Il trovatore with Corelli, Barbieri

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(Berlin, October 1, 1961). Corelli, Parutto, Barbieri, Bastianini, Ferrin; De Fabritiis; Chor. and Orch. of the Rome Opera.

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NAMED “BEST LIVE” OF ALL TROVATORE RECORDINGS — Gramophone, July 2013, THE GRAMOPHONE COLLECTION: The Troubled Troubador by Mike Ashman.

“Live in Berlin, where a good time was had by all, and less well-known soprano Mirella Parutto is a star alongside a thrilling Corelli.

“On the 1961 live set conducted by Oliviero de Fabritiis of the Rome Opera in Berlin, the Leonora, Mirella Parutto, had no flash international recording contract and may be a name familiar only to Italians and anoraks. She’s a gem, a beautiful, cleanly produced voice with a real sense of scale, big and small (perhaps Enrico Caruso’s remark about a successful performance of Il Trovatore simply needing the four greatest singers in the world should read: ‘All you need is the greatest Leonora in the world’). De Fabritiis has three other advantages: Franco Corelli and Barbieri in one of their best recorded performances; and a baritone (Ettore Bastianini) who agrees with his conductor about the (thankfully not too many) places in which they’re going to take time or slow up. Corelli is a dream Manrico — he has the squillo, he can have the subtlety, the voice sounds big but still young, and he’s very sexy and noble without getting overneurotic in the ‘bad news’ messenger-promoted crises that plague the character in Acts 2 and 3. A famous holder of high notes in Tosca (try his ‘Vittorias’ from Livorno, 1959 — every night is a bullfight!). Corelli, like Bergonzi, shows here how to play to the gallery without damaging taste buds.”

This performance is very serious business. The singers feel their parts as if their lives depended on it. Franco is aflame (much more so than in the Salzburg Trovatore, with Karajan). He sings his scenes with Azucena with warmth, fervor and, in Act II, frenzy. His high notes are very brilliant.

Because of animosity resulting from the Naples Trovatore Corelli and Barbieri didn’t speak backstage at this one, which makes his tenderness for her Azucena all the more remarkable—-listen to the phrase “Potrei negarlo?” in Act II. Yet his singing also is incisive, with quick rise times that result in swift attacks, in “Perigliarti ancor languente.”

He may sing with a little more accuracy of intonation and control over dynamics when he is using mask placement, as in OL-6010, Il trovatore, but when he lowers his larynx, as he does in most of this Trovatore (OF5), he conveys more excitement.

He does use mask placement in “L’onda de’ suoni mistici” (which comes after “Ah! sì, ben mio”) but otherwise, to use his expression, “floats” his larynx. In the recitative to “Ah! sì, ben mio” he has shifts of timbre resulting from covering and uncovering his tone, and in the aria itself he makes some random and misplaced accentuations. He also does some mellow singing without darkening as much as in Eracle. (The most compelling “Ah! sì, ben mio” is Björling’s, in tune and sensitively phrased, in #5000, Il trovatore, from The Royal Opera House, 1939.) In the “Pira” of OF5 Corelli sings with tremendous urgency in his tone. Despite his downward transposition of a half step and some inaccuracies of little consequence I know of no more exciting version.

He is at his zenith both vocally and emotionally. In “Parlar non vuoi?” uttered with his larynx all the way down, his sings his most overwhelming “Intendo! Intendo!” No wonder Gramophone in its July 2013 edition proclaimed OF5 the “Best Live Trovatore!” The last quarter hour makes me tremble and weep every time.

For the benefit of a Russian mezzo-soprano, I recently compared and discussed “Stride la vampa” and “Condotta ell’era in ceppi” as sung by Minghini Cattaneo, Zinetti, Pederzini, Elmo, Stignani, Barbieri, Simionato, Cossotto, Wettergren and others. The Barbieri version I chose was from this performance. Of all the versions, we both found it the most vivid and fervid. In addition, she observes more of the dynamic markings and accentuations than the others do. (Barbieri told me Azucena was her best role.) —Stefan Zucker

Alan Blyth, reviewing in Gramophone

“Corelli’s fans will be satisfied with his viscerally thrilling interpretations of both Manrico and Cavaradossi [in ToscaBCS #5013], but in the case of Trovatore the fact that we can hear five Italians in the major roles, virtually an impossibility today, is of even greater significance. It lends the performance an authenticity and flavour others simply cannot equal now, let alone surpass. Fabritiis is, as he always was, a splendid exponent of Verdi, energising the score from within. Apart from some distortion on the soprano’s louder notes, the sound is good.

“Indeed, I very much enjoyed both sets for their idiomatic delivery of words and notes.”

Kenneth Meltzer, writing in Classical CD Review

“The sound of the October 1, 1961 Berlin Trovatore by the forces of the Rome Opera is well-balanced, with ample warmth and clarity—-certainly clear enough to hear the prompter! Only the occasional, slight overload on the highest, loudest notes (usually female) keeps the recording from approaching the ideal. Bel Canto Society also retains a considerable amount of the audience’s enthusiastic response, further adding to the atmosphere of the occasion.

“Corelli begins in magnificent voice, holding a B-flat in Manrico’s entrance for what seems an eternity. As with Björling, Corelli joins his Leonora for a high D-flat at the conclusion of the Act I trio (his far more secure than Parutto’s). The audience loves both of these thrilling liberties with Verdi’s score, as well as the interpolated high notes in ‘Di quella pira’, here taken down a half-step to B. But in the end it is the discipline and sensitivity aligned with these magnificent vocal gifts that make this Corelli Manrico so outstanding. Certainly there is the occasional sloppiness of rhythm, an aspirate instead of a true legato here and there. And of course as with most Manricos there are no trills in the great aria. But for the greater part of the Berlin/Rome Trovatore, Corelli seeks and attains the synthesis of bel canto elegance and romantic passion that is at the heart of this great opera. I find this performance the best of the Corelli Manricos I’ve heard, including a 1961 Met broadcast led by Fausto Cleva, a 1962 Salzburg performance under von Karajan (both with Leontyne Price) and the 1965 EMI studio recording with Gabriella Tucci, Thomas Schippers conducting. Corelli was at his best when performing not in a studio, but rather, before appreciative audiences. In the heat of the moment, he seemed less inhibited, and inclined to give more of himself. Perhaps this generosity was sometimes taken to excess but, as you’ll see in my review of a 1967 Parma Tosca,BCS #5013] you won’t hear any complaint from this writer.

“Most impressive are Corelli’s scenes with Azucena, performed by the great Fedora Barbieri. At this stage of Barbieri’s career, the high notes did not come easily. In fact she completely ducks the B-flat toward the conclusion of her Act II narrative ‘Condotta ell’era in ceppi.’ But there is so much that is right about Barbieri’s Azucena—-the wonderful diction, the rich tone, the dramatic intensity that chillingly portray the character’s precarious mental state—-that any shortcomings pale within the greater context.

“And Barbieri’s great performance seems to inspire Corelli to one of his most probing and sensitive interpretations. I recommend this Trovatore to those who believe that Franco Corelli was incapable of insight and subtlety. I’ll cite but one example of the superb interplay between these two wonderful artists. After Azucena has described the burning of her own child, Manrico cries, ‘I am not your son! And who am I’, Azucena insists that Manrico is her son and reminds him, ‘Haven’t I always been a tender mother to you?’ Verdi directs that Azucena sing this phrase ‘con passione,’ which Barbieri does, with a pleading in her voice that tugs at the heart. It certainly tugs at the heart of Corelli’s Manrico, who replies, ‘Can I deny it?’ in a breathtaking hushed and tender voice. Time and again, Barbieri and Corelli give us such unforgettable moments.

“The performance begins well, with an excellent account of Ferrando’s narrative by Agostino Ferrin—-dramatically involved and attentive to the composer’s dictates. Not as impressive is Mirella Parutto’s rendition of Leonora’s opening scene. The recitative and start of the aria begin promisingly, with a convincing sense of Leonora’s desperation aligned to a lovely vocal quality. But as the aria progresses, the high notes become more precarious, and Parutto’s struggles continue in the ensuing cabaletta. Indeed throughout this Trovatore, Parutto’s inconsistency mars her performance. A valiant effort, but one that certainly pales beside other Leonoras in Corelli performances, such as Leontyne Price and Gabriella Tucci.

“Ettore Bastianini’s well-documented di Luna has always inspired ambivalence on my part. I find the baritone’s vibrant, dark, and handsome vocal quality virtually ideal for the role. On the other hand, the lack of a true legato and the obvious effort in coping with di Luna’s high tessitura compromise Bastianini’s undeniable strengths. There is certainly much to enjoy in this virile and intense performance, but it lacks the refinement that is very much part of the Count’s music, if not his character.

“Oliviero de Fabritiis leads a propulsive and well-shaped account of the score.”

On February 13, 1960 Corelli and Barbieri were singing Trovatore at Naples’ San Carlo theater. After their second-act duet a man cried out that Barbieri should bow by herself: “Barbieri sola, sola! Brava lei!” [Brava to her.] Corelli ran offstage and upstairs to the perpetrator’s box and attacked him. They were separated. Afterwards Corelli wouldn’t speak to Barbieri. I asked him why. He wouldn’t tell me.

When I was interviewing Barbieri for the film Opera Fanatic: Stefan and the Divas I asked her about the episode. “You ask questions that are too difficult. I’m going to spank you!” she declared. (The film’s director, Jan Schmidt-Garre, edited the film to make it seem that she said that in reaction to a question about mezzos’ sexuality—but she enjoyed that question.)

Afterwards I said to Franco, “You absolutely must tell me what happened between you!”

“Barbieri had paid people not only to applaud her but also to boo me. The man I attacked had been paid by her!”

We’ll probably never know what really happened.

Barbieri was the one who had given Corelli his nickname, “Coscia d’oro”—Golden Thighs.

Anyway, backstage at the October 1, 1961 Trovatore they didn’t speak.

The above makes Corelli’s tenderness for this Azucena all the more remarkable. (Listen to “Potrei negarlo?” CD 1, track 10.) —Stefan Zucker

Mike V. Ashman, writing in International Record Review

“The Rome Opera—at a time when its orchestra and chorus were much in record company demand—-enjoys itself hugely on a Gastspiel in Berlin. De Fabritiis uses all the traditional broadenings (and cuts) but has it quite well under control. ‘It’ includes the bladelike instrument of Corelli—-he gives himself two goes at that most famous C—-the hugely effective (if slightly schizophrenic) Azucena of Barbieri and the immense authority of Bastianini. Mirella Parutto, lesser known than her colleagues, fields a pleasingly darker Leonora than one often hears. There is so much applause that one suspects the Berliners of 1961 were starved of true bel canto. The recording presumably is from a radio broadcast. For Corelli and Bastianini, this set is worth hearing more than once.”

Click for an additional review, by John T. Hughes in Classic Record Collector.

“If you want this performance in the best sound available at this time, get the BCS. You will be pleasantly surprised.”—-Nicholas E. Limansky, Opera News  Click for full review.

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