OP3238. IL TROVATORE, Live Performance, 4 Feb., 1961, w.Cleva Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, Irene Dalis, Mario Sereni, William Wilderman, Teresa Stratas, etc. [This is the first Met Opera Broadcast with Price & Corelli, shortly after their Met debuts the previous week, 27 January!] (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-650. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"On January 27, 1961, I was fortunate enough to attend, as a standee, a performance of IL TROVATORE at the Met that featured two remarkable debuts: Franco Corelli and Leontyne Price. It was an evening of hysterical audience reaction, and of thrilling singing. Eight days later the opera was repeated for a Saturday matinee broadcast with two cast changes: Robert Merrill was replaced by Mario Sereni as Count di Luna, and Helen Vanni was replaced by none other than Teresa Stratas in the small role of Ines. That broadcast has circulated on a number of labels, most notably Sony (with the cooperation of the Met). Comparing the Sony release with this new one shows the remarkable care that Yves St. Laurent takes in his restoration work. The sound here has more focus, a more natural ambience around voices and orchestra, and greater warmth without losing clarity. I was surprised at the difference.
Price and Corelli also appear on a celebrated Karajan performance from Salzburg in 1962 (DG), but the passion is rawer here and the flow of the music a bit more natural. Fausto Cleva, who served as a veteran house conductor at the Met, may not have been a great conductor, but he understood the Verdi style, and he rarely 'phoned in' performances. What is missing in special insight is well compensated for by his innate feeling for the idiom.
Price was one of the great Verdi sopranos of her era, although her voice was probably more suited to Aida than to Leonora. She could float glorious sounds in her upper register in AIDA, whereas more of the writing in IL TROVATORE calls on the lower-middle and low registers, not Price's strong suit. For that reason, if I had to hear only one Leonora, it would probably be Milanov, who was majestic in the role. But life is good, and one doesnâ€™t have to hear only one Leonora. To miss Price in this role would mean never experiencing the unique shimmer and radiance of her voice in the upper middle and upper registers. She could also manage the technical demands of 'Di tale amor' (even at Cleva's very fast clip) much better than Milanov ever could, and she could even trill. The high notes (some of which Price added in the last act) are what operatic glory is all about. She is a presence every time she utters a note. Her fourth act aria is a model of beautiful and meaningful vocalism.
Corelli has often been criticized for his sometimes blustery, explosive manner, and he is certainly no Bjorling or Bergonzi for elegance. But that voice! Dark yet brilliant, thrilling in its ring - it never fails to excite me. Yes, he sobs and scoops too much, but his faults are outweighed for me by the sheer glory of the sound. Interestingly, Corelli manages a ringing D-flat at the conclusion of the first act, but transposes 'Di quella pira' down a half-tone. He makes a better attempt at the 16th notes in 'Di quella pira' than he did for Karajan, although they are still approximations. He also manages many passages softly and lyrically (the lead-up to 'Ah! Si ben mio', for instance). This was one of the great tenor voices of the middle third of the twentieth century.
Mario Sereni is not in that stellar class, but he would probably rank as a star today. His voice lacks the glamour of Merrill (not to mention Leonard Warren, who had tragically died onstage at the Met two years earlier), and he has a bit of intonation trouble here and there. But Sereni was a canny veteran who also had this music in his blood, and his Count is more than adequate.
A great service provided by this release is that it documents one of the Met's truly important singers who was terribly underrepresented on recordings: Irene Dalis. Dalis made her Met debut in 1957 as Eboli in DON CARLO, and for twenty seasons she sang all of the major Verdi and Wagner mezzo roles, along with some Strauss as well. Although Dalis sang internationally (she was the first American Kundry at Bayreuth in 1961), she didn't appear often in Italy. On disc her roles were owned by Simionato, Barbieri, Ludwig, and Cossotto as far as the major labels were concerned. I saw her often and treasure the memories of Dalis' Amneris, Azucena, and Brangaene, as well as a riveting Lady Macbeth. Her voice was a unique combination of richness and laser focus, so she could by turns sound tender and threatening. Azucena requires that range of color, and Dalis manages it here as well as anyone. Her voice was also remarkably even from top to bottom with no register breaks. About her debut in DON CARLO, Raymond Erickson wrote, 'Her expert vocalism and musicianship were immediately apparent in the 'Veil Song', which Dalis sang better than I have ever heard it sung'. It is wonderful to have this document of one of her great roles.
William Wilderman is a well-above-average Ferrando, and the remainder of the cast is excellent. Cleva employs the cuts that were the norm at that time (including Leonora's 'Tu vedrai' in the last act). St. Laurent Studio leaves all the rapturous ovations as they were in the house. Some will be annoyed by this, but you can skip them easily enough. For me, the audience's excitement completes the picture of what this performance felt like at the time. The sound is very good mono; there are no program notes but complete cast and track listings. If you love Verdi, this is not a TROVATORE you should be without. St. Laurent Studio recordings are available at Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com)."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"[Price's] voice, warm and luscious, has enough volume to fill the house with ease, and she has a good technique to back up the voice itself. She even took the trills as written, and nothing in the part as Verdi wrote it gave her the least bit of trouble. She moves well and is a competent actress. But no soprano makes a career of acting. Voice is what counts, and voice is what Miss Price has."
- Harold C. Schonberg, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 28 Jan., 1961
"Price and Corelli are two of the greats. To hear Leonora's great moments sung with such beauty and Manrico's big moments sung with such passion (and, believe it or not, Corelli can sing softly and with sensitivity when he wants to) is truly something."
- Michael Mark, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Jan./Feb., 2012
"With Manrico's offstage serenade, Corelli presents a representative calling card. Vocal size and rugged style mark him as an open-air tenor. The vibrancy of his timbre is unequalled among tenors, and often it holds a commendable warmth as well. For all Corelli's elan, the afternoon belongs to Price. Price's voice is in immaculate condition from the moment of her entrance. Most satisfying is the evenness of timbre throughout the range. One can only marvel at the incredible beauty of her voice, the surety of her technique, and the authority of her performance. What a pleasure it is to hear all the intricate tracery of Verdi's arias, including some quite scrupulous trills and, in the cadenzas, a pair of neat D-flats. Price confirms her greatness in the fourth act."
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.374-75