VERDI: Il Trovatore–highlights – Franco Corelli, tenor/ Gabriella Tucci, soprano/ Robert Merrill, baritone/ Giuletta Simianato, mezzo-soprano/ Ferruccio Mazzoli, bass/ Chorus and Orchestra of the Rome Opera/ Thomas Schippers – EMI Classics 0 94839 2, 63:03 ****:
Any lover of great tenors will readily admit that Verdi’s 1853 Il Trovatore provides a true test for spinto endurance that asks no less of a natural lyric gift with a wide tessitura. In this regard, the most elegantly equipped candidates over the years may prove to have been Bjoerling and Domingo, although this 1964 production from the Teatro dell’Opera, Rome boasts a virile “prince of tenors” in Franco Corelli (1921-2003). Corelli won praise for the sheer power of his projection, his top notes, his clear diction, and his startlingly good looks. A gifted actor, Corelli could make his performances real, whereas despite a luxurious tenor voice, Jussi Bjoerling remained wooden as an actor. Leading the orchestra we have the late Thomas Schippers (1930-1977), often credited with more talented fire in the opera house than he brought to his much-heralded performances in the symphonic realm.
Bass Ferruccio Mazzoli opens the abridged drama, alerting his guard to the history of the death of Count di Luna’s younger brother. His spirited cabaletta invokes the tale of the gypsy Azucena, sworn to avenge her mother, burnt at the stake as a witch. Gabriella Tucci (b. 1929) sings the role of Leonore, confessing to Ines (Luciana Moneta) her love for Manrico, the aria “Tacea la notte placida” providing a nice vehicle for her coloratura high top and bel canto lyricism, touched here by aspects of verismo. We then move to excerpts from Act II, beginning with the Anvil Chorus of gypsies, to which Azucena, Manrico, the old gypsy (Mario Rinaudo), and chorus add the cruel “Stride la vampa,” the thought that the fires of vengeance are burning. Giuletta Simianato (1910-2010) shines as Azucena, her throaty recitation, extending into “Condotto ell’era in ceppi,” paints in graphic terms her mother’s death at the stake and her own brutal burning of a baby in retaliation. Corelli’s bright entry and rocket voice make a stunning contrast to Simianato’s dark incantations. “Is he not her son, as she has always treated him?” Robert Merrill’s etched aria of devotion to Leonore, “Il balen del suo sorriso” enjoys a plastic rhythm and seamless ornaments over a woodwind ostinato. At the mention of Leonore’s radiant smile, Merrill’s voice lifts with its own inner light.
We have only two arias from Act III, “Ah si, ben mio…Di quella pira,” the wedding scene in which Manrico’s thoughts of love no less turn to thoughts of death—that should he die, his last thoughts will embrace Leonore. We can hear why critic Harold Schonberg once called a Corelli performance “its own logic,” given the plastic rubato and chest tone Corelli adds to the swelling vocal line. His realization that Azucena has been captured inspires his blazing, filial devotion to fight, perhaps to die for her liberation. Schippers’ contribution of a military call to battle thrills no less than Corelli’s high Cs.
Act IV generously provides five major scenes, each centered around Manrico’s imprisonment and impending execution. Tenor Angelo Mercuriali sings the part of Ruiz, a soldier in Manrico’s service. Leonore’s wish to send love on rosy pinions to the doomed prisoner, “D’amor sull’all rosee,” leads to the grim Miserere that expresses the two lovers’ anguish. Soprano Tucci made only two commercial recordings, but her work here clearly indicates a major Verdi interpreter on a par with Tebaldi. Corelli’s strummed “Addio!” in juxtaposition with the tolling bells and the lamentoso of the chorus remains a miracle of dramatic art in music. In desperation, Leonore offers herself to the Count in the nervously agitated aria, “Mira, d’acerbe lagrime.” The vocal grace notes fly into space as Leonore considers that her lover will go free, “Vivra, contende il giubilo,” a bitter triumph in the face of emotional slavery. At the last notes we can barely contain our own applause. The last two arias bring the tragedy full circle, beginning with Azucena’s reminiscence to Manrico of the happier days in the mountains, the duet, “Ai nostri monti.” Leonore’s fatal entrance into the prison, “Prima che d’altri vivere,” to thank her lover for past bliss and bid farewell, leads to her confession of having taken poison. The old formula of love and death plays out with the Count’s ordering Manrico’s immediate execution, only to hear Azucena declare, “He was your brother!” Makes you want to own the whole opera with this cast, yes?
Some “first time” Dance Music releases by Sevitzky and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra