Ernani with Cerquetti, Del Monaco

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(Florence, June 25, 1957, live). Cerquetti, Del Monaco, Bastianini, Christoff; Mitropoulos. Chor. and Orch. of Maggio musicale fiorentino.

Five titans at their peak!

CD version has 2 CDs.

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Tully Potter, reviewing in Classic Record Collector:

“Sung and played like this, Ernani is a thrilling experience, if none too subtle. Here are four big, handsome voices at full stretch, urged on by an estimable conductor having one of his good days. Pianissimi are at a premium throughout but after all, this is early Verdi. The choral and orchestral work is first rate and the recording is good enough to allow one to participate fully in a remarkable festival evening at the Teatro Comunale.

“Anita Cerquetti had a short career but when she was up, she was really up. Her work here has all the thrust of early Callas with a gleam on the voice that only the finest sopranos have. The revelation, however, is Mario Del Monaco in the best Verdi singing I have heard from him; he keeps a fine line and his various interventions in the ensembles–which are the glory of this score–are thrilling. It is tenor singing in the Martinelli tradition, if without quite the care for words of a Pertile. About Ettore Bastianini there is often disagreement; I generally find him very satisfying, others think he is unsubtle. Here he is on top form and as long as you are not expecting the tonal shadings of his near-namesake Battistini, you will not be disappointed. Boris Christoff is always at his best in Verdi when he is being implacable; and there is no character more implacable than Silva. Mitropoulos makes all the cuts that were customary in the theatre 40 years ago.”

Jerome R. Sehulster, reviewing in The Advocate (Connecticut):

“Bel Canto Society’s exceptional re-mastering of a 1957 Ernani has a cast to die for: the familiar Mario Del Monaco, Ettore Bastianini, and Boris Christoff, plus the much less familiar Anita Cerquetti, all under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulos. The speed errors of the original tapes have been meticulously corrected, resulting in a best-case presentation of this vocal thriller. Anyone unacquainted with Cerquetti’s dark, sensual sound will lament with the rest of us her withdrawal from the stage at age 30. Mitropoulos is a tremendous force here.”

Alan Blyth, reviewing in Gramophone:

“A superb cast, with four main principals of true Verdian stature, graces this recording in sound that’s remarkably good for its age

“This is a performance to delight Verdians, Florence seriously challenging its La Scala rival on EMI. Roger Parker, writing recently on the Verdi renaissance in The Times, feared that it might come to a stop because of the dearth of voices able to cope with the composer’s demands. The calibre and strength of the singing here reminds one how often today we put up with third-best. Each of the four principals not only has a voice of essential power but each has Verdian style as part of their interpretative make-up. Furthermore they are led by the legendary Mitropoulos, such a force for good at the Maggio Musicale until his untimely death. He easily encompasses the cut and thrust, the rudimentary fervour of one of Verdi’s earliest successes, combining at once rude rhythms with lyrical breadth of phrase in supporting his admirable cast and firmly controlling the many ensembles, and his orchestra responds eagerly to his positive beat.

“Cerquetti, whose brief but distinguished career came to an abrupt end not long after this performance took place, had an evenly projected spinto soprano and used it with such command that she was at the time spoken of as Tebaldi’s equal. She encompasses with confidence her taxing aria and cabaletta at the beginning of the work, and makes the most of what little the composer offers his soprano thereafter, shining particularly in the final trio, where Verdi is at his most inspired. As the eponymous hero, Del Monaco shows conclusively that he was more than the stentorian tenor he was often portrayed as being in his day, combining, in the lovers’ brief moment of repose in Act 2, with Cerquetti’s Elvira in a quietly reflective way. Of course, where the supposed bandit breathes fire, Del Monaco is there with the appropriately flashing tone that made him so popular.

“Verdi gives his baritone, Don Carlo, the meatiest music. Bastianini, then at the height of his appreciable powers, sings all his solos with resplendent and keen tone. Although he doesn’t provide all the subtleties of line and colour Bruson achieves for Muti, Bastianini touches a real note of eloquence at ‘O sommo Carlo’ in Act 3. As old Silva, Christoff is his imposing self, rivalling his younger Bulgarian colleague, Ghiaurov, on the version from La Scala: both are excellent but Christoff makes more of the text.

“Mitropoulos sanctions a few regrettable cuts not tolerated by Muti. In other respects there’s little to choose between these two live performances. For its age the sound on this ‘new’ version is remarkably good and well worth investigating at mid-price.”

Robert Croan, reviewing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“The ‘Ernani’ is a highly charged live performance from the 1957 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, with a high-powered cast–Mario del Monaco, Anita Cerquetti, Ettore Bastianini, Boris Christoff–and an even higher-powered conductor, Dmitri Mitropoulos. Theatrical cuts and the exigencies of a live event are the only drawbacks in this electrifying rendition.”

Stefan Zucker:

The part of Ernani is heavy and baritonal. Together with Otello, it suited Del Monaco more than other Verdi roles. His pathos in the death scene is affecting.

Bastianini sings with fewer explosive accentuations and is more lyric than usual, so that his voice is actually sweet. Christoff also is in fresher voice than later in his career and is suitably implacable. Cerquetti is sensual in her scena, soars above the others in ensembles and oozes feeling in the fourth act.

One thinks of Ernani as an “oom-pah-pah” opera. Mitropoulos emphasizes melodic elements in the orchestration and introduces considerable ebb and flow of tempo, so that the score becomes more Romantic. Yet the result has fabulous spirit and often is hair-raising.

This Ernani performance is also available on the Myto label, at $37.95. The sound isn’t bad by PCM standards–but it has some hardness and glare, fewer overtones and less acoustic ambience. (It’s also pitched somewhat too high, so that certain passages reach 448.5Hz, which is historically inappropriate for the Maggio musicale.)

Paul Turok, reviewing in Turok’s Choice,
The Insider’s Review of New Classical Recordings

“The singing is impressive, even if no more than what one could ordinarily expect of these artists. The interpretive necessity of the release lies in Mitropoulos’s conducting. From the first few bars of the prelude, there is a wonderful plasticity, an unabashed exploitation of the expressive opportunities Verdi’s cadences offer. Throughout the opera, these sorts of controlled liberties fend off the underlying metric regularity of Verdi’s score, without vitiating its powerful vigor.”

Nicholas E. Limansky, reviewing in Opera News:

“If you want this performance in the best sound available at this time, get the BCS. You will be pleasantly surprised.” (Click the “review” tab for the full review.)

Franca Christoff (Boris Christoff’s widow), Accademia Boris Christoff, Rome, Italy:

“The sound quality of the Ernani is beautiful, and the performance is superb. Listening to it makes it easier to bear this world.”

Anita Cerquetti, Rome, Italy:

“I have this performance on three different CD labels, Melodram, Myto and Bel Canto Society. The Bel Canto version has the best sound, and it is the one I give to people when I want them to know what I sounded like. For example, I gave one to Bruno Cagli [head of the Parma Verdi Festival].”

One reason why ours are the best-sounding CDs of historical performances

The contents of this CD set were transferred from analog tape using the improved high-resolution technology called DSD (Direct Stream Digital). DSD operates at one bit and 2,822,400 samples per second. The result sounds more like the analog than conversions using Pulse Code Modulation technology (even at the emerging PCM standard of 24 bits and 96 kilohertz) because it creates fewer digital artifacts, such as glassiness, glare and harshness. CDs made from DSD conversions sound better than other CDs, so I’m able to listen to them hour after hour without audio fatigue.

All PCM technology incorporates filters that chop off high frequencies beyond the range of human hearing. Moreover, most PCM incorporates filters that “decimate” the sound into 8, 16, 20 or 24 bits, which then must be “requantized.” All this causes most digital artifacts. DSD is better in part because it has no filters. DSD also conveys more sonic detail than PCM conversions. With DSD conversions, virtually all digital artifacts you may hear are added by your CD player.

Mastering was by A. T. Michael MacDonald and Rich Lamb of AlgoRhythms, New York City.