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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Il trovatore (1853), highlights
Act I:
1. All’erta! all’erta! … Abbietta zingara [7:30]
2. Che più t’arresti? … Tacea la notte placida … Deserto sulla terra … Di geloso amor sprezzato [16:01]
Act II:
3. Vedi! le fosche notturne spoglie [2:49]
4. Stride la vampa! [4:37]
5. Condotta ell’era in ceppi [4:39]
6. Il balen del suo sorriso [3:12]
Act III:
7. Ah si, ben mio … Di quella pira [7:09]
Act IV:
8. Siam giunti … D’amor sull’ali rosee [6:53]
9. Miserere [4:40]
10. Mira, d’acerbe lagrime … Vivrà, contende il giubilo [5:21]
11. Si, la stanchezza m’opprime … Ai nostril monti [3:29]
12. Prima che d’altri vivere [3:33]
Franco Corelli (tenor) – Manrico; Gabriella Tucci (soprano) – Leonora; Luciana Moneta (mezzo) – Inez; Giulietta Simionato (mezzo) – Azucena; Robert Merrill (baritone) – Count di Luna; Ferruccio Mazzoli (bass) – Ferrando; Angelo Mercuriali (tenor) – Ruiz; Mario Rinaudo (bass) – An Old Gypsy
Rome Opera House Chorus and Orchestra/Thomas Schippers
rec. Rome Opera House, July and August 1964


Experience Classicsonline

The list of Trovatore recordings is long but surprisingly few are real top contenders. My personal “top five” includes Cellini (RCA Victor, now available on Naxos), Serafin (DG), Mehta (RCA Victor), Giulini (DG) and lately the sensationally refurbished MET recording from 1947, conducted by Emil Cooper and with Björling and Warren on top form. And where does this EMI set stand?

It is not on a level with the aforementioned sets, but with such names in the cast it isn’t without merit. Thomas Schippers, who died from lung cancer at the age of 47, was one of the leading opera conductors, not least at the Met and La Scala, and he made a number of highly regarded recordings. During the Trovatore sessions in Rome in 1964 he was obviously in a frantic mood, since this is in many ways the most hard-driven performance I have heard. I bought a highlights LP many years ago, tempted by the famous singers, but I rarely played it, due to the relentless over-drive of his direction. Well, not all the time. He does relax at some crucial moments where sensitivity is called for, notably in the last act, where the Azucena-Manrico duet is as sensitive as it should be and his singers respond accordingly. The final ensemble is also well shaped. On the other hand he pulls out all the stops in the Leonora-Count di Luna scene, which is one of the most frenetic Verdi scenes I have heard, and rarely has the anvil chorus in act 2 been so rushed. It’s like Oxford Street five minutes before closing time. And these are only the most flagrant examples. Too much is unsubtle – but thrilling. Of course this opera is fairly one-dimensional and playing down the thrill makes it pale, however gorgeous the tunes are, but one need only go to Serafin’s DG version, roughly contemporaneous with Schippers, to hear what is missing.

The singers are compliant with this brusque approach, or perhaps it is more correct to believe they were chosen to fit in with Schippers’s approach. They are big voiced and truly Italianate in timbre and in that respect this sounds like an idiomatic performance – if it is blood and thunder one is after.

Ferruccio Mazzoli is an accomplished Ferrando and Abbietta zingara has an appealing lilt. Gabriella Tucci has several fine moments but is too often shrill and unsteady and sometimes yelps, as in the final trio of act 1. She recovers in the last act however, where in her aria she floats the high pianissimo notes admirably. She is also very sensitive in the final ensemble. She is impressively agile and dramatic in the high octane scene with Luna Mira, d’acerbe lagrime.

Franco Corelli is his usual self: singing with heroic tone and tremendous power but marring the musical line with glottal stops, hiccups and terrible scooping. In the third act he sings Ah si, ben mio with a great deal of feeling but also is over-emphatic and disrupts the flow of the music. Nobody can deny, though, that he had a glorious voice and had he been able to husband it better he would have been a truly great tenor. He shows his technical capacity in a breathtaking diminuendo near the end of the aria but as so often with Corelli it feels like a circus number more than an expression of true feelings. His best moments are the duet with Azucena in the last act. Robert Merrill is a sturdy Luna, but Il balen, though impressively executed, has little of the youthful passion that his compatriot Leonard Warren could muster -  Cellini, even more impressive with Cooper.

In many ways the finest performance here is Giulietta Simionato’s Azucena. This was to be her last recording and the voice has undoubtedly lost in quality since she recorded the role for Decca in the 1950s. Her experience and sympathy with the role are however compensation enough. Her reading is the one I have returned to most often in the past.

I haven’t made an inventory of what other highlights discs are available at the moment. The present one is primarily for those who are diehard admirers of one or other of the singers. With more than 70 minutes’ playing time and at budget price it is reasonable value for money, but my advice is to save up for one of the complete versions mentioned in the first paragraph of this review, to which list could be added Karajan’s recording with Callas and Di Stefano, recently reissued by Naxos.

Göran Forsling 



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