Giuseppe VERDI(1830-1901) Il Trovatore (1853) [131.52]
Luciano Pavarotti (tenor) - Manrico, Antonella Banaudi (soprano)
- Leonora, Shirley Verrett (mezzo) - Azucena), Leo Nucci (baritone)
- Luna, Francesco Ellero d’Artegna (bass) - Ferrando, Barbara Frittoli
(soprano) - Ines, Piero de Palma (tenor) - Ruiz, Roberto Scaltriti
(bass) - Old gipsy, Enrico Facini (tenor) – Messenger
Orchestra and Chorus of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Zubin Mehta
rec. Teatro Communale Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, 18 June–2 July
DECCA 478 3478 [65:31 + 65:21]
When this recording was first issued in 1995 surprise was expressed
that the tapes had been allowed to languish for five years since
the date of recording, and there was some speculation as to
why that might have happened. One of the reasons might have
been the recording itself. Balance between voices and orchestra
is a reversion to the bad old days of early LP with voices in
your ear and the orchestra half a hall away. This is quite simply
not a natural sound, and given the state of some of the voices
here it does the singers no great favours either. In the opera
house the only listener who would get this sort of balance is
the prompter, and he would be too busy to notice how unnatural
it all sounds. It comes as a surprise to find that Christopher
Raeburn was the producer.
Apart from a number of ‘pirate’ issues - one with Sutherland
from San Francisco still seems to be available, but there have
also been others from Vienna in 1977, New York in 1987 and 1988
– the latter also on video – and Florence in 1989 - Pavarotti
had made an earlier commercial recording of Manrico with Sutherland
and Bonynge. Comparisons with this reading are by no means in
favour of this later outing. Manrico is first heard from offstage
and in the Bonynge recording Pavarotti was properly distanced.
Here he hardly seems to be distant at all - and he sings in
full voice, not the mezza voce that Verdi indicates,
so that the later crescendo to tutta forza
goes for nothing. Then, when he enters, his voice is far closer
than would be natural in the opera house – he is supposed to
be among the trees with closed visor on his helmet. The orchestra
is relegated to the middle distance. Pavarotti is on good form,
however, and handles the text responsively. He fully appreciates
that Manrico is not just a part for a tenor with a big voice
to show off. His reactions are instinctive and natural as always.
In Di quella pira his attack on the fioriture
is not ideally clear - and the orchestra is too distant to add
definition. That said, he gives the music all the required verve
and his top Cs are all one would expect - we get both verses.
At the very end he alters Verdi’s rhythms on the cries of All’armi!,
shortening the rhythm each time from a minim to a crochet, which
is not only wrong but sounds it as well. He did something rather
similar – but less obviously – in his earlier recording with
Bonynge; one also notices a similar tendency in his recorded
recital with Rescigno, but again less obviously than here. In
the duet Ai nosti monti Pavarotti brings a beautifully
judged mezzo voce to his consolation to his half-sleeping
mother. His response to Leonora when he begins to suspect what
she has promised to obtain his freedom is beautifully judged.
There is no hint whatsoever here of the vulgarity of which the
tenor was often accused in his later recordings. This is simply
superb both as singing and interpretation.
At the time of the recording Antonella Banaudi was regarded
as a future star, but her career failed to develop and she faded
from view. Christopher Raeburn, the producer of this recording,
said she suffered from a crisis of confidence. Her voice here
sounds rather small - she is no match for Pavarotti in volume
- and the interpretation is relatively unformed. This is all
the more aggravating when one notes the appearance of Barbara
Frittoli, a superstar in the making - she has subsequently recorded
Leonora for Muti - in the minor role of Ines. In the second
scene she sounds more than a match for Banaudi in strength of
tone. Even so, Bainaudi sings with plenty of expression and
a proper regard for Verdi’s dynamic markings. She makes a good
impression in Tacea la note despite some evident strain
on her top D although she has the trills needed for In tale
amor. In Degg’io volgermi she lets us hear some
superbly delicate quiet singing which creates an enchanted atmosphere
all too soon dispelled by the irruption of Pavarotti and Nucci.
Her upper line in the following finale although properly leggierissimo
is not brilliantissimo as instructed. At the end Pavarotti
joins her in the line Sei tu dal ciel di scenso, not
in Verdi’s score. In her big scene at the beginning of the Fourth
Act she really comes into her own and gives us a superbly poised
rendition of D’amor sull’a rosee. In the following
Miserere Pavarotti is properly distanced and the bells
which accompany the chorus are for once given at the correct
bass pitch which Verdi indicates. In the final bars of the scene
she adds a top C that Verdi did not write. One regrets that
one does not get the chance to hear the composer’s own thoughts.
In the final scene at the words “questa hora” (track 21, 00:24)
she simply sings a wrong note – C instead of E – for no apparent
All in all however one is sorry that her career was so curtailed,
since there is plenty of promise here.
If Banaudi was at the beginning of her short career at the time
of this recording, Verrett was at the end of hers; earlier ‘pirates’
from New York (1971, 1977 and 1987) exist. Her Azucena is a
triumph of will and technique over fading natural resources,
although she is the one principal singer who makes a conscious
attempt to observe Verdi’s many dynamic and rhythmic markings
and the drama springs to life in consequence. Her top notes
although strong are shrill and frayed. Her voice is not ideally
steady lower down; all her artistry cannot conceal the fact
that the role demands a voice in its prime. Pavarotti in their
duets consistently shows a command of volume that is no longer
at her disposal. Her insertion of a high C that Verdi did not
write at the end of the first scene of the Third Act is ill-advised.
Nucci is, as always, a perfectly acceptable Verdi baritone,
but his voice remains resolutely uncommunicative. His opening
words Tacea la note - echoing those of Leonora - are
hardly expressive of stillness. He ignores Verdi’s instruction
for a crescendo from the orchestral pp to
an accent specifically indicated for the delivery of the phrase.
At the end of this scene his duel with Pavarotti degenerates
into a contest for volume in which Banaudi is relegated to the
status of an also-ran. She is not helped by the fact that Pavarotti
swaps lines with her in the closing bars. Nucci is much better
in In balen; although hardly dolcissimo as
Verdi requests. He fills out the line with plenty of broad cantabile
tone even if he lacks light and shade. In the later scenes he
gives a properly brutal interpretation, but Verdi’s requests
for dolce always find him wanting in sweetness of tone
when needed. In the duet which concludes the first scene of
the Fourth Act the instruction of ppp crescendo is
totally ignored. He later recorded the role again in a live
La Scala recording under Muti, but there are also earlier ‘pirates’
from Marseilles (1987) and New York (1987, also with Verrett
Francesco Ellero d’Artagna delivers Ferrando’s opening passages
with a good firm tone, but he makes no attempt at all to distinguish
between the accented notes and those specifically marked pianissimo
and misterioso in Abietta zingara. He simply
sings in a consistent mezzo-forte throughout. When
Verdi asks for crescendo sempre he then has to force
his climactic phrases. Later on he simply ignores Verdi’s instruction
sempre pppp at the words “Con occhio lucente”.
The chorus give plenty of body to their singing – although there
is no distinction in the opening pages between the soldiers
and the servants in the male choir, they just sing both parts
without any attempt at differentiation. In the Anvil chorus
they earn marks for their observation of Verdi’s request for
a crescendo during the opening lines. They hardly start
from the pianissimo indicated in the orchestra. Incidentally
in the choral passages the balance between voices and orchestra
is much better than elsewhere, mainly because the chorus are
set further back at the same distance as the players.
Mehta had previously recorded Trovatore with Domingo
on an RCA set from the early 1970s which is still regarded as
one of the best recordings of the work; there is also a ‘pirate’
from Tel Aviv of approximately the same vintage. His work here
represents no real advance on that earlier interpretation. The
playing at the beginning of Di tale amor is spick-and-span
but not brillante as Verdi requests. At the start of
Perigliarti ancor languente Verdi’s markings specifies
Velocissimo, agitato assai but Mehta just gives us
a gentle jog-trot and does not pick up speed until Pavarotti’s
entry. In the final scene he allows both Pavarotti and Nucci
to omit their exclamations of horror when they realise that
Leonora has taken poison (track 22, 00:42) which makes Nucci’s
entry a few moments later - not incidentally ‘aside’ as the
score indicates - sound somewhat surprising. A minute later
(at 2:35) he again allows both his male singers simply to omit
their lines as Leonora dies. His pacing of Verdi’s admittedly
perfunctory final bars is just too slow for Verdi’s headlong
Allegro metronome mark. The result is neither urgent
nor properly brutal.
The booklet gives a very brief synopsis of the action but otherwise
gives us no information other than a cast-list and a track-listing.
The libretto and translation are available only through the
internet. The instructions on the disc tell you to insert the
CD in order to access this, but don’t tell you that you need
to insert the first CD and not the second; once you
have done this the file will open, but you need to obtain and
provide a password. This seems very long-winded; why not simply
provide the text and translation without the need for this?
The bonus audio material which the booklet promises turns out
to be a promotional track from another release.
The main reason for purchasing this reissue is clearly Pavarotti.
If you are looking for a commercial recording by Pavarotti of
one of his most famous roles, his earlier version under Bonynge
is preferable; despite some unsteadiness in the middle register
from the then ageing Sutherland, the supporting cast is more
closely matched and the recording is immeasurably more natural.
Bonynge used some of the small amendments that Verdi made to
the score for performance in Paris. He also included the ballet
which he wrote for that occasion on his original LP recording,
although the latter was omitted from the CD transfer. Many of
the earlier ‘complete’ recordings of Il trovatore allowed
themselves to make cuts bother large and small. Mehta here gives
us the original score absolutely complete.
As a recording of a truly complete Il trovatore the
best overall recommendation among relatively modern recordings
probably remains Mehta’s earlier recording with the young Domingo.
That by Giulini - again with Domingo - also has its proponents
despite the conductor’s sometimes unorthodox slow speeds. These
all pay due respect to most of Verdi’s very precise markings.
The composer really knew what he was doing when he indicated
these. They bring the old warhorse to dramatic life when they
are properly and scrupulously observed.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
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