La Gioconda with Corelli
(Philadelphia, Feb. 18, 1964; complete performance). Corelli, Curtis-Verna, M. Dunn, Bardelli, Giaiotti; Guadagno, cond.; Philadelphia Lyric Opera.
Plus La Gioconda (October 18, 1966; 71 mins. of highlights). Corelli, Tebaldi, M. Dunn, Chookasian, Colzani, Hecht; Guadagno, cond.; Philadelphia Lyric Opera.
The CD format includes 3 CDs.
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Corelli uses a mechanistic vocal method involving manipulating the position of the larynx. In dramatic passages he sings with his larynx lowered to the bottom of his neck, to give his voice maximum heft, core and brilliance. In lyric passages he repositions his larynx somewhat upward.
He sings caressingly in the love scenes with Dunn and with anguish in the third-act ensemble. In both performances he is in wonderful voice and even interpolates a high C in Act I and another in Act IV. Above all, as in no other role, he expresses blind fury, in his confrontations with Curtis-Verna and Tebaldi.–Stefan Zucker
Kenneth Meltzer, writing in Classical CD Review
“This release documents two of Franco Corelli’s appearances in Philadelphia, a city the Italian tenor returned to with frequency and great success. In many ways, Philadelphia offered Corelli an ideal venue. Its close location to New York allowed the Italian tenor to coordinate appearances at the Metropolitan Opera and the Academy of Music. And a bit of separation from the pressures of New York and the Met seemed to put Corelli in a more relaxed frame of mind. As a result many of his Philadelphia performances capture Corelli in a freewheeling mood and sterling voice.
“That is certainly the case with the two Gioconda performances included on this Bel Canto Society release. The first two discs encompass the complete performance from 18 February 1964. The third disc features extended highlights, starting with Act II, from a staging 18 October 1966. In both cases Corelli is in glorious form. The upper register has amazing security and power. In fact Corelli interpolates some unwritten high notes, including blazing Cs in the Act I ‘Enzo Grimaldo’ duet and the final-act trio. Corelli’s trademark mastery of the long line and dynamic shading is very much in evidence, perhaps most notably in the stunning ‘Cielo e mar!’ from the 1966 performance. Throughout Corelli is entirely convincing as the passionate, heroic Enzo. It’s a shame Corelli never recorded Enzo commercially. Fortunately we have this Bel Canto Society release, plus a 1962 Met broadcast, to show how impressive Corelli was in a role tailor-made for his unique gifts.
“In both performances Corelli is joined by worthy partners. American soprano Mary Curtis-Verna is a fine Gioconda, floating a lovely B-flat in Act I, and lavishing ample voice and temperament throughout. The lack of a strikingly beautiful or individual timbre consigned Mary Curtis-Verna to a ranking below such stars as Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, and Leontyne Price. But she was a most valuable singer, and would certainly be an important presence on the current opera scene.
“And speaking of Renata Tebaldi, the 1966 Gioconda finds her in representative form for this stage of her career. The middle of the voice is absolutely glorious, the upper register less so, both in terms of tonal quality and pitch. Tebaldi, whose acting skills were often given short shrift, throws herself completely into the role, and to great effect. Overall Tebaldi gives a riveting performance, and her Gioconda is a welcome addition to this set.
“Mignon Dunn is a fresh-voiced and passionate Laura in both the 1964 and 1966 performances. Gladys Kriese contributes a heartfelt ‘Voce di donna’ in the 1964 Gioconda. Cesare Bardelli (1964) and Anselmo Colzani (1966) exude the kind of masculine, vibrant Italian vocalism that was so plentiful among Italian baritones of their generation. Bonaldo Giaiotti, always a reliable singer, is a fine Alvise.
“The 1964 Gioconda is marred by a frequent lack of coordination between the orchestra pit and stage. Anton Guadagno, the conductor on both occasions, achieves a much more disciplined performance two years later.
“The 1964 performance, recorded for potential broadcast, is in clear sound, with a realistic balance between singers and orchestra. The 1966 performance seems to have been taped from a prime location in the audience. Again, the sound is quite fine.” [Steve Cohen taped both recordings from more or less the same location.]
John T. Hughes, reviewing in Classic Record Collector
“Philadelphia was the venue in 1964 and 1966 for Franco Corelli’s assumption of Enzo, a role to which he brought that exciting, virile sound, virtually unmatched at the time. It is not a matter of barnstorming vociferation, for Corelli alters the weight of his tone to suit the situation. The 1966 recording starts at ‘Cielo e mar’, but the 1964 offering is complete and presents Mary Curtis-Verna as a Gioconda lightish but effective, her voice focused. The sonorous bass of Bonaldo Giaiotti is well suited to Alvise, and one hears Cesare Bardelli (1911-2000), of whom I know no studio recording, as a biting Barnaba. In 1966 Gioconda is Renata Tebaldi at her most dramatic, even using chest-notes.”
Robert Levine, reviewing in Classics Today
“What we’re presented with here is a complete Gioconda from 1964 in Philadelphia with Franco Corelli, Mary Curtis-Verna, Mignon Dunn, and Cesare Bardelli, and 71 minutes from a 1966 performance (Act 2 from ‘Cielo e mar’ to the end, Act 3 somewhat abridged, and all of Act 4) in which Corelli is joined by Renata Tebaldi, Dunn, and Anselmo Colzani. Both performances are led by Anton Guadagno. There are thrills galore–sometimes pretty sloppy thrills in ensembles, in the orchestra, and in the stage-pit relationship, but they’re thrills nonetheless. Most of them come from Corelli, who is in crazily big voice, with every note secure, and a bonus high-C at the end of the first-act duet with Barnaba and in the trio in the last act. His animal magnetism comes through and it can’t help but make you tingle. That having been said, there are very few moments when he sings softly (the gorgeous melody, marked pianissimo, that begins the Act 3 finale with the words ‘Già ti veggo…’ has little effect here sung so loudly) and it’s a pity–you just know he can do it if he wants to.
“The other cast members are not dismissable: Mary Curtis-Verna was a fine spinto soprano with a good career in the ’60s; she’s reliable, concerned, and manages a glorious, soft high B-flat in Act 1. She’s everything but unique or interesting. As Laura, Dunn is the same in both performances–workmanlike and big-toned. Colzani outsneers Bardelli, but both make pretty vivid impressions. The Alvises and Ciecas are good enough. Happily, Tebaldi turns in a thrilling late-career performance, singing her heart out, pushing excitingly at both ends of her range. Too bad the first act of her performance is missing.
“These performances catch the spirit of this blood-and-guts opera.”
Alan Blyth, reviewing in Gramophone
“In much better sound [than a La Wally on another label] is the Bel Canto issue of a 1966 Tebaldi appearance at the Philadelphia Opera as Gioconda. The tapes, lovingly restored, unfortunately excluded Act I. Tebaldi is in magnificent form, both as singer and vocal actress, bringing out all Gioconda’s confused feelings in her tragic situation, culminating in a superb account of ‘Suicidio!’, her Act 4 solo.
“This set also records one of the few examples of Tebaldi’s partnership with the equally legendary Franco Corelli, now also an octagenarian. He may be as self-indulgent as ever as Enzo, but that is abundantly forgiven for his glorious, vital tenor, in peak form. The rest of the cast, especially Mignon Dunn as Laura, and conductor Anton Guadagno, provide suitable support. This issue also includes a complete account of the same work, made two years earlier at Philadelphia, again with Corelli (who didn’t record the part elsewhere) but with a lesser soprano in Maria Curtis-Verna.”
“Stefan, you have outdone yourself with this restoration. We all had tapes of these Giocondas, in poor sound–what great performances. Alas, I won’t live long enough to hear their equal.”–Dr. Doug Fox, host, “Evening at the Opera,” WMNR-FM, Monroe, CT
Comments from Our Customers
“The Gioconda set with Corelli is legendary. How do you guys achieve transfers of such astonishing quality? Best in the business.”–Ian Rowlands, Bedford, Great Britain
For the answer, scroll down to the sections on mastering and our CD process.
Click for additional reviews of this and other Corelli titles by Richard Fawkes in Opera Now.
A Note About Mastering
Steve Cohen taped these performances with an Ampex tape recorder. Before giving the tapes to Aurelio Fabiani (head of the Philadelphia Lyric Opera), he copied them from the Ampex to a Concertone tape recorder, for his own enjoyment. Fabiani’s wife threw out her husband’s tapes on his death. Steve, however, kept the copies in storage–until he gave them to us. We released only 70-odd minutes of the 1966 Gioconda because that was all he copied.
All tape recorders prior to the introduction of servo-controlled motors varied in speed. We found that on each tape the speed varied so that pitch fluctuated by a half step. Because even small pitch changes substantially affect the sound of a voice, we corrected the fluctuations in 10th and 20th of a percent increments, usually at chord changes. Each correction is virtually unnoticeable. We decided on the changes by simultaneously listening to the performance and an electronic tone generator, which we typically preset to the tonic or dominant of the appropriate key. Each correction is consistent with a tuning pitch of A=440.
The only exceptions were at the ends of some big ensembles, where we allowed the recording to go slightly sharp, in accordance with what happened in live performance. We did not compensate for performers’ intonation lapses but instead assumed the orchestra to be essentially in tune–someone who sings a note off pitch on our CDs would have been no less sharp or flat in the theater or if the recording were a half-step higher or lower.
To obtain a favorable signal-to-noise ratio and avoid tape overload, Steve attenuated the volume on loud passages and boosted it on soft. The tapes also had a fair number of clicks and other mechanical or electronic noises. Most producers do not compensate for compressed dynamic range. Occasionally they use dynamic-range restorers that yield an artificial-sounding result in classical music. With regard to clicks and pops, they program in one-size-fits-all noise suppression for the entire recording or for extended segments that removes or reduces the problems economically. Unfortunately, such noise suppression dulls the attacks of certain notes and consonants. Percussion instruments are among the first to suffer, as do, sometimes, the consonants d and t. More, it veils the sound.
Our method was different. As we did with pitch restoration, we approached each problem note by note, making many hundreds of changes. The signal path: a Studer tape recorder, to a Meitner DSD analog-to-digital converter, to a workstation called Sonic Solutions. Using Sonic Solutions, we made the changes (which took 13 expensive months). Far from seeming contrived, we feel that they yield a more natural-sounding result.
We used the same approach to noise suppression and pitch restoration for Trovatore (#5000), Ernani (#5011), Tosca (#5013) and, to a lesser extent, Trovatore (CD sold out but available as a download) and took into account that some of the performances were given at tuning pitches other than A=440.–Stefan Zucker, producer
One reason why ours are the best-sounding CDs of historical performances
The contents of this CD were transferred from analog sources 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 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.–SZ
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