1955. 112m. Stella, Del Monaco, Taddei; Questa. Chorus and Orchestra of RAI. B&W (transferred from a kinescope). No subtitles.
DVD Region 0 (all regions) PCM audio.
Includes a 24-p. booklet with synopsis, essays and photos.
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It’s doubtful that most of you ever have attended a performance as thrilling as this one. Several now-defunct companies released this performance on VHS. Our DVD version easily surpasses all earlier incarnations, including ours. The images don’t look like they come from a kinescope (although they do). Our tech Jonathan Casper restored the audio. Although occasional flaws remain, overall, the results are a joy!
Chénier was the role with which Del Monaco changed singing by introducing a technique taught by Arturo Melocchi, based on singing with the larynx kept low, at the bottom of the neck. It gave Del Monaco a powerful, brassy, thick, muscular, penetrating sound.
In March 1949 Del Monaco sang Chénier at La Scala. His performances excited the public and marked a changing of the guard. Gigli sang his final Scala performances in 1947, as Chénier. His object and that of the tenors he influenced, above all, was to caress you. Del Monaco’s was to excite you.
Del Monaco sang La Scala’s March 6, 1949 broadcast of Chénier. On hearing it Corelli, already having tried many teachers, went to study with Melocchi. Their lowered-larynx approach has been copied by Giuseppe Giacomini, Luis Lima, Nicola Martinucci and a host of others.
From the Booklet
Antonietta Stella (born 1929) made her debut, in Spoleto, in 1950, as Leonora, in Il trovatore and repeated the role the following year at the Teatro dell’Opera, in Rome. In 1951 she also appeared in Stuttgart, Munich and Wiesbaden and then Florence, Naples, Rome, Catania, Parma, Turin, Lisbon and Perugia. In 1953 she made her debut not only at the Verona Arena but also at La Scala, where she remained until 1963. She made frequent appearances at the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, Paris, Brussels and Chicago. Her Met debut, in 1956, was as the Trovatore Leonora. She continued to appear there until 1960.
At the time of Stella’s debut her middle voice had both darkness and shine, a savory combination rarely encountered. The sound was ample down to D or C below the staff, where she didn’t have to use chest resonance. (Most sopranos have no power there without it.) Above high A, however, the sound was less voluptuous. Still, no soprano in Italy had a more resplendent voice, not excepting Anita Cerquetti or Caterina Mancini.
Stella didn’t inflect her tone, singing Butterfly with the same all-purpose color as Minnie. When music suited her sound she was hair-raising, as in Respighi’s La fiamma (she told me, however, that she had been “overcoached” by the composer’s widow).
At the time of her discovery Stella was working in a bakery. She never learned to care for her voice. Most singers are fastidious about avoiding certain foods, but she complained to me after a performance of La forza del destino that she would have sung better had she eaten her accustomed salami for breakfast.
A great “natural,” Stella lacked the technique to preserve her voice, and by her late 20s it was less luminous, the career fading when she was in her 30s. —Rosina Wolf
Rosina Wolf’s repertoire ranged from Carmen to the Queen of the Night to Butterfly, Salome, Isolde, Brünnhilde and Norma. With Stefan Zucker she appeared on RAI, Italian state television, in music from I puritani. She is to be heard on Stefan Zucker: The World’s Highest Tenor (currently out of print).
Giuseppe Taddei (born 1916) made his debut, in 1936, at the Teatro dell’Opera, as the Herald in Lohengrin. During the war the Germans arrested him, in the Italian Alps, on the grounds that he was a member of the Resistance. In 1946 he made his debut at the Vienna State Opera. In 1947 he appeared as Figaro, in Le nozze di Figaro, at the Salzburg Festival. In that year he also sang at the Cambridge Theatre, London. He performed on all the principal Italian stages, also at Covent Garden and in Paris, Buenos Aires and Rio. Making his Met debut in 1951, he returned there in 1985, for the title role in Falstaff. A remarkably versatile artist, Taddei excelled not only as a dramatic baritone but also as a buffo. He is the Dulcamara on a 1955 kinescope of L’elisir d’amore (Bel Canto Society #D687 (DVD).