‘They don’t make them like that any more’ is a recurring theme
in different walks of life. It can certainly be applied to this
production recorded in 1967 when the singers were paramount and
the director ancillary. There are two immediate counter points.
First, from time to time in the darker scenes on this ‘grainy’
recording, it is difficult to follow the action. Two examples
are Gustav putting the commission into Cristiano’s pocket and
the cloak swapping of Gustav and Renato. Indeed so grainy is the
recording that for the beginning of the prelude to act two with
the camera back of house, focused centre orchestra, you may have
difficulty in seeing maestro Fabritiis. Second, and for me quite
irritating, are the occasions when singers feel the need to respond
to audience applause at an aria’s end by variously smiling, bowing,
curtseying, blowing kisses, or putting their right hand to their
heart. At an extreme I wonder why they are performing: to be part
of an opera or to be an individual performer for the audience?
It occurs all too frequently on this recording with consequential
plot interruption. OK, whinge over.
This is indeed a
singer’s production with Carlo Bergonzi (Gustav) in one of his
signature roles. From the introspective emotion of thinking
of Amelia in La rivedrà nell’estasi to the full blown
passionate declaration of Oh qual soave brivido this
is Bergonzi at his best: rock steady notes, classic lines, strong
dynamics, apparently effortless power and true beauty of tone.
At the date of this
production Bergonzi was at the height of his powers. So too
was Antonietta Stella. Her superb vocal instrument copes easily
with this role for the dramatic, rather than coloratura, soprano.
The plethora of low notes does not trouble her. Her graveyard
aria Ma dall’arido stelo divulsa is exemplary, with the
occasional then fashionable wobble on high, dramatic arm waving
and additional non-Verdian tearful sobs. Her duet with Bergonzi
in this scene is arguably the high point of the drama: certainly
they set about making it so. His own Non sai tu che
se l’anima mia is powerfully delivered; she produces deep
moving textures for Ah! deh soccorri tu. They then let
vocal rip in the remainder of the duet. Most of it is delivered
in postures typical of the time of recording: adopted not for
plot authenticity but to let their voices ring out over the
auditorium for greater audience appreciation.
declared, their love remains unconsummated: thus Renato, sung
by Mario Zanasi is not the cuckolded husband. Inevitably he
believes otherwise – particularly having become the poignant
butt for black comedy at the ‘unveiling’ of his wife. Zanasi
moves from the serious minded courtier friend of Alla vita
che t’arride with its strong colouring. He becomes the distraught
husband in Eri tu che macchiavi which he packs with emotion
and again non-Verdian gulps. He delivers all the colouring and
tone that we would expect of this dramatic baritone.
darkness belongs to Ulrica, the fortune-teller, here sung by
Lucia Danieli. Her low lying and rich tone produces a real air
of fearfulness – particularly in her ominous description of
the field or graveyard that Amelia must visit: della cità
all’occaso. Her warning to Gustav that he will die by
the hand of a friend is truly chilling. Having overcome his
opening misery of Su, fatemi largo, Mario Frasca (Cristiano)
relieves the gloom by rallying the people to the king leading
into a rousing chorus at the end of act one.
as Gustav’s page, provides the counterbalancing lightness and
gaiety to Ulrica’s foreboding. She is the alter ego of
the playful part of her master’s character and how superbly
she displays that here. Her two arias, with a bow to the French
style, require a light, lithe, bell-like sound which Guglielmi
provides with ringing clarity.
Her tripping across
the stage to set herself for her first number is so dated and
so well done that I can not but smile each time I see it. Her
facial expressions match her excellent stage movements – which
of course she reverses by prancing to the other side of the
set before delivering the second verse. Her invitation to the
ball is delivered with an irrepressible sense of vocal fun.
She makes a significant contribution to the quintet concluding
that scene where it is so easy to pick out her strong soaring
soprano. She provides the vocal gaiety at the ball in Saper
vorreste delivered with a well judged and teasing tone.
Pinio Clabassi (Samuel)
and Antonio Zerbini (Tom) are the ineffective plotters who had
failed dismally before Renato joins them. Clabassi’s Ve’,
se di notte, when Amelia is revealed, is an impressive deep
brown sound of scorn accompanied by the quietly dramatic, mock-respectful
sweeping of his cloak. My only reservation about their accompaniments
in the ensembles is that in the opening it seems to me that
their staccato is too prominent. However apart from that, it
is well balanced with the two of them finely matched.
with a recording of this vintage, the chorus is not as clear
as the soloists. The orchestral playing is splendidly supportive
of the singers – it has to be from time to time when the soloist
decides how long an important note will last.
taken again remind me of the period of the recording including
the three principals appearing front of curtain at the end of
the very first scene. The principals then appear front of curtain
at the end of each of the three acts together with the conductor.
I have not troubled
you with Verdi’s problems with the censors – a commentary on
which appears in most books on the opera and accompanying booklets.
Verdi finally accepted a setting in Boston with the king as
governor. In the Swedish setting with Gustavus III, Renato is
Captain Anckarstroem, Ulrica is Mademoiselle Arvidson and Sam
and Tom are Counts Ribbing and Horn. This production, set in
eighteenth century Sweden, is obviously an amalgam of the characters
but is none the worse for that.
As I have mentioned
this is the recording of the live performance in Tokyo: very
grainy but musically powerful. The settings are comparatively
simple and the costumes conventional for the period. For a settings
contrast try the remarkably stunning sets – and that can be
taken complimentarily or pejoratively - by William Dudley in
the John Schlesinger production of 1990 for Salzburg. There
Domingo/Barstow/Nucci are in similarly powerful form in acting/singing
styles twenty years later with the advantage of updated technology
(TDK DV-CLOPUBIM). However, with one reservation, you really
should have a Bergonzi / Stella / Zanasi recording in your collection
and certainly the delightfully outstanding Oscar of Guglielmi.
My slight reservation is not the mono sound or the seriously
grainy picture but the price. You can search around but generally
it is a fiver more that the TDK and nearly a tenner more that
the Metropolitan Opera’s two offerings with Pavarotti on both
Decca (0743227) and Deutsche Grammophon (0730299).
There is a reasonably
uninteresting bonus of an interview with Antonietta Stella.
A single sheet accompanies the disc with the track list on one
side and the cast list on the other and that is it. No directorial
details here: this is a production for the singers.