DVD0101. IL TROVATORE, Live Performance, 8 April, 1957, w.Previtali Cond. RAI Ensemble, Milano; Mario Del Monaco, Leyla Gencer, Ettore Bastianini, Fedora Barbieri, etc. (Italy) Hardy 4006. Final ever-so-slightly used copy. - 8018783040061
"When Italy began broadcast television in the late 1950s, it was natural that producers would turn to opera. It's in black and white. The picture is grainy. The sets and costumes look artificial. The lip-synching is poor. Even the subtitles are full of misspellings. But for me, it's five stars anyway because the four leads give five star performances.
Leyla Gencer brings out the lyric beauty of the arias composed by Verdi for Leonora. She sings them at a slower pace than usual, but that only showcases the elegance of an aria such as 'Tacea la notte'. She then takes the quick-paced cabaletta that follows and performs it in a light and dreamy mood as opposed to the usual desperate rush we're used to. Truly unique.
In Act IV, the ethereal quality that she brings to'D'amor sull'ali rosee', makes her heartbreak just that much sadder for us watch. It's one of the most beautiful renditions of the aria that I've heard; the way she floats those high notes is just stunning. It's only in the 'Miserere' that her desperation begins to show, making it understandable why she would poison herself.
Mario Del Monaco's deep tenor voice is stronger and louder than we're used to modernly. Combine the sheer power of his voice with his old-fashioned dashing and heroic interpretation of Manrico, and it's a performance to treasure. I love how he savors every note of the tender and slow 'Ah! si, ben mio' instead of rushing through it to get to famous battle cry, 'Di quella pira'.
Fedora Barbieri has a powerful mezzo voice with great range from low to high. But along with its power, her voice possesses a beautiful flow that is associated more often with sopranos. She moves flawlessly from crazed to loving mother. I'd heard her Azucena on CD (it's one of her signature roles), so it's a great treat to see her on DVD.
Ettore Bastianni has a beautiful burnished baritone voice - almost a bass baritone - yet he is at home in the higher notes too. He emphasizes the human side of Di Luna, managing to make him a sympathetic character. This is helped by his superb rendition of 'Il balen. His success in drawing our sympathy in this aria is due in large part to the pure beauty of his voice.
Take these four superb solo voices, put them together in Verdi's ensemble piece, and the resulting duets and trios are riveting. The Act IV duet between Leonora and Di Luna builds to a lightening-fast pace, their voices blending beautifully as her desperation turns to a kind of otherworldly ecstasy as she believes that, by sacrificing her own life, she has saved Manrico. It's thrilling to watch. If you love IL TROVATORE as I do, don't miss this DVD."
- Toni Bernhard
"It was always a given that del Monaco possessed a remarkably powerful, steady voice with unsurpassed brilliance and power. He was, however, often criticized for singing with little finesse, for using his power unrelentingly. That was never true (his many live broadcast recordings give even stronger evidence of his ability to sing with light and shade). I found myself thrilling to the sheer sound of the voice and to the commitment and passion with which he sang. What will surprise many is the variety of dynamics and color that the tenor did bring to his singing. It is easy for critics to comment on the method of a singer and to forget the most important element - the sound of the voice....His diction was a model of clarity and crispness, his intonation was almost always centered, and his rhythmic pulse was extremely strong. In many cases one listens to this kind of singing and longs for the days gone by when there were singers like this....old-timers...reminisce over one of the great operatic tenor voices to be heard in the 1950s and 60s, and younger listeners discover what a great 'tenore di forza' sounds like. We have nothing like him today."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Mario del Monaco was one of the most widely recorded singers of the 1950's and 60's and divided his busy operatic career between Europe and America during those years. Sir Rudolf Bing, then manager of the Metropolitan Opera, heard Mr. del Monaco's debut as Radames in Verdi's AIDA at the San Francisco Opera in 1950 and asked the tenor to stop in New York for a guest appearance at the Met in Puccini's MANON LESCAUT on his way back to Europe. Mr. del Monaco's singing made a distinct impression and won him a long and prosperous relationship with the Met beginning the next year. At the New York company from 1951 to 1959, he sang 102 times, in 16 roles. He appeared on the Met's tour 38 times. His last performance at the Met was as Canio in Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI in 1959. But he returned three years later to Carnegie Hall in a concert of arias and duets with Gabriella Tucci.
Indeed, when Mr. del Monaco was loved, it was for the brilliant, stentorian quality of his voice rather than for his subtlety of phrase or ability to act. And in a profession often peopled by overweight tenors, Mr. Del Monaco offered a classic profile and dark good looks that made him an attractive presence on stage.
Mario del Monaco was born in Florence in 1915 and grew up in nearby Pesaro where his father was employed in city government. His parents were both musically inclined and encouraged his singing. Although he had some lessons, he was largely self-taught. Mr. del Monaco made his professional debut in Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY in Milan in 1941. He spent the war years in the Italian Army. After the war, Mr. del Monaco's career blossomed and spread to Milan's La Scala and London's Covent Garden as well as opera houses in Rome, Naples, Barcelona, Lisbon and Stockholm. In 1946, he sang in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, moved northward to Mexico City and then on to San Francisco for his American debut. Mr. del Monaco's relationship with the Metropolitan Opera ended in 1959, reportedly by mutual consent, but he was recording until the end of the 1960's. In 1973, he joined a gathering of prominent tenors in Naples to honor Caruso's centenary and pres reports spoke of his 'personal glamour and still thrilling dynamism'.
Mr. del Monaco retired to his villa near Venice later in 1973 and turned to teaching. Mr. del Monaco and his wife, Rina Fedora, a former singer, had two sons. One of them, Giancarlo, is now a stage director in Europe's opera world."
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 19 Oct., 1982
“While Ettore Bastianini's career was quite short, it was also distinguished. He was regarded as having one of the finest Verdi and verismo voices of his day, though his vocal gifts were not always matched by an equal musicianship.
Bastianini studied privately with Gaetano Vanni, and sang in the local choir. His professional solo debut was in a concert in Siena early in 1945, and his operatic debut was at the Ravenna opera as Colline in Puccini's LA BOHEME later that year. He sang at the smaller houses throughout Italy and even went abroad to Cairo with a touring company, still singing the bass repertoire, including Mephistopheles in Gounod's FAUST. His La Scala debut was in 1948 as Tirésias in Stravinsky's OEDIPUS REX. During these years, he began to wonder if he was truly a bass, and in 1951, he made his debut as a baritone early in 1951 at the Bologna Opera as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. However, the performance was not especially successful, and he resumed intense studies over the next few months, giving special attention to developing his upper register. When he returned to the stage that summer, he had achieved just that goal, and his high notes were now considered his vocal glory. In 1953 Bastianini performed opposite Maria Callas for the first of many times, as Enrico Asthon in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR at the Teatro Comunale Florence. That same year he sang the role of Carlo Gérard in Giordano's ANDREA CHÉNIER for the first time at the Teatro Regio di Torino. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Germont on 5 December, 1953, opposite Licia Albanese as Violetta and Richard Tucker as Alfredo. The following January he sang Enrico to Lily Pons' Lucia and Jan Peerce's Edgardo at the Met. On 10 May, 1954, he made his debut as a baritone at La Scala, in the title role of Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN with Renata Tebaldi as Tatyana.
In the Fall of 1954, Bastianini joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera where he sang regularly through May 1957. His roles at the Met during this time included Amonasro, Carlo Gérard, Count di Luna, Enrico, Germont, Marcello in LA BOHEME, Rodrigo in Don Carlo, and the title role in RIGOLETTO. He later returned to the Met in the Spring of 1960 to portray several roles including Don Carlo in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. He returned to the Met again in January 1965 where he spent most of that year singing in several of his prior roles with the company, as well as performing Scarpia in TOSCA. His 87th and final performance at the Met was as Rodrigo on 11 December, 1965. It was also coincidentally the last performance of his career.
In 1956, he made his Chicago debut as Riccardo in Bellini's I PURITANI. In 1962, he made his Covent Garden debut as Renato in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. Early in 1963, he left the stage for a few months, letting it be understood that he was resting, but in fact, he was undergoing treatment for throat cancer. His return performances and subsequent performances were poorly received, often with booing from the audience, as he was often hoarse, off-pitch, and under-powered. While he was deeply dismayed at this, he still did not speak of his illness; for all except family and close friends, it came as a complete surprise until after the announcement of his death. His last performance was in 1965 at the Metropolitan Opera.”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com