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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Il trovatore
Robert Lloyd (bass) - Ferrando; Phyllis Cannan (soprano) - Ines; Katia Ricciarelli (soprano) - Leonora; Yuri Masurok (baritone) - Count Di Luna; Josť Carreras (tenor) - Manrico; Stefania Toczyska (mezzo-soprano) - Azucena; Robin Leggate (tenor) – Ruiz; John Treleaven (tenor) – Un messo; Roderick Earle (bass) – Un vecchio zingaro
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Colin Davis
rec. July 1980, London
PHILIPS 4461512 [2 CDs: 128 mins]

I note that whatever reason, this recording seems never to have been reviewed here on this site, so almost forty years on, perhaps it’s time it was.

I have fond memories of attending, around the same time as this recording was made, a performance at Covent Garden with the identical cast, seeing and hearing them from box seats, which added considerably to the impact of the occasion. It was one of the best and most complete operatic occasions of my life, so perhaps I may be excused for my nostalgic attachment to this recording. Nonetheless, it is objectively very fine, presenting every artist at his or her best, for better or worse, depending on whether you think their vocal layout is suited to this, one of the ultimate Big Sing opportunities in Grand Opera.

Every voice here is decidedly beautiful, if not necessarily either typical of, or ideal for, the demands of the score. The emphasis is predominantly upon lyricism but that does not mean that there is any strain or lack of power in the delivery. Davis’ conducting is essentially non-interventionist even if occasionally I find him a tad rushed as, for example, at the start of Part 2, in the Gypsies’ Chorus. He eschews bombast without sacrificing drive and energy, directing a swift, propulsive account.

The first voice we hear is that of resident Covent Garden bass for many years, Robert Lloyd. His tone is almost too grand and noble for Ferrando but he provides a fresh, alert reading of the role and deals very well with the tricky gruppetti. Ricciarelli is in best voice, delicate poised and plangent – she makes a languid but vulnerable and touching Leonora, a few ungainly top notes, with too much beat, notwithstanding. Carreras, too, is at his very considerable best, even if he is already pushing a bit and reluctant to sing anything quietly. He does not sound over-parted in “Di quella pira” even if he is no Corelli. Mazurok’s splendid baritone is lean, incisive and steady, just as I remember it in the theatre; I have read complaints regarding his Italian but he sounds idiomatic enough to me. He has a kind of Gobbi-like bite to his delivery. The under-rated Toczyska is also lighter and leaner than most of the beefy mezzo-sopranos who undertake this role, but still highly dramatic, with both vocal registers very well integrated and developed. Her final scene with Carreras’ vibrant Manrico is both beautifully vocalised and moving, with both artists scrupulously musical but intensely passionate. The chorus is really first rate, too; this is a recording with no weaknesses.

The recorded sound is fine, employing some atmospheric balancing and distancing effects and generally belying its age.

Yes, I also want to be able to hear more typical Big Bow-Wow performances of this most venerable of warhorses with more overtly dramatic voices like Leontyne Price, Bonisolli or Corelli or Fiorenza Cossotto, but I find this recording very satisfying. As I never tire of observing, we’d be more than grateful to hear a cast of this calibre in the opera house today.

Ralph Moore

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