for the cuts so often made during this era at the Metropolitan
Opera, this is one of the swiftest of the live four Act versions.
The sound is really very good for a mono radio broadcast. Consequently
it gives you a compelling sense of the excitement of the occasion
under the experienced baton of Kurt Adler, who had conducted
a similarly distinguished cast in this opera in 1955. The cuts
– the whole of the Fontainebleau Act, this being the four Act
version, plus excisions in the Third Act auto-da fé and the
final sublime duet – are all the more regrettable considering
that Corelli never made a studio recording of “Don Carlo”. We
must be grateful for what we have. It was a favourite opera
that saw Corelli through the seventies until he had virtually
retired; he clearly identified with the haunted, neurotic Carlos.
features five established Met stalwarts in Corelli, Leonie Rysanek,
Irene Dalis, Giorgio Tozzi and Hermann Uhde; in addition, the
distinguished Romanian baritone Nicolae Herlea was making his
Met debut in the role of Posa.
Many consider this to be the best of the available live performances
of Corelli as Don Carlo, although the 1970 Vienna recording
also has much to recommend it in that it has a superlative cast
and gives little sign of Corelli’s supposed vocal deterioration
by this date. Here in 1964, the famous bronze squillo in the
tone and the expressive diminuendo are both much in evidence,
as is Corelli’s artistic licence - which some call sloppiness.
There is also his pronounced lisp, which on the evidence of
the duet from”Aida” he made around the same time with Callas
seemed particularly pronounced that year.
Apart from the expected pre-eminence of Corelli in the eponymous
leading role, the special pleasure for me in this performance
is Herlea’s vibrant, Italianate baritone as Posa. He was evidently
determined not to be over-awed either by the occasion or his
temperamental tenor colleague. He matches Corelli in volume
and intensity, sustaining a nobility of line and brilliance
of tone which is well nigh perfect for this heroic baritone
role. He has splendid top notes and even a good trill. Corelli
seems to fear that he is in danger of being eclipsed by his
stage-mate and consequently throws in a slightly precarious
and not very musical high C to conclude their duet in Act 1,
“Dio che nell’alma infondere”.
Irene Dalis, despite not having the largest or most refulgent
of mezzo-sopranos is clearly a very intelligent and able singer
who has the resources to manage both the “Veil Song” and “O
don fatale” – not always the case with this role. She has a
vibrant, smoky, seductive timbre which is ideal and handles
the coloratura in a way that is adept and agile. She is also
a good vocal actress who sounds both vindictive then truly remorseful
without resorting to over-emoting.
Giorgi Tozzi, who died last May (2011) at 88, was originally
a baritone. Occasionally that shows in a lack of sonorousness
in his low notes, such as on the low F at the end of his monologue
and some loss of resonance in his soft singing. He is more impressive
in louder passages when his steady, imposing tone cuts through
the surrounding textures. I find his characterisation of the
weary king a little applied and blustery. He too often sounds
angry rather than melancholy and thus lacks the massive inwardness
found in the Philip of Christoff, Siepi and Ghiaurov. He also
has a tendency to drift sharp in the soliloquy but his confrontations
with Il Grande Inquisitore and Rodrigo are both stirring and
dramatic, if not very subtle. Uhde is black and menacing of
voice but struggles with his top E and F.
Justino Diaz is noble, steady and implacable as the Friar/Carlo
Quinto. It’s a part which although brief must not be under-cast
if the opening and ending of the opera are to make the required
In my survey of the singers thus far, you will note that I have
left Leonie Rysanek till last. This is because I cannot quite
decide what I think about her Elisabetta. I am used to the fact
that in live performance she usually took a while to warm up
and that the strange, hoarse croon in the lower ranges of the
voice would ease off as the opera progressed. I continue to
be delighted by her shining top notes and the amplitude of the
sound she makes but equally irritated by her habitual swoop
and scoop in to phrases. The dark colouring and occasional hoarseness
in her tone is in many ways redolent of the unrelenting sorrow
and suffering undergone by Elisabetta, that most doleful of
Verdi heroines. She rises to her last great aria, floating notes
exquisitely on “Francia” and “Fontainebleau” and delivers superb
top Bs and B flats which sound almost disjointed from the main
body of her voice. She certainly creates a rounded character
and always delivers the text convincingly but listening is not
always comfortable when she is “wallowing” into a note. She
was always a favourite with the Met audience which responds
enthusiastically to all the artists here.
The standard of instrumental playing is variable; neither of
the introductions to Acts 3 and 4 constitutes the orchestra’s
finest hour and intonation can waver alarmingly. By and large
though Adler directs a tight ship.
This, alongside the 1968 “Die Walküre”, is probably the most
desirable issue so far in this Sony Metropolitan series. It
certainly represents the best of Corelli in this particular
opera but is more than that. It enshrines a thrilling performance
by a first-rate cast recorded in mono sound so good that one
forgets it’s almost “historical”. There are many good recordings
of this opera but none encompasses all its demands. Most serious
collectors will want several versions of both the four and five
Act versions in Italian and the French recording conducted by
Pappano. In that context, there is certainly room for this slim
and very affordable issue on your shelves.
There is a synopsis and cues but obviously no libretto, this
being a budget set.