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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Recording Recommendations: Il Trovatore

Hot couple: Franco Corelli and Leontyne Price
or, why 1962 was the Year of the Anvil.

"Il Trovatore is easy. All you need is the four greatest singers in the world."

Those words (or something like them) are attributed to Enrico Caruso, who made the role of Manrico his bread and butter in the early 20th century. Looking at the available recordings of this famously difficult Verdi opera, he was right.
In other words, there are some wretched recordings of Il Trovatore on the market.

Here's two good ones. Both of these recordings are currently in the catalogue. Both are available from Deutsche Grammophon. And both were recorded in 1962.

Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala cond. Tullio Serafin

Leonore: Antonietta Stella
Manrico: Carlo Bergonzi
Azucena: Fiorenza Cossotto
Comte di Luna: Ettore Bastinanini

As an opera lover, it took me a long time to settle on this particular Trovatore as my "go-to" recording. This one, recorded in Milan in 1962 isn't perfect, but it's likeable, energetic and well sung. Carlo Bergonzi simply hits it out of the park as Manrico. Fiorenza Cossotto is a haunting presence as Azucena, making the most of this complex character. Ettore Bastianini is a dastardly Count Luna with just a hint of humanity. The only hitch is Antonietta Stella, whose Leonora is acceptable, but not up to the standards of the other singers in the cast. Tullio Serafin conducts a skilled, measured performance.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan

Leonora: Leontyne Price
Manrico: Franco Corelli
Azucena: Giulietta Simionato
Comte di Luna: Ettore Bastinanini

This is a semi-legendary live performance from 1962, recorded at the Salzburg Festival. It preserves the great Leontyne Price as Leonora. She is perfectly partnered with Franco Corelli, the embodiment of the manly Italian tenor. Both her "Tacea la notte" and his "Di quella pira" embody their respective characters perfectly. Cossotto is a wonderful, haunting Azucena.

Bastinanini, (who would have a falling out with Karajan a few years later) is even better here than on the above-mentioned studio recording. The Vienna Philharmonic put their backs into a superb performance, and anyone who wants to hear Karajan when he was still a great opera conductor needs to give this a spin. An essential.

Note: This is a live performance taken from a radio broadcast. Also, this same performance has been issued before, on various labels of dubious origin. For this reissue in the Salzburg Festival Dokumente series, the DG engineers dug up the original master tape of the Austrian radio broadcast.  It is in mono sound.

Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli singing the "Miserere" from Act IV of Il Trovatore. 
Recorded at the Metropolitan Opera in 1961.

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