Claimed on the jewel box as “the first time on CD”, this matinee performance of Verdi’s eighteenth opera was one of the series that marked the Metropolitan debut of both Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli. Price was to have a long and distinguished career at the theatre whilst the tall, handsome but nervous and egotistical Corelli was to leave many gaps in what might have been a similar career path.
If Corelli had problems going on stage and facing the public, Verdi had more with the composition and staging of Il Trovatore. It was the second of his great middle-period trio of Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata, all premiered over a two year period from March 1851. Il Trovatore was originally intended for librettist Cammarano’s home-town theatre of the San Carlo in Naples. However, the theatre found Verdi’s fee too steep for their cash-strapped situation. The composer proposed the opera be premiered in Rome if the censors accepted Cammarano’s libretto. At that point Verdi learned, through a friend, of Cammarano’s death. The Young poet Emmanuele Bardare, who had converted Rigoletto into Clara di Perth for Naples, undertook the completion of the libretto. Verdi paid Cammarano’s widow the full fee, plus a premium, as she was poorly provided for. These delays explain the near contemporaneously composed Il Trovatore and La Traviata reaching the stage within six weeks of each other.
The various additions to the libretto of Il Trovatore required of Bardare show Verdi was intent on a two-diva opera, with the voices concerned being of distinctly different ranges and colour. Needless to say the Rome censor quibbled about detail. The stake might be too vivid a reminder of the Inquisition and the words of the Miserere were altered, as strict liturgical phrases were not allowed. With these relatively minor problems sorted Il Trovatore, was premiered at the Teatro Apollo, Rome, on 19 January 1853. It was a resounding triumph with the final scene being encored in its entirety. There were however odd cavils about the gloomy subject and the number of deaths. The opera spread rapidly and was even parodied with baby-swapping figures in two of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular works. Six weeks later, with an entirely different orchestral patina and key, and vastly different requirements for the tenor and soprano, La Traviata was premiered in Venice.
Il Trovatore requires significantly heavier voices than Rigoletto and La Traviata. Leontyne Price in particular went on to become the non-pareil lyrico spinto soprano of her generation singing Leonora all over the world alongside her admired Aida and Forza del Destino namesake. In this performance she is distinctly tentative in her approach in her entrance aria Tacea la notte in placida (CD1 Tr.5) and not ideally steady. She is far more secure in the act four scene starting with the conversation with Ruiz and continuing through D’amor sull’ali rosee and the Miserere (CD2 Trs.9-11). Corelli too sounds effortful in Ah! si, ben mio (CD 2 Tr.6) but hits, and makes a meal of the money note at the conclusion of the one verse of Di quella pira (CD2 Tr.8) which is loudly applauded. The response of the two principals is perhaps not helped by the conductor’s lack of impetus and vibrancy.
Verdi might have wanted the work to be for two principal female voices. Whilst Price went on to realise a distinguished career in the role of Leonora Irene Dalis as Azucena is barely adequate and somewhat blowsy. She is in no way comparable with Fiorenza Cossotto on the RCA 1970 recording where, alongside Price’s Leonora, and with Mehta’s conducting, she realises Verdi’s dream. Mario Sereni is adequate as Luna, managing a steady if undistinguished Il balen (CD1 Tr.18) whilst William Walderman is a somewhat woolly-toned Ferrando (CD1 Trs1-3 and CD 2 Trs.1-2).
The leaflet has a brief synopsis and detailed track-listings and timings. There are frequent interruptions for applause and the sound varies with stage movement, depth and presence. There are cuts to the score traditional to the period.
As I have indicated, if you want Price as Leonora go for the mid-priced RCA which also has the additional strengths of a steady and virile Domingo as Manrico and Sherrill Milnes as a fine Di Luna. There are also distinguished studio recordings featuring Jussi Björling and Zinka Milanov in far better sound in March 1952 (see review) and from DG a 1962 La Scala-based stereo recording conducted with a touch too much affection by Tulio Serafin. Its great virtue is that it is blessed with an all-Italian cast to join the vibrant La Scala chorus. Notable are Carlo Bergonzi as Manrico and the young Fiorenza Cossotto as Azucena (DG 453 118-2).
Robert J Farr