Il trovatore (1978)
(1978). 155m. Domingo, Kabaivanska, Cossotto, Cappuccilli, Van Dam; Karajan. Color.
PAL VHS ONLY
Roger Pines, reviewing in The Opera Quarterly
“Plácido Domingo sings with almost unfailing freshness and confidence. Unlike many Manricos, he engages in a genuine partnership with his mezzo-soprano in their big duet scenes. In the second-act finale he joins Kabaivanska to exhilarating effect for the reprise of ‘Sei tu dal ciel.’ He makes a good stab at the trills of ‘Ah! sì, ben mio’ and is virtually flawless in the rest of the aria, with mellow tone and finely sustained legato. (He is lucky to be singing it to Raina Kabaivanska who gazes lovingly at him during every moment, and during the lengthy applause as well.) Were it not for severe difficulties with ‘Di quella pira’ and sharpness in his act 4 confrontation with Leonora, this Manrico could be considered a peak of Domingo’s career. The characterization is conventional, but the tenor’s appealing, handsome presence carries the day.
“Kabaivanska, glorious artist that she is, does not seem a natural Verdian: the lower-middle of her voice is narrow and lacks warmth, registers are not ideally integrated, and her flexibility is overmatched by ‘Di tale amor.’ Everything else, however, is a joy, especially in her splendid upper octave (ideally ethereal in soft passages, brilliant at forte). The Bulgarian soprano phrases elegantly and also cares about the text, e.g., in ‘E deggio, e posso crederlo?’ in which the spontaneity of her delivery is captivating. Through her innate womanliness, her ability to listen meaningfully, and her control of carriage and posture, she becomes Leonora, giving the character considerably more grandeur and overall dimension than usual. When she must take the stage (as in her last-act confrontation with the Count, at ‘A te davante!’), she makes an effect with her blazing eyes alone. For a change, Leonora actually seems a dying woman from the moment she appears in the prison scene, where Kabaivanska’s performance is in fact a model from every point of view. It helps that she looks throughout like opera’s answer to Lee Remick–in other words, ravishing.
“For Fiorenza Cossotto’s classic Azucena, 1978 was nearly too late vocally. Her singing had lost a good deal of beauty and security in the eight years since her matchless 1970 recorded portrayal for RCA. Here she forces the bottom a bit, and the top is frequently noticeably flat (she grimaces something fierce in any high phrase). She’s not always well directed for the camera, but ultimately the problems don’t matter much, since more often than not her portrayal rivets the viewer; seemingly possessed throughout ‘Condotta,’ she lives the role, although she could probably have sung it in her sleep. She is terrifically responsive even when, in ‘Deh! rallentate, o barbari,’ her hands are tied and she must act only with face and voice. Surprisingly, she is equally memorable in the character’s few moments of repose. Cossotto looks too young and glamorous for Azucena–take away the artful grey streaks in the wig and she might be playing Carmen.
“Piero Cappuccilli does not offer much in the way of interpretive detail, but the text is invariably crystal clear, and in Di Luna’s taxing music he experiences not one millisecond of vocal insecurity. No Italian baritone of the past half-century has sung this role with such consummate ease. Cappuccilli has endless breath and almost nonchalantly spins the line of that most treacherously high of Verdi baritone arias, ‘Il balen.’ He lacks only the physical stature to make an impression when acting beside Domingo and Kabaivanska. Given the minimal direction, he does the best he can with the character, and the moment when he finally lays a hand on Kabaivanska becomes more powerful than one would have imagined.
“José van Dam, not a true basso cantante, sings Ferrando with considerable vocal velvet, fine technique, and complete understanding, but the voice remains excessively baritonal to contrast properly with Cappuccilli. Van Dam looks terrific in his blond wig and beard.
“Trovatore is currently available on video in the Met’s and the Verona Arena’s productions, but thanks entirely to the principal singers, pride of place goes to this performance.”
For 10 years I refused to put out this performance because Domingo goes hoarse on the two high B-naturals in “Di quella pira.” “Stefan, if you had sung those notes, you certainly wouldn’t want them memorialized on video,” I reasoned. “You have to extend to Domingo the courtesy you hope would be granted to you. You’d feel guilty if you published this performance.”
What caused me to re-think my position? Because Domingo’s career is documented on records and tapes like few others’, one can place those two notes in a context and compare them to many other Domingo B-naturals recorded over a period of nearly 40 years. Those two notes are a limiting case: they are about as hoarse as he (or anyone) ever gets. Using them as a reference point, one can appreciate his many fine B-naturals so much the more.
When I was a boy, old timers used to speak of Caruso having “a glass throat”–he cracked a lot. Suppose there were tapes. Wouldn’t you be interested to know what that sounded like?
Domingo has sung other hoarse high notes. Why? Allergies, I think. His voice probably is sensitive to pollution, also to changes in atmospheric pressure. (Mine sure is.) If he were singing by the sea or, perhaps, in a pine forest, he probably wouldn’t get hoarse. More, in the transition from “Ah! sì ben mio” to the “Pira,” his own emotional intensity winded him, causing him to lose vocal equilibrium.
I included Domingo on a list of tenors who lack squillo (ring or ping). To judge from this performance only, I was wrong. (He did once say Spanish tenors should cultivate vocal velvet, Italian tenors, squillo.) His B-flats are just fine. At the time of this Trovatore Domingo was slim and handsome, young and ardent. He even trills well. Corelli told me Domingo isn’t exciting, but then he never heard the end of this “Mal reggendo.” Except for those few critical seconds in the “Pira,” the role suited Domingo to perfection. He had the lyricism and brilliance for the first and third acts and the grit, weight of voice and heartbreak for the second and fourth.
Kabaivanska is emotionally intense but sometimes musically inaccurate. Her top is brilliant, her high pianissimos lovely, her breath support inadequate. Her low utterances aren’t telling because of lack of chest resonance. She interpolates a couple of effective high D-flats.
The oomphiest singer is Cossotto. In “Giorni poveri” she, Cappuccilli, Karajan and Verdi work me into a frenzy. Their rendition provides the excitement opera often promises but rarely delivers. The end of the “Condotta” would have more impact if she had used chest resonance. But in “Mal reggendo” she gets so carried away that she uses chest anyway–and it satisfies the viscera. Cossotto feels rhythms more than other Azucenas. She seems possessed by the vision of what happened more than anyone else in the role and gives sustained chills. In her fourth-act recitative she imbues words with meaning. I many times replayed her vivid, detailed shifts in color before “Ai nostri monti.” She does go flat on the opera’s final high B-flat.
Cappuccilli is a big-voiced, forceful Luna. He’s particularly exciting in his second-act recitative but, as often when he is emphatic, somewhat sharp. Sometimes he briefly loses track of the rhythmic pulse. Van Dam’s narrative is uncommonly dramatic and atmospheric. He has to omit part of a phrase because he gags from too much (or the wrong kind of) food in his belly.
The staging is traditional, the “Anvil Chorus” particularly vivid.–Stefan Zucker