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 1990
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 reason.
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 and Pavarotti).
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
Not a natural sound and given the state of some of the voices here it does the singers no great favours either.