OP0045. WERTHER (in French!), recorded 1953, w.Molinari-Pradelli Cond. RAI Ensemble, Torino; Ferruccio Tagliavini, Pia Tassinari, Marcello Cortis, Vittoria Neviani, etc. (Italy) 2-Fonit-Warner 87494. Out-of-print; Final sealed copy. - 793515230122
"WERTHER is an excellent opera that for some reason is not often offered on stage, at least not here in North America. On the other hand, it has been recorded many times, generally with great success.
Of all recorded versions of WERTHER, by far the best and truest to authentic French performance style is the very first, dating from 1931. It features the great Georges Thill and the ravishing Ninon Vallin. They famously despised one another but, oh, how wonderfully well they performed together! In 1954, amid the sort-of-high-fidelity-mono era, RAI and the old Italian CETRA Label attempted one of their very rare forays into French repertory with the excellent Ferruccio Tagliavini and his much under-appreciated wife, Pia Tassinari.
In writing ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, Goethe unwittingly created both a best-seller and a worldwide phenomenon: the self-centered, endlessly needy, suicidal Romantic drip. It all came out of a personal anecdote. Goethe had a friend who had lent his pistol to yet another friend. That friend of the friend had then promptly blown his brains out. In his book, Goethe placed the pistol borrowing in the context of a romantic triangle. He lived long enough to see the international formation of WERTHER clubs and, worse, a deplorable series of what might be called echo-suicides.
This performance is sung in (a marvelously idiosyncratic and Italianate version of) the French language, but its heart and soul remain resolutely Italian.
About Ferruccio Tagliavini (1913-1995), let me be precise: for a limited number of years and in a narrow range of roles, he was very nearly a perfect lyric tenor. He had a voice of honeyed sweetness that he used with an elegance almost matching that paragon among graceful tenors, Cesare Valetti. When he chose to use it, he also had an steel core of vocal strength and impressive squillo. Unlike too many of his successors, he understood both the operas and the characters he portrayed. His control was such that each note he sang was in character and uttered precisely as he intended. Among the great tenors, he may be placed in the space between the lighter Tito Schipa and the heavier Beniamino Gigli.
Pia Tassinari (1903-1995) was a fine singer who happened to be married to Ferruccio Tagliavini and they made a number of recordings together. Throughout most of her career she was a soprano with a particularly good middle range. In the cast list above, I describe her as a mezzo-soprano because the part of Charlotte was written for singers in that voice range. In actual fact, the role lies comfortably within the vocal ranges of both mezzos and sopranos. Singers of both categories have recorded impressive Charlottes. Late in her career, Tassinari's voice darkened to the extent that she took on some of the major mezzo roles. One of her last major recordings has her in the part of Ulrica in Verdi's BALLO IN MASCHERA.
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli (1911-1996) made his début at La Scala in 1946 when it re-opened after the War. He was a fixture on the international opera house circuit and a familiar name from many important operatic recordings. His performing career lasted up to 1995.
This highly Italianate take on a French version of a German epic may perhaps be a bit lacking in authenticity but it nevertheless is a finely sung and entertaining performance.
- H. P. Casavant