20 May 2007


This recording is a souvenir in more than one sense.

The enthusiasm of the public, here still clearly audible, would wane only a few years later. This was one of the last years that Italians were still a majority in the arena. Soon after, tourists staying at Lago di Garda (the Garda lake) would take over. They didn’t know the repertoire, they didn’t know the singers and they didn’t know the applause codes; they just came for an evening out. And at the same time younger Italians were staying away because they preferred ‘il rock’. This was also one of the last years where a major cast would be completely composed of Italian singers.

Of course the opera may be called Aida but the real reason for this issue is the Radamès. By 1972 Corelli’s voice had started to dry up quite a bit as is clear from some of his Met performances. This is noticeable, too, in the first act. Though his high B is still very impressive in ‘Celeste Aida’, he nevertheless has to cut short the note. He also has a tendency to sing in big outbursts, mostly to cover up the fact that his once inexhaustible breath is now far shorter. I wonder if he took the pains to warm up properly, or if he did, did his voice need a very long time to regain its juicy quality? [The same thing happened when I heard him for the last time at the arena in 1975.] By the third act, the dryness has largely gone and we once more hear a lot of glorious sound and the breath is doing better as well. There are a few impressive and long pianissimi in the big duet, yet he clearly has reserves enough for an extremely long ‘ioooooo resta a te’ at the end of the act. And contrary to some of his performances at the Met, he knows this public will not accept just posing and not singing in the ensembles.

He has some worthy partners at his side. Luisa Maragliano is not a first class soprano; more of a cross between a poor man’s Tebaldi and the same man’s Stella. But she has the volume, too, for the arena. In her first aria she proves she has a lot of chest tones and some phrasing reminding us more of Santuzza than Aida but it is true we would be happy nowadays with such a strong Italian spinto. In her second aria she leaves verismo behind her though I have a feeling this has more to do with every soprano’s fear for that horribly exposed C. She almost creeps towards the note and still it goes flat.

I remember Luisa Bordin Nave as a fine Amneris on those evenings we had to do without the wonderful Fiorenza Cossotto. The voice very much resembled Cossotto’s though without the latter’s shattering power and silvery edge but still a sound to be treasured. Gian Piero Mastromei had some of his happiest moments in the arena. His big sound was a little bit rough and not apt for the more lyrical Verdi roles but as Amonasro (and as a splendid Scarpia one year later with Domingo and Santunione) this was more a quality than a liability.

The smaller roles could still be filled by major voices. Agostino Ferrin is a splendid Ramfis with a rounded and interesting bass; so much more beautiful than the ubiquitous Bonaldo Giaotti I often had to bear with. And someone with the interesting timbre and big voice of Giovanni Foiani (the only one on scene always a few inches taller than Corelli) wouldn’t sing comprimario parts these days. Veteran Oliviero de Fabritiis has his musicians well in hands in the difficult arena acoustics (for the orchestra only, not for the singers) but is clearly aware of the fact that the public has come for Corelli and therefore indulges him in his ways. The sound picture is not perfect but better than most arena recordings I have heard.

Jan Neckers