OP0239. ERNANI, Live Performance, 10 April, 1965, w.Schippers Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, Mario Sereni, Cesare Siepi, etc.; ERNANI - Excerpts, Live Performance, 15 March, 1965 (not a broadcast), w.Schippers Cond. Franco Corelli. (Croatia) 2-Myto 993.209. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 608974502096
“When some of us speak of the good old days and young opera lovers are tempted to roll their eyes, we are speaking of an era when the Metropolitan Opera could present Verdi’s ERNANI in two different seasons, offering Carlo Bergonzi in the title role for the first run and Franco Corelli for the next. Today one would kill to have a single Verdi tenor of their caliber. (Moreover, just a few years later the Met added Domingo and Pavarotti to the list, while in 1956 they staged ERNANI with Mario del Monaco.) Bergonzi sang it in 1962, and RCA made a fine studio recording using the Met cast. Then, in the 1964–65 season the Met revived the opera with much of the same cast and conductor, but replacing Bergonzi with Corelli. This newly reissued 1965 broadcast has circulated on a number of labels such as Myto but never with the superb sound quality that Richard Caniell of Immortal Performances has given it.
I couldn’t choose between Bergonzi and Corelli if forced to. It is true that Bergonzi sings with more elegance and grace, and equally true that Corelli had one of the most thrilling voices I have encountered in a lifetime of listening. I was fortunate enough to have experienced a performance of each of those ERNANI runs, and even at the time I thought, ‘This must be a golden age for Verdi’. In addition to a thrilling natural sound, Corelli displays a smooth, evenly produced legato and a sensitivity to dynamic shading that might surprise his detractors. He inflects the music with attention to the text and to the shape of Verdi’s phrases. And when he does let loose, he delivers one of the grandest sounds ever to originate from a human throat. Is there some of his characteristic scooping? Yes. But it is quite controlled here, and it simply cannot detract from the vocal grandeur he displays.
Leontyne Price owned much of the Verdi repertoire in the post-Zinka Milanov era at the Met, and as Elvira her singing here will demonstrate to anyone why that was so. The voice has a natural glow, or vibrancy, that encompasses opulent high notes and manages the demands Verdi makes in terms of rapid passagework far better than Milanov ever did. William Russell, in his superb essay in the accompanying booklet, points out that Price’s voice had darkened a bit since the 1962 performances and RCA’s recording; the richness of tone that he notes is to the music’s benefit. Price and Corelli, who sang together many times at the Met and elsewhere, provide the kind of goosebumps that define thrilling operatic performances.
Mario Sereni would today be a star baritone, but his competition at the time included Leonard Warren, Robert Merrill, Cornell MacNeil, and Ettore Bastianini. While Sereni had an evenly produced and powerful tone, the voice lacked the distinctiveness of color and the glamour of those other singers, thus he was taken for granted during his 27 Met seasons. Listening to him now, it is plain that we should have valued Sereni more. As Don Carlo he does not sound out of place in this company, holding his own in the many ensembles Verdi wrote into the Opera and providing the appropriate lead in the ‘O sommo Carlo’ ensemble that concludes the third act.
Finally, in Cesare Siepi we have one of the premier bassos of his generation. He sang leading roles at the Met from 1950 to 1974, and the reasons for his success are evident here. Smooth vocal production, convincing vocal acting, and a dark, powerful tone are all combined with scrupulous musicianship (this last quality made Siepi one of the most important Don Giovannis after Ezio Pinza).
The small roles are all done very well by standard Met comprimarios, and one must pause to take note of the exemplary conducting of Thomas Schippers. His early death from cancer in 1977 at the age of 47 robbed us of an American conductor who had, in my view, the potential to become one of America’s major conducting talents. His leadership of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1970 until his death was beginning to propel the orchestra to a new level of excellence and visibility, and his work at the Met was expanding as well. Schippers balances all of the contrasting elements in Verdi’s score - long-breathed phrases, incisive rhythms, quick tempo shifts - and does it with energy and a fine ear for orchestral color. There are a few moments, as happens in any live performance, of untidy ensemble, but Schippers quickly gets everything back together. His reading sings and soars with urgency and vitality."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Franco Corelli had been singing for well over a decade when he made his Met debut in 1961 at the age of 40. The first attraction in any Corelli performance is the voice itself. Solid and evenly produced from bottom to top, with no audible seams between registers. The middle and lower parts of the voice are dark and richly colored. The top is stunningly brilliant, and never thins out or turns hard. It is a once-in-a-generation kind of voice if your generation is lucky, and in the four decades since his retirement in 1976 we have had nothing like it for visceral power. Some critics complained because Corelli would hold high notes well beyond their value in the score. But if we listen to singers from the past whose careers overlapped with the great Italian opera composers, and who often worked with them, we can easily conclude that the composers expected it. (A recording of an aria from Francesco Cilea's ADRIANA LECOUVREUR by tenor Fernando de Lucia, with the composer accompanying at the piano, exposes liberties that go far beyond anything Corelli ever did, and Cilea echoes those 'distortions' at the keyboard.)"
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“Mr. Siepi was a classic Italian basso cantante, or ‘singing bass’, with a warm, slightly dark voice that was ideally suited to Mozart. Yet his voice was so robust that he could easily summon the power for King Philip II in DON CARLO, Gurnemanz in PARSIFAL and the title role in BORIS GODUNOV. In his prime, the tall, handsome Mr. Siepi, a natural onstage, was a favorite at the Metropolitan Opera, where he gave nearly 500 performances, singing 17 roles during a 23-year association. Bing wrote in his 1972 memoir, 5,000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, [that Siepi] ‘made an overpowering debut and a well-deserved great career at the Metropolitan’. After his first Don Giovanni at the Met in 1952, Mr. Siepi became the Giovanni of choice in houses around the world, bringing a sly blend of vocal refinement and animal magnetism to his portrayal. Critics and audiences embraced him for a wide range of roles. Assessing an impressive Gurnemanz in a 1970 PARSIFAL at the Met, the critic Herbert Weinstock wrote in the British magazine OPERA that Mr. Siepi ‘really sang the role rather than growling it and acted with touching conviction’, articulating Wagner’s words ‘as if born to them’. He also excelled in broadly comic roles, like Don Basilio in Rossini’s BARBIERE.
At 18, urged on by friends, he entered a voice competition in Florence and won first prize. A manager in the audience quickly engaged him to sing the role of the hired assassin Sparafucile in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO for a production in Schio, near Vicenza. With the outbreak of war he moved to neutral Switzerland, returning to Italy when hostilities ended. He appeared in Verdi’s NABUCCO at La Scala in Milan in the first postwar production at the reconstructed theater, which had been damaged by bombs.
After his breakthrough Met debut, Mr. Siepi was in demand internationally. He scored triumphs at the Salzburg Festival during the 1950s and made several live recordings there, including a 1954 DON GIOVANNI conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Erna Berger among the cast.
In his day Mr. Siepi was considered a natural successor to Ezio Pinza. Like Pinza, who had starred in SOUTH PACIFIC, Mr. Siepi appeared in a stage musical, BRAVO GIOVANNI. The critic Howard Taubman, writing in THE NEW YORK TIMES, praised Mr. Siepi for bringing ‘the richest and best cultivated vocal instrument to Broadway’ since Pinza. The show, however, unlike Pinza’s SOUTH PACIFIC, was a flop. Still, Taubman gave the famous bass credit for trying. ‘Happily’, he concluded, ‘Mr. Siepi is at ease in his new surroundings and his voice glorifies them’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 July, 2010