OP3337. ADRIANA LECOUVREUR, Live Performance, 19 April, 1969, w. Cleva Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Renata Tebaldi, Franco Corelli, Irene Dalis, Anselmo Colzani, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-974.
“The venom with which some critics treat ADRIANA LECOUVREUR borders on the despicable. The opera may not be a masterpiece on the level of Puccini’s greatest works, but it is nowhere near the vulgar score that the more supercilious critics accuse it of being. The oft-repeated claim that the score’s one or two good tunes are repeated ad nauseum is untrue. It is fair to point out that Cilea does get good use of his themes, but there are more than one or two, and they are transformed in their repetitions.
Renata Tebaldi spent some of her prime years begging Rudolf Bing to mount ADRIANA LECOUVREUR for her, but he resisted because he was among those who disparaged the opera. When he finally relented, Tebaldi was already at the early stages of vocal decline. That was the 1962-63 season. Bing brought the production back for her in 1968-69, and it is that season’s broadcast which is reproduced here. While Tebaldi’s vocal decline is even more in evidence here than it was in 1963, there is so much that is irreplaceably beautiful about her performance here that those of us who actually love ADRIANA LECOUVREUR are to be grateful to St. Laurent Studio for making it available. Tebaldi’s high notes are a bit flat and hard-toned, and there are a few other passages of flat singing, but I found myself willing to look past all that in order to admire and enjoy the glorious sound of the soprano’s middle and upper-middle registers, and her uniquely beautiful way of turning phrases. There are other successful Adrianas, among them Magda Olivero, of course, being so identified with the role, along with Montserrat Caballé, Renata Scotto, and Anna Netrebko today. Each brings special qualities to the role, as does Tebaldi. The particular lushness of sound that she produces here is not duplicated by any other soprano. Her identification with the shape of Cilea’s melodies is total, as is her identification with the character (at least in terms of vocal acting - I never saw her perform the role onstage). The naturalness of her phrasing, her ability to bring the listener inside the music by suddenly spinning a lovely pianissimo without losing the body of tone, the sincerity of her singing - these are among the very special qualities she brings to this music. Comparing the live Met broadcast with Tebaldi’s Decca recording demonstrates just how much better she was in front of an audience and inspired by a staged production. To be sure, there are beauties on the studio recording but nothing to compare with what she does here.
Franco Corelli is as good as it gets in the role of Maurizio. He had already demonstrated this to collectors in the justly renowned 1959 Teatro San Carlo performance from Naples with Olivero, Giulietta Simionato, and Ettore Bastianini. Corelli is just as impressive here, perhaps even more so. His splendid tenor rings out heroically, but he also applies shading and nuance to his singing. If you think Corelli’s willingness to stretch a phrase or hold on forever to a beautifully executed diminuendo is excessive, listen to the liberties taken by Fernando de Lucia in a 1902 recording where Cilea himself accompanies the singer and echoes those liberties at the keyboard. The joining of voices by Corelli and Tebaldi in their two big duets is what the grand in grand opera is all about.
As I have said before in these pages, Irene Dalis was an under-appreciated mezzo-soprano on the Met’s roster for two decades (1957-1976). She had a voice of rich, well-supported and focused sound from bottom to top, and she was always a persuasive vocal actress as well. Her performance as Adriana’s rival for the love of Maurizio is dramatically and vocally on a level with Dalis’ more famous colleagues like Fiorenza Cossotto and Simionato. Baritone Anselmo Colzani, also a valued singer at the Met in the years following the death of Leonard Warren, didn’t achieve the stardom of Robert Merrill or Cornell MacNeil. Colzani’s Michonnet is superb, rounding out a cast of four principals who seem to believe in the opera and know how to deliver it.
Fausto Cleva conducts idiomatically and affectionately without bring the kind of special passion and insight one hears from James Levine on his CBS/Sony recording with Scotto, or even from Mario Rossi, who caught the spirit from the stage of the 1959 Olivero San Carlo performance. Still, Cleva had an innate feel for how this music should go, and he shapes it more firmly than Gianfranco Masini (who conducts on some Caballé performances) or Franco Capuana on the Tebaldi Decca set. It is a shame that the Met did not broadcast in stereo until 1973, but the sound here is good quality broadcast monaural. As is usual with St. Laurent Studio there are no notes, only a full track listing. The recording also includes a good bit of the wild enthusiasm of the audience. If you object, you can skip past it; I rather enjoy the way it makes me feel as if I were in the house.
I would not give up my Olivero and Caballé recordings of ADRIANA LECOUVREUR, but neither would I give up this one. Tebaldi’s uniquely beautiful voice and her exceptional identification with the opera make this release a treasure.”
- 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
"Irene Dalis, a versatile and fiery mezzo-soprano who starred at the Metropolitan Opera for two decades before building a second career as the director of Opera San Jose, an innovative company she founded in her California hometown, did not set out to be a singer or an impresario. She studied piano and music education at what was then San Jose State College before earning a master's degree at Columbia's Teachers College in Manhattan in the late 1940s. The plan was to go back home and teach. Yet her instructors in New York were struck by her voice and encouraged her to develop it. She began taking lessons with the mezzo-soprano Edyth Walker. Instead of returning to San Jose, she went to Italy to study voice on a Fulbright scholarship in 1951. Just two years later she made her operatic debut as Princess Eboli in Verdi's DON CARLO in Oldenburg, Germany. Four years after that, she performed the same role at the Met. Her debut at the Met, on 16 March, 1957, was 'one of the most exciting of the season', Howard Taubman wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES. 'By the time she reached the second-act trio she showed she could sing with temperament', Mr. Taubman said. 'And in the third-act, 'O don fatale', one of Verdi's greatest dramatic arias, she was like a veteran. Her voice, which has range, security and brilliant top notes, was now under full control. She sang and moved with a total absorption in the emotion of the character. Her singing had color and fire. In terms of sheer quality there may be more sumptuous voices at the Met in the mezzo-soprano division; Miss Dalis uses hers like an artist'.
For the next two decades, Ms. Dalis was among the Met's most admired performers, appearing more than 270 times and singing virtually every major mezzo-soprano part written by Verdi, Wagner, Richard Strauss and others. She was nurtured by Rudolf Bing, the Met's formidable general manager, and performed with Birgit Nilsson, Jussi Bjorling, Robert Merrill, Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo and Leonie Rysanek.
She would perform for another decade, but in the mid-1970s she finally went home to California to teach voice, finding a position at San Jose State. Her work with students there led to her founding of Opera San Jose in 1984. It was modeled on a program in Oldenburg, which gave young performers like Ms. Dalis the chance to sing big roles early in their careers. 'In the old days, singers started singing major roles at a young age, and it didn't ruin their voices, did it?' she said in an interview with OPERA NEWS in 2007. The company, which performs at the California Theater, a restored 1927 movie palace, has its own costume and set shops, owns administrative buildings and provides apartments to some performers. Ms. Dalis ran it until this June. OPERA NEWS called Opera San Jose 'the only opera company in the U.S. entirely dedicated to developing the careers of emerging young artists'."
- William Yardley, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 18 Dec., 2014
"[Colzani] may never have quite entered the pantheon of great Italian baritones, but Anselmo Colzani was never that far off. He also had to contend with an era in which the likes of Tito Gobbi, Ettore Bastianini and Giuseppe Taddei bestrode the world's opera stages. He was in demand internationally too, making his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1960, where he played Simon Boccanegra. There was a great deal of pressure on the new arrival, as the Met's favourite baritone, Leonard Warren, had died weeks before. If Colzani never became the next Warren, he did become a Met regular. He sang 272 performances there over the next 16 seasons."
- James Inverne, GRAMOPHONE, June, 2006