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Recordings

Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino
24 Sep 2006

VERDI: La Forza del Destino

The better can be the enemy of the good and this recording proves it.

Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino

Antonietta Stella (Leonora), José Soler (Alvaro), Rolando Panerai (Carlo), Amalia Pini (Preziosilla), Enzo Feliciati (Guardiano), Melchiorre Luise (Melitone), Conelis Kalkman (Trabucco), Aad de Rijk (Marchese – Alcade

Ponto PO-1037 [3CDs]

$15.99  Click to buy

As parts of this radio broadcast have circulated before, this means that the original acetates left the cupboards a few times and were put on tape. The sonic quality of the CD’s under review is high and I’m fairly sure the producers didn’t want to use some older tapes but employed the acetates. Unfortunately, acetates can be very fragile and some of them were already slightly damaged as one can derive from the hiss at certain moments. Several times this results in heavy blasts which are quite painful to hear, especially during some of the Stella-solos in act 1 and 2. So the better (using the originals all the time) is less than the good (using some older tapes).

Moreover, the sound picture is not exactly helped by Antonietta Stella. The soprano had made her début one year earlier and she is still finding her way. She gives the impression of singing her heart out in the Verona Arena instead of the rather intimate and not overly big Concertgebouw. She sings unrelentingly loud with almost no nuances. She often lashes out with a glottal bang and the voice doesn’t resemble much the fine Verdi soprano she would become later on. Indeed, only five months later she sang Amelia in Simon Boccanegra far more subtle and there the voice is immediately recognizable as witnessed by the recording Cetra years later put on the market (with Carlo Bergonzi in his first year as a tenor).

Loudness is the main quality of José Soler as well. Most collectors will know him from his Cetra Chénier with Renata Tebaldi and some from his aria album on the same label. An old hand at the Verona Arena told me he was present back in 1949 when Soler sang Manrico. The tenor had good high notes and he encored ‘Di quella pira’. Still the public didn’t let him go and clamoured for another encore. Soler however pointed at the pyre and shouted: “ My mother is burning” and off he ran. The Uruguyan tenor has the right material though he is more a lyric than a real spinto tenor. But he unmercifully puffs up his voice at every high note and has a tremendous success with a public starved of international tenor singing since the war. Soler is not really unmusical, using far less sobs than most tenors did at the time in the same role but phrasing is not his forte. Good strong tenor singing, yes, but bland at the same time.

The only one of the three title singers for whom less is sometimes more is baritone Rolando Panerai. With his lyric baritone he is less inclined to rely on volume and he succeeds in singing with style and nuance. His aria is well done and puts forwards the doubts Carlo has. It is a pity EMI asked the aging Carlo Tagliabue three years later for the Callas-Tucker Forza as Panerai would undoubtedly been an improvement. As far as I know this is his only known recording of the opera and so it is a pity that the second baritone-tenor duet was still cut at the time.

Enzo Feliciati starts out well as Padre Guardiano but soon proves himself to be a rough-and-ready bass. In the last act there is no smoothness at all, no consolation in the voice but just barking along. Amalia Pinta as Preziosilla has one of the biggest vibratos I ever heard which probably explains her lack of a career as the basic colours of the voice are fine. Melchiorre Louise is one of those comprimario-singers we remember well from the legendary recordings of the fifties. He sang Benoit in Bohème or Sacristan in Tosca but Melitone is a league higher and his exaggerated utterances are probably meant to hide his lack of a true baritone or bass voice. Aad de Rijk takes on three roles in one Verdi opera which must surely be some record. The Netherlands had a most austere economic programme after the war and this is one of the results: a bass completely strange to Italian roles. Argeo Quadri drives on his forces without any problem though he too is not too subtle and therefore not a conductor who can demand some lowering of the volume by his two main singers.

Forza is a difficult opera for labels. Even a cut version is still some 10 minutes longer than two CDs can bear and therefore some bonuses are necessary. The first one is quite a contrast with the complete performance. The idiosyncratic style of Helge Rosvaenge never appealed to me in Italian roles; nor does his permanent use of explosive sounds. Heinrich Schlusnus had the most Italian of all pre-war German baritones and he succeeds very well in overcoming the German translation and Hilde Scheppan has a better ear for nuance than Stella though the sound is not very Italian and reminds one of Gundula Janowitz. The second bonus is a strange one: ten minutes of the first act of a Covent Garden Forza of 1975; not exactly the most popular part. Still in those few moments Carlo Bergonzi gives us more real Verdi phrasing than Soler and Rosvaenge combined, even though by that time he flattened every time above the stave.

Jan Neckers

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