - Giulietta Simionato (mezzo); Ferrando - Joseph Rouleau (bass); Ines - Elizabeth Bainbridge (soprano); Ruiz - John Dobson (tenor)
Covent Garden Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
rec. live, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 26 November 1964. ADD
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE HERITAGE SERIES ROHS011 [66.39 + 60.29]
Experience Classicsonline

In an earlier review of one of the last studio recordings of Il Trovatore, I took mild issue with Caruso’s claim that ‘all that was needed for this opera was ‘the four greatest singers in the world’. My point being as to the number: the part of Ferrando, sung here with distinction by the French Canadian Joseph Rouleau (CD 1 trs.1-5 and CD 2 tr.1), a Covent garden regular, is as important as the other four principals. I might more gainfully have expanded on the type of voice of the great singers Caruso may have had in mind. I am always aware that Verdi’s great middle period trio of Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata, all premiered over a two year period from March 1851, call for very different type and weight of voices for the soprano and, to a lesser extent, the tenor. It is also worth pointing out the very different key registers and musical ambience of the latter two. This is perhaps the more remarkable considering that these operas were composed, in part, contemporaneously.
 
Whilst the soprano and tenor roles in La Traviata call for lyric, flexible voices, for Il Trovatore heavier spinto voices are required. When this new production by Visconti, and conducted by Giulini, was announced it raised great expectations of a repeat of their memorable collaboration in Verdi’s Don Carlo in 1958 which did so much to bring that opera back into mainstream repertoire (see review). The sets of Il Trovatore by Filippo Sanjust came in for criticism for size and over-elaboration. When I caught up with the production in 1973 I simply gloried in their sumptuousness. More so after my next Il Trovatore: it was set in a Spanish Civil War railway station and included a gratuitous whore hawking herself around the soldiery!
 
What was perhaps the biggest disappointment for the audience at Covent Garden was the cancellation of the American soprano Leontyne Price. She and Zinka Milanov were unequalled in the Verdi soprano roles in the post-Second World War era not least as Leonora in this opera. Leonora is very much a spinto role, and while Gwyneth Jones sings with clear silvery tone (CD 1 trs.7-9) and a passable trill, she has neither the heft nor vocal lustre required for the dramatic agonies of the role (CD 2 trs.10-16). As her lover the Italian tenor Bruno Prevedi was little known in Britain except for his recording of the small tenor part of Ishmael in the 1964 Decca recording of Nabucco (417 407-2). His is a lean strong lyric Italianate tenor whose forward tones and good diction are welcome. However, he does not have the natural power for the role of Manrico and his tone becomes throaty when he puts pressure on the voice (CD 1 tr19). He manages the high C in Di quella pira and wisely does not include the reprise (CD 2 tr.8).
 
What the higher voices lack in appropriate power, the lower ones have in abundance. The Italian mezzo Giulietta Simionato sings Azucena, the gypsy after whom Verdi nearly titled his opera. She sings with steady sonority and good characterisation and with admirable rendition of her solos, Stride la vampa (CD 1 tr.15) and Ai nostri monti (CD 2 tr.19). She also plays a full part in the ensembles and dramatic duets with her son. If I cannot extend superlatives it is because my memories are full of Fiorenza Cossotto in the role in the 1973 reprise of the production already referred to. In that performance Cossotto sang and acted everyone off the stage within a radius of fifty miles and brought the house to its feet at the curtain calls. She sings the role on the still unsurpassed 1970 RCA studio recording alongside Leontyne Price as Leonora, Placido Domingo as Manrico and Sherrill Milnes as Luna (RD 86914). As far as singer-acting goes, the outstanding portrayal by far is that of the scheming Luna by the Yorkshire-born baritone Peter Glossop, who died in September 2008. For much of the 1960s and early 1970s he was the stalwart in the Verdi repertoire at Covent Garden and elsewhere including La Scala and other leading Italian theatres. It is to my regret that he didn’t get a lot of opportunity on mainstream labels in this repertoire. In such operas he excelled with his incisive tone, excellent diction and consummate characterisation. These characteristics are all in evidence here as he conveys the evil machinations of Luna. His Il balen (CD 1 tr. 24) could perhaps have been more even but is full of malevolent intent.
 
At the time of the performance some critics picked over Giulini’s conducting somewhat pedantically. His general pacing, feel for Verdian line and support for singers is to my ears exemplary. It is certainly preferable to his audio recording of 1983 for DG (423 858-2). The BBC Radio 3 engineers manage the difficult recording acoustic of Covent Garden to give a realistic stage presence and balance. There are inevitable interruptions for applause. Thankfully this is not of the unnecessarily prolonged and raucous type often heard in live performances from Vienna, and to an extent, at New York’s Met.
 
It would appear that source material was from the British Library Sound Archive. I hope that source has many more performances from Covent Garden that will appear on CD in due course. Despite my criticisms I welcome this opportunity to look back and listen to performances from a generation when we could hear truly great Verdi singers as a benchmark. Such voices are currently sadly lacking in our major operatic houses.
 
Robert J Farr
 


 


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