OP3236. LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, Live Performance, 9 March, 1968, w.Molinari-Pradelli Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, Robert Merrill, Jerome Hines, Louise Pearl, Fernando Corena, Louis Sgarro, Carlotta Ordassy, Robert Schmorr & Robert Goodloe. [This is the remarkable performance which confounded one of Price's confreres who initially couldn't believe it was she singing!] (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-652. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"That this was reasonably standard casting for the big Verdi operas at the Met in the 1960s is why some of us old fogies refer to the 'good old days'. There is thrilling music-making here, even if the performance does not reach the very greatest of heights. What we hear, however, is a genuine Verdi voice in every one of the important roles, something impossible to assemble today. If James Levine, Thomas Schippers, Zubin Mehta or even Fausto Cleva were on the podium, the performance would be even more thrilling. Francesco Molinari-Pradelli defines routinier with conducting that ambles along without any sense of incident, much less musical or dramatic truth. He knows how the score goes and paces it reasonably well, but the whole thing sounds for the most part like a competent read-through. Also, an oddity of the Met's production in those years was that the Overture was played after the first scene, something I never got used to even though I spent many Saturdays in the Met's standing room back then. This production of LA FORZA unfortunately employed heavy cuts, losing some 35-40 minutes of music from Verdi's complete score.
When we get to the singing, however, we are in very special territory. For many of us the ideal FORZA Leonora was Zinka Milanov (although by 1968 she was done). What Milanov had, in addition to ethereal floated pianissimi, was a solid column of sound from bottom to top, emanating from the same throat and diaphragm. Her rich sonority brought a kind of grandeur to the score that it really needs. Leontyne Price lacked that quality. Her registers sounded with different qualities, and in particular the lower register had about it a certain hollowness that did not convey the gravitas one heard in Milanov. However, there is so much that is glorious in Price's singing that it is curmudgeonly to complain. The top glows with a bright beauty and sense of freedom that frankly was much more reliable and unrestricted than Milanov's. Price soars through the long lines of 'Madre, pietosa Vergine' and 'La vergine degli angeli' with an ease and splendor that will make you gasp. The quick vibrato that was part of her natural sound is just right for the music, and she is dramatically involved as well, not just singing notes but inflecting them with meaning and interacting with the other characters. This performance took place four years after her first RCA recording of the role, with Schippers. That recording is somewhat studio-bound, with Merrill there duller than he is here, and Tucker's explosive production, while lovely in timbre, distorting the flow of Verdi's line.
For some, Franco Corelli is an acquired taste. It is one I long ago acquired. His was one of the most thrilling tenor voices of the central decades of the 20th century, and his innate feeling for the ebb and flow of the Verdi line was superb. He is on good behavior here, displaying little of the explosive exaggerations that could mar his worst work - what pours out of his throat is glorious. 'O tu che in seno agli angeli' is truly great singing, and the long ovation it arouses is fully justified. Corelli displays real sensitivity to dynamic shadings, using not just a ringing forte and hushed pianissimo but every dynamic in between. Robert Merrill, who had one of the great Verdi baritone voices in that era, could be a stolid singer. Don Carlo was always, however, one of his better roles, and sparks fly in his big scenes with Corelli. His singing of 'Urna fatale' is ringing and heroic, even if it doesn't have quite the remarkable uniqueness found in Corelli's performance. Merrill is much more alert and nuanced [here] than on his [studio] recording.
The occasion was also touched with greatness in the two bass roles. Jerome Hines is an extraordinarily solid-sounding Padre Guardiano, anchoring 'Il santo nome di Dio' with firmness and generosity of phrasing. Fernando Corena is a natural fit for Fra Melitone, relishing every note of the part. Only Louise Pearl's Preziosilla is not quite at the all-star level of the rest of the cast, although her singing is certainly competent. (The role is truncated by some cuts).
Because of the extensive cuts and the workaday conducting, this set can hardly be recommended as a collector's only recording of LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. But any serious opera lover would be well advised to add it to their collection for its many moments of true greatness. Corelli's performance, for one, should not be missed. [The] 1952 Met broadcast with Milanov and Tucker, under Fritz Stiedry, that shows Milanov off much more kindly than her later RCA recording is certainly worth exploring for the grandeur of one of the greatest dramatic sopranos of the middle third of the 20th century. But I would not trade that for this one; there are many aspects of the performance under review here that are unique and treasurable, and I would not be without it.
As usual, St. Laurent Studio's transfer is superb. This performance was previously issued by Premiere Opera and Myto, but the quality is notably better here. There are no notes, only track listings and a complete cast roster. The set is available through Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com)."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"There are some things about a live operatic performance that a studio-made recording just can't duplicate. All the possibilities - inspiration, subtlety, revelation of a composer's work, seizure of a great moment, athleticism with its risk of disaster, simple music-making - are in play before an audience of flesh and blood, in one particular moment. The stakes are high and immediate."
- Will Crutchfield, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 15 July, 1990
"Price's command of the role is complete. None of its fearful vocal hurdles endanger tonal beauty or challenge her technique. Were it not the height of ingratitude, one might suggest that it all seems almost too easy for her. A case in point is the lack of a sense of desperation, of the heroine's struggle with fate, in her practiced, tonally luminous reading of 'Pace, pace, mio Dio!'. She pours out her silvery top notes and glides smoothly down into a suggestive mid-voice before settling lightly on those ghostly lowest tones, the latter only occasionally reinforced by chest resonance. Hers is a remarkable instrument and its easy employment, her palpable confidence in her ability to negotiate any challenge, and the comfort she radiates as she revels in its sensuous beauty - this bounty is generously conveyed to her listeners, allowing them a peculiar and rare pleasure."
- Paul Jackson, START-UP AT THE NEW MET, p.268
"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
"Robert Merrill made his Metropolitan debut as Germont on 15 Dec., 1945, and celebrated his 500th performance there on 5 March, 1973. He remained on the Met roster until 1976. During his tenure with the Met, Mr. Merrill sang leading roles in much of the standard repertory, including the title role in RIGOLETTO, Germont in LA TRAVIATA, Figaro in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, Escamillo in CARMEN and Tonio in PAGLIACCI; he appeared in most of these many times. Regarded as one of the greatest Verdi baritones of his generation, he was known for the security and strength of his sound, as well as for the precision and clarity with which he could hit pitches across his two-octave range.
Although he occasionally appeared in Europe and South America, he preferred to base his career at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang all the major baritone roles of the Italian and French repertories, Peter G. Davis wrote of Mr. Merrill in THE NEW GROVE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN MUSIC. ' In terms of vocal endowment, technical security and longevity, he was unequaled among baritones of his generation at the Metropolitan'. 'After Leonard Warren's tragic death onstage at the Metropolitan in 1960, Merrill became more or less indisputably America's principal baritone and perhaps the best lyricist since Giuseppe de Luca', the critic J. B. Steane wrote in his book THE GRAND TRADITION. The easy and even production of a beautifully well-rounded tone is not common, especially when the voice is also a powerful one; yet this is, after all, the basis of operatic singing, and Merrill's records will always commend themselves in these terms. Mr. Merrill made many recordings for RCA. He sang in two complete opera broadcasts on radio under Toscanini - LA TRAVIATA in 1946 and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA in 1953 - both of which were later issued on CD. He wrote two autobiographies, ONCE MORE FROM THE BEGINNING (1965) and BETWEEN ACTS (1976), as well as a novel, THE DIVAS (1978). He received a number of honorary doctorates and awards."
- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Oct., 2004