Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Il trovatore
William Wilderman (bass) - Ferrando; Teresa Stratas (soprano) - Ines; Leontyne Price (soprano) - Leonora; Mario Sereni (baritone) - Count Di Luna; Franco Corelli (tenor) - Manrico; Irene Dalis (contralto) - Azucena; Charles Anthony (tenor) - Ruiz
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Fausto Cleva
rec. live, 4 February 1961
Synopsis but no libretto enclosed
SONY CLASSICS 88697 91006 2 [65:22 + 59:30]

Friday 27 January 1961 is a truly historic date in the annals of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. On that evening two of the greatest stars during the sixties, seventies and - in one case - well into the eighties made their joint house debut: Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli. It was a tremendous success. A week later on the Saturday matinee performance that was broadcast they returned and it is that performance that has now been made available on CD. The cast was roughly the same, but Mario Sereni was a last minute replacement of Robert Merrill as Count Di Luna and Teresa Stratas took over Ines’ role.
Reportedly there was a terrible snowstorm that paralyzed New York that afternoon but there is no sense of inhibition about either performance or audience reactions. Rather the Metropolitan audience behaves as usual: starting clapping as soon as the soloists’ last note is over but before the orchestra is finished. The mono sound is OK and Fausto Cleva, who conducted more than 700 performances in the house, is a reliable though not very individual maestro. In the main he is an accompanist, attentive to the singers, and that’s principally speaking no bad thing. In a typical singers’ opera, like Trovatore, a more strong-willed conductor can kill the singers. As it is, here, all the soloists get their due but the overall shape of the music is a bit patchy.
I don’t think anyone buys a recording, or goes to a performance, of this opera for the conducting. In this particular case the interest is more than usually focused on the singers. This is indeed a starry cast, down to the comprimario roles with a very young Teresa Stratas -she was not yet 23 - as a splendid Ines, and tenor Charles Anthony, then just a bit over 30, turning in a characterful Ruiz. Anthony, who passed away earlier this year (2012), has the all-time record of the number of performances at the Met. When he retired two years ago - his last role was the Emperor in Turandot, on 28 January 2010 - he had appeared 2,928 times over 56 seasons! I saw Turandot just five days earlier but unfortunately with another Emperor.
You don’t buy a recording of Trovatore for the comprimarios either. Caruso once said: ‘All you need for a successful Trovatore is the four greatest singers in the world.’ Who decides which singers are the greatest at a certain time is another matter, but greatness there is in this cast. The fifth soloist, Count Di Luna’s captain Ferrando, is almost a comprimario but he has a long scene in the first act that requires a resounding powerful bass voice and expressivity in the acting. William Wilderman sang regularly at the Metropolitan from his debut in 1958 until 1964 and then returned to the house in the late 1970s and made his last appearance in 1984. He is the possessor of a warm and sonorous voice, maybe missing the last ounce of venom but who says that Ferrando must be evil? The male chorus is very good and when the women join them in the second act they are very good too.
What about Leonora? She arrives in harness with Ines and we hear at once that here is an extraordinary voice. Tacea la notte is her calling card, it calls for golden tone, fine spun legato and nuances. It gets all this, one sits breathless, although one has heard her in the aria before, in even earlier recordings. It is something special with this live experience and there’s a sense that 51 years and many hundred miles away another 4000 listeners are also holding their breath. The cabaletta Di tale amor takes some time to settle but then she is glorious. She continues to be so during the rest of the performance.
Mario Sereni is the next soloist. We know that he was a reliable singer with a beautiful voice, maybe not as charismatic as some other baritones of his generation but his many recordings bear witness that at least vocally he was in the same league. When in the next act he sings Il balen with good legato he is fully comparable to Bastianini, Merrill and Cappuccilli.
Before that the tenor has been heard for the first time. Ironically he hasn’t been seen yet, since his first solo is executed off stage. Deserto sulla terra is sung with glorious tone and long-held top notes. It is a magnificent voice but his delivery is mannered. We know he can sing softly, and he does in several places during the rest of the opera, but I always have the feeling that a diminuendo and a pianissimo primarily is his way of showing off: ‘Listen, I can do this!’ Not always does the effect come from within, from a conviction that this is the only way of expressing this particular feeling. Comparing him to a great Manrico during the inter-war years, Aureliano Pertile, it is easy to hear that Corelli has listened to his older compatriot. The intensity is there, the larger-than-life approach. Whether Pertile’s voice was as large or larger than Corelli’s is difficult to judge from the old recordings but Corelli’s is more beautiful while Pertile seems to be more under the skin of his character. I can honestly say that I am impressed by Corelli and often take down his recordings from the shelves for the sheer pleasure of hearing those glorious tones. When I listen to other singers in the same music, Jussi Björling for instance, I always sense the greater artistry, the greater conviction, the greater musicality. Still I like to wallow in Corelli’s super-human power in Ah, si ben mio and Di quella pira. The very best of him is otherwise heard in his duets with Azucena. The nuanced delivery of Mal reggendo (CD 1 tr. 15) is Corelli at his most artful.
His partner there is Irene Dalis, the American mezzo-soprano who sang nineteen seasons at the Metropolitan. Her most famous role was Amneris in Aida, which she sang opposite Leontyne Price when she presented her first Aida just a couple of weeks after this Trovatore. Ms Dalis is a good Azucena throughout and in the final scene she is deeply moving. Vocally she may not be quite on the same level as Simionato or Cossotto but she is a worthy complement to the other singers here.
This is not a reference recording - for that one has to go to Zubin Mehta (Sony) with Price, Cossotto, Domingo and Milnes or Giulini (DG) with Plowright, Fassbaender, Domingo and Zancanaro, or Serafin (DG) with Stella, Cossotto, Bergonzi and Bastianini or Cellini (Sony) with Milanov, Barbieri, Björling and Warren - but it is a thrilling document of a Met performance reeking with passion.
Göran Forsling

A thrilling document of a Met performance reeking with passion.