Il trovatore (1949)

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Colonnello, Pederzini, Sinimberghi, Mascherini, voice of Salvarezza; Santini; Gallone, dir. In place of Ferrando’s narrative, the film substitutes a dramatization of the burning of Azucena’s mother for witchcraft. (1949). In Italian, no subtitles. 102m. B&W.

“Gianna Pederzini had personality and charisma and was a great artist. Her voice was beautiful: round and dark. When I sang Carmen with her, in 1953, she was no longer young, but she still had an exceptional figure. She had strong eyes, green, the color of steel. She was a beautiful woman–beautiful face, beautiful nose, the most beautiful legs in opera. She knew how to be beautiful and to impose her beauty in the theater. She was a real woman. I was lost in her arms.”–Franco Corelli, discreetly, in the presence of his wife, on the radio program “Opera Fanatic,” July 20, 1991

“Pederzini [was] one of the best mezzos of my whole experience. Hers was not perhaps one of the greatest vocal organs, but she used it splendidly and had a beautiful vocal intensity on stage which made her performances riveting–a sort of shiver would run through the house and the whole audience would go tense.”–Tito Gobbi, My Life

Pederzini’s private life excited considerable attention. Breaking up with her husband she became the mistress of a fascist bigshot, the notoriously brutal Roberto Farinacci, before whom all Italy trembled. On July 28, 1945, he was shot to death by partisans and, according to newspaper accounts, so was she. For a time she continued her career in Argentina, to huge acclaim. In Italy she took up with a professor who wanted to marry her but couldn’t because she was still married. He married another and raised a family but also continued with Pederzini.
Mussolini had spied on Farinacci. When transcripts of his conversations with Pederzini were published, in 1979, they became a topic of TV talk shows. Here is an extract from a 1932 call, quoted from Harvey Sachs’s Music in Fascist Italy:

RF: Must I throw myself at your feet to see you again?
GP: Yes.
RF: If I do that, I’ll make myself even more ridiculous. . . . So only if I prostrate myself will you do it. . . .
GP: The fact is that we get along on one point only: the one created by Mother Nature. There it’s divine, perfect. But there is no other area.
RF: And I thought I’d found a soul, not just a body! But I’ll make you pay for this. I’m the one who’s suffering today, but tomorrow . . .
GP: Phoning you was a mistake.
RF: You humiliate me every time you talk to me, you slap me, and you don’t justify yourself for what you’ve done to me.
GP: I don’t have to justify anything.
RF: What? You’ve led me by the nose countless times! Everybody knows it now. And this torments me, it distresses me. My God, how you make me suffer! No one would dare to do to me what you’ve done to me.
GP: I haven’t done anything to you.
RF: Drop dead, you miserable wretch.

Gianna Pederzini (1900-1988) (Azucena) was celebrated not only for her singing but also for her acting and for her allure. Hers was a light, high mezzo-soprano, so she seldom performed Azucena. When she did so in 1949, at the Rome Opera with Santini conducting, Gallone came backstage to engage her for this film. She avoided interpreting Azucena as an old hag.

A student of Fernando De Lucia, Pederzini was noted for Carmen (she was buried in her fourth-act costume), Mignon, Amneris, Santuzza, Rosa (Arlesiana), Charlotte, Fedora, Madame Flora (The Medium), also for the trouser roles Cherubino and Octavian. Although she said she was “born for verismo,” she was renowned for the leads in Italiana, Barbiere and Cenerentola and created roles in Dialogues des Carmélites and Pizzetti’s Vanna Lupa, among a number of others. She sang in many radio broadcasts and made a considerable quantity of records. Her career, which lasted from 1923-1960, was based at the Rome Opera and extended to Milan, London, Berlin and Buenos Aires. She also appears in Video #656, Rossini.–Stefan Zucker

Franca Sacchi (1922?- ) (the voice of Leonora) sang both soprano and mezzo roles from the mid-1940s. She appeared as Tosca and Donna Elvira in London in 1947 and, from 1948, at La Scala as the Trovatore Leonora, Boito’s Margherita, Mimí, later performing at the Rome Opera. At the Verona Arena she sang Minnie and Sieglinde. After 1953 she concentrated on mezzo roles, singing Laura, Azucena, Carmen, Dalila, Charlotte and Donizetti’s Leonora. She is best remembered now for Maddalena in the Urania recording of Andrea Chénier.

Gino Sinimberghi (1913-1996) (Manrico) made his debut, in Italy, in 1937, and immediately became a member of the Berlin State Opera, staying until 1944; he also sang in Leipzig, Danzig, Hamburg, Vienna and Paris. Returning to Italy in 1944, he had an important career at both the Rome and Fenice Operas. He appeared in several Italian films from the late 40s and at Glyndebourne in 1950; in 1960 he was Monteverdi’s Orfeo in Frankfurt. A light lyric tenor, he recorded arias and duets from Pasquale, Elisir and Bohème, over a period of 45 years (1937-82). He portrays Don Alvaro in Video #577, Forza, is the Flavio in Video #460 and the Nemorino in #684, L’elisir d’amore

Antonio Salvarezza (1902-1985) (the voice of Manrico) was born in Egypt and raised in Argentina. He made a late debut, in 1937, at the Teatro Colón and was at the Rome Opera a year later, where he remained through 1950. His La Scala debut, in 1942, was as Arturo in Puritani. He sang at all the Italian houses and festivals, also in Germany, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Spain, London, Monte Carlo, Cairo, Philadelphia and Chicago, appearing as late as 1959 in Rome. His roles ranged from Edgardo and Rodolfo to Arnoldo and Calàf. He recorded a handful of records for Cetra and H.M.V.

Enzo Mascherini (1910-1981) (di Luna) debuted in his hometown of Florence, in 1937, as Germont. In 1939 he appeared at the San Carlo and in Parma and Genoa, his La Scala debut coming the next year. After W. W. II he appeared throughout Italy, in Vienna, Prague, Mexico City, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and with the New York City Opera. In 1949 he debuted at the Met, as Marcello, but stayed only that season, for a total of seven appearances, including Valentin, Lescaut, Rigoletto and Germont. Best remembered now for partnering Callas in live recordings of Macbeth and Vespri, he recorded Scarpia opposite Tebaldi’s Tosca for London.

Gabriele Santini (1886-1964) studied in his hometown of Perugia and in Bologna, making his conducting debut in 1906. From 1925-29 he was at La Scala as assistant to Toscanini. He conducted at the Rome Opera from 1929-32, and was both music director and conductor there from 1944-62. During his half-century-plus career he also appeared in Chicago, Buenos Aires and London, but Italy was always his home base. He reputedly was beloved by everybody–even the most difficult singers regarded him with filial affection and devotion–because of his affable nature and profound knowledge of Italian opera. He recorded many operas for HMV, Cetra and Deutsche Grammophon and he conducts Video #577, Forza, with Gobbi.–Joe Pearce, President of The Vocal Record Collector’s Society