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Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore (highlights)
29 Jul 2008

Verdi on Classics for Pleasure, Opera Highlights

With these three CDs of highlights from three Verdi operas - Nabucco, Il Trovatore, and Aida — Classics for Pleasure gives a snapshot of the arc of his career.

Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore (highlights)

Corelli, Tucci, Simionato, Merrill, Moneta, Mazzoli, Mercuriali, Rinaudo, Rome Opera House Chorus & Orchestra, Thomas Schippers

Classics for Pleasure (EMI) 393 3752 [CD]

£3.97  Click to buy

The composer’s first big success, Nabucco breathes fire in its lead soprano role, while elsewhere highlighting darker male voices. Il Trovatore, famously said to require the ‘world’s four best singers,’ bursts with so much melody that a highlights set seems like false economy. With Aida, the darker psychology and sharp orchestral color that would blossom in Otello and Falstaff appears.

CFP_Nabucco.pngRenata Scotto’s impassioned Abigaille dominates the Ricardo Muti-led Nabucco. In fact, Matteo Manuguerra in the title role is not heard until track 6, an ensemble at the end of part two. Perhaps CfP should have retitled the disc “Abigaille.” Scotto’s tendency toward some wiriness in her high notes plays to her advantage here, underscoring the character’s fierceness and ego. In the major bass role of Zaccaria, Nicolai Ghiaurov provides the other substantial voice to make this set worthy. Veriano Luchetti and Elena Obraztsova sing the roles of the young lovers, but the tenor and mezzo only briefly appear in the selections CfP provides. Muti, typically for him, drives the music with intensity and exactness, an approach that sometimes pushes excitement over insight.

CfP fills the Il Trovatore highlights disc with 70 minutes of music, and still it feels too brief. Surely the soldier’s chorus could have been included? That quibble aside, a set as exciting, if occasionally manic, as this, should make any Verdi lover ask for more. Conductor Schippers does set some brisk tempos, but the visceral impact cannot be denied. Franco Corelli in his prime dominates the set, a truly heroic sound, not just in volume but in sheer masculine tone. Gabriella Tucci , in a rare plum recording assignment, sings an imposing Leonora, feminine and yet with a core of strength. Robert Merrill may not be in best form here - the “Il balen” starts off somewhat stiffly - but the imposing quality of the instrument continues to satisfy. Rounding out a fine cast, Giuletta Simionato’s Azucena not only has the requisite tension and edge but also many moments of great beauty. On the assumption that finding the complete set of this recording may be difficult, lovers of this opera should find a way to grab this highlights disc.

CFP_Aida.pngThe Aida CD starts abruptly with Corelli’s emphatic delivery of the recitative to “Celeste Aida.” There has been some controversial over the diminuendo on the aria’s final note, but whether it was a trick of the knobs or authentic, the excitement generated is not fake. In 65 minutes, this highlights disc can’t truly capture the expansive greatness of the opera - despite the inclusion of the confrontations scenes between Aida and her father, and then that between Radames and Amneris. CfP goes in for longer slices, with only 10 tracks. It’s good to hear Birgit Nilsson’s Aida, her power wielded with tact and more than enough suggestion of pathos in her voice too (although sometimes that takes the form of suspect intonation).

Aida’s confrontation with Amneris is one victim of the music selections, which is particularly unfortunate considering how fine Grace Bumbry is in the role. Mario Sereni as Aida’s father makes less of an impression. Zubin Mehta leads the Rome opera forces in a performance as outsized as his two leads’ voices.

Your reviewer strongly recommends the Il Trovatore, but the other two sets have much worth hearing as well.

Chris Mullins


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