OP3253. ERNANI, Live Performance, 1 Dec., 1962, w.Schippers Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leontyne Price, Carlo Bergonzi, Cornell MacNeil, Giorgio Tozzi, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio T-680. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"Barnaby Rayfield reviewed this performance of ERNANI in FANFARE 35:6 when it was issued by Sony as part of their cooperative project with the Metropolitan Opera. Directly comparing St. Laurent Studio's version with that one shows a marginal improvement in clarity, focus, and warmth of sound. I would not say the improvement is meaningful enough to warrant a replacement if you own the Sony set, but if you do not, there are many reasons to purchase it now.
The principals (including conductor) of this performance overlap considerably with the RCA recording made five years later. But Cornell MacNeil is, in my view, stronger than Mario Sereni, while Giorgio Tozzi vs. Ezio Flagello is a toss-up. In the lead roles Leontyne Price and Carlo Bergonzi sing with greater involvement and dramatic impetus here than they do in the studio version. In addition, Price sounds in slightly fresher voice, and more at ease with the coloratura in the cabaletta to 'Ernani, involami'. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of this live version is the approximately 25 minutes of music cut from Verdi's score, which are present in the RCA set.
Still, the Met performance has so much more of the smell of the theater that it is clearly preferable as a musical and dramatic experience. To show us all how normal such a remarkable level of singing was in those days at the Met, there is also available, on the Myto label, a 1965 live ERNANI with Price, Franco Corelli, Sereni, and Cesare Siepi. These were not gala evenings, just the normal house standard!
Price and Bergonzi sing differently than they do on the RCA set. They are more involved in the drama at every moment, they hold notes longer and inflect with a thrust that is missing from the studio recording. Price's luscious soprano produces a remarkably beautiful sound throughout, but she is not averse to pushing the voice at climactic moments, thus adding urgency to her performance. Her trill in the cabaletta to 'Ernani, involami' is perfect, and in the quartet that ends the third act she soars gloriously above the other three. Bergonzi is even farther removed from his beautifully vocalized but rather staid bandit Ernani heard on the RCA. The cabaletta to his entrance aria pushes forward (from both him and Schippers) in a way totally absent from the studio recording. As Rayfield notes in his original review, both Price and Bergonzi 'color words with real dramatic force'. The tenor's singing in the opera's final scene is the kind of vocalism that catches you up short with its beauty.
MacNeil is stupendous here. This might be (along with a Met TOSCA from the same period) the best recorded representation of the American baritone. A few years later he would resort to a kind of generalized overbearing forte and fortissimo, but here MacNeil sings with a variety of dynamic shading. Where power is wanted, it is supplied in abundance. The A-flat at the end of 'Oh, de' verd'anni miei' is spectacular, and brings the house down. But what lasts in the memory is the even legato and tonal beauty of the aria as a whole. MacNeil's leading the finale to the third act, 'O sommo Carlo', is reminiscent of Leonard Warren's singing in the 1954 Met radio broadcast.
Tozzi's voice lacks the blackness of Flagello in the RCA recording, but he shapes the aria beautifully. The two greatest Silvas in my experience were Slavic: Boris Christoff and Nikolai Ghiaurov. But Tozzi is certainly more than adequate. The remainder of the cast is fine, and the performance gives us one more reminder of what we lost with the untimely death of Thomas Schippers at 47. ERNANI requires a conductor who honors Verdi's beautiful melodic line and the intensity of the score's dramatic content. Schippers' conducting crackles with energy but also displays elasticity and suppleness of phrasing.
As is usual, St. Laurent Studio does not provide notes, but they do give a full cast list and tracking details. Most importantly, they clearly devote great attention to the sonic quality of their releases. This is a stunning performance of what is one of the finest of Verdi's early operas. (St. Laurent Studio releases are carried by Norbeck, Peters, & Ford at www.norpete.com.)."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"...give Bergonzi a lyrical moment, no matter how brief, and he turns it to account....spinning out more lyrical phrases than one remembered Verdi had written....[he] banishes all trace of the bandit Ernani and becomes the aristocratic Don Juan of Aragonin manner as well as name."
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.384-85
“Giorgio Tozzi, a distinguished bass who spent two decades with the Metropolitan Opera and also appeared on film, television and Broadway, was a distinguished professor emeritus at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where he had taught since 1991. He was previously on the Juilliard School faculty [originally having studied with Rosa Raisa, Giacomo Rimini and John Daggett Howell].
Esteemed for his warm, smooth voice; skillful acting; pinpoint diction; and authoritative stage presence - he was 6 foot 2 in his prime - Mr. Tozzi sang 528 performances with the Met. He was so ubiquitous there for so long that THE NEW YORK TIMES was later moved to describe him (admiringly) as ‘inescapable’. Mr. Tozzi made his Met début as Alvise in Ponchielli’s LA GIOCONDA in 1955. Reviewing the performance, The NEW YORK POST wrote that he ‘proved to have a voice of beautiful quality’, adding: ‘It was rich in texture and expertly handled both as to characterization and technique’. His most famous performances at the Met include the title roles in Mussorgsky’s BORIS GODUNOV and Mozart’s MARRIAGE OF FIGARO; Ramfis in Verdi’s AÏDA; Don Basilio in Rossini’s BARBER OF SEVILLE; Philip II in Verdi’s DON CARLO; and Hans Sachs in Wagner’s DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG. Mr. Tozzi began his vocal life as a baritone. He made his début (as George Tozzi) in 1948, singing Tarquinius in Benjamin Britten’s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA. Staged at the Ziegfeld Theater on Broadway, the production also starred Kitty Carlisle.
He originated the role of the Doctor in Samuel Barber’s VANESSA, which had its world premiere at the Met in 1958. Conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, the production also starred Eleanor Steber and Nicolai Gedda. Mr. Tozzi’s last performance with the Met was in 1975, as Colline in Puccini’s BOHÈME.
He also sang with the San Francisco Opera, La Scala and other companies and appeared as a soloist with major symphony orchestras throughout the United States and Europe. On film Mr. Tozzi dubbed the singing voice of the actor Rossano Brazzi in the role of Emile de Becque in SOUTH PACIFIC (1958), directed by Joshua Logan. (Mr. Tozzi had played the role himself, opposite Mary Martin, in a West Coast production of the musical the year before.) On the small screen he sang King Melchior in the 1978 television film of Gian Carlo Menotti’s AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS, also starring Teresa Stratas. On Broadway he received a Tony nomination for the role of the lonely California grape farmer Tony Esposito in the 1979 revival of Frank Loesser’s operatic musical comedy THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. (The award went to Jim Dale for BARNUM.)"
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2 June, 2011