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Recordings

Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino
29 Aug 2006

VERDI: La Forza del Destino

This cast looks quite promising on paper. However, I cannot honestly say these big names keep their promise, except for the comprimario-singers.

Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino

Renata Tebaldi (Leonaora), Giuseppe Di Stefano (Alvaro), Gian Giacomo Guelfi (Carlo), Giulio Neri (Padre Guardiano), Fedora Barbieri (Preziosilla), Melchiore Luise (Melitone), Paolo Washington (Marchese), Sergio Tedesco (Trabucco), Mario Frosini (Chirurgo), Giorgio Giorgetti (Alcade), Luciana Boni ( Curra). Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Communale di Firenze conducted by Gabriele Santini.

Myto Historical Line 062H114 [3CDs]

$31.49  Click to buy

The worst sinner is Gian Giacomo Guelfi, caught on a bad day. The voice is dry and without resonance, and Guelfi’s one solution is to force the voice and increase the volume as much as possible, eventually shouting in the cabaletta ‘Urna fatale’. By the last act there is some juice left in the voice, but he still gets away more easily with barking. His ‘Son Pereda’ and ‘Urna fatale’ are prime examples of mal canto, breaking the line and leaving legato aside. Guelfi was always a rough diamond that didn’t succeed in harnessing his huge voice and refining the musical style. Later that year he recorded an LP of the same opera with young Franco Corelli where at least the sound is exciting (Myto CD 953.132). The high notes, too, are better than in this live recording as he rather tentatively takes them but without the thickness and volume he has in the middle register.

Another disappointment is Padre Guardiano, sung by Giulio Neri. I had to look twice at the sleeve notes to make sure that this hollow sound, devoid of beauty and power, really belonged to Neri. Granted he only had one year and a half to live at the time of this performance, but he was only 47 in 1956, which is not at all old for a bass. Fedora Barbieri, another big name losing her voice before her 40th birthday, sings Preziosilla. In her first act aria, her high register is intact, but the bottom and middle are sung in a sort of growling, vile sound. By ‘Rataplan’ she has more or less recuperated to a more homogeneous sound from top to bottom.

We all know too well that Di Stefano’s lyric sound is totally unsuited for the role of Alvaro. By 1956 the voice is coarser, but the exciting timbre still has one spellbound. He starts out well with some incisive singing, but it soon becomes clear that the voice above the staff is foggy and that he has not warmed up. In Di Stefano’s vocabulary, the use of a first act of Forza is the warming up, so that by his big aria in the third act, he can give his all and something more as well. He doesn’t spare himself, sings too open as always and still makes a tremendous impression, alternating some fine pianissimo with some big forte’s. He’s fine too in ‘Solenne in quest’ora’ though he cannot match Guelfi in decibels. In the fourth act he simply gives up on stylish singing, trying to make as much sound as possible to match Guelfi so that the duet really becomes a shouting contest, won with one second by the baritone.

Not surprisingly, the best singing in this performance comes from Renata Tebaldi, with her use of a wonderful timbre for which the word ‘morbidezza’ was created. Leonora was always one of her best roles as she can float the voice in her two big arias and her convent scene, yet she has power to spare without having to shout herself hoarse. Indeed we hear the problems nearing that will mar her future. In ‘Me pellegrini’ she carefully takes a breath before tackling the high note. In the convent scene she is far less cautious but “the steam whistle” makes its entrance, and at the end of ‘Pace, pace’ she is flat. But, in this issue too, the better is the enemy of the good. Myto has included almost all of her well known 1953 performance as a bonus, and the listener can only be sad at the steadfast decline of her high register. Maybe the biggest surprise lies in the comparison between the middle voices. Though the sound is still very fine in 1956, it pales compared to the stupendous beauty three years earlier.

The experienced conductor, Gabrielle Santini, succeeds in sailing without problems through a performance, though many of these singers probably knew all too well that this was not their evening of glory and were therefore tempted to use some tricks. As was the custom in Italy of those days, the second Alvaro-Carlo duet was cut. Myto almost never gives an exact date of the performance. This one dates from the 8th of June, and some years ago was also released on the label Di Stefano lent his name to.

Jan Neckers

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