OP3347. ANDREA CHENIER, Live Performance, 17 Nov., 1962 , w.Cleva Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Franco Corelli, Zinka Milanov, Anselmo Colzani, Mignon Dunn, Lili Chookasian, Norman Scott, etc. (Canada) 2-Yves St Laurent T-1024. Transfers by Yves St Laurent. [This performance is the only ANDREA CHÉNIER Milanov and Corelli ever sang together; a PROMPTER'S BOX recording, thus the remarkable clarity! It's easy to determine where the recording was made - the prompter is lightly heard throughout, and the sound from the audience is rather distant since the microphone was facing the stage!]
“This is a first-ever release of a recording that claims to have been made in the prompter’s box during a Met performance of ANDREA CHÉNIER in 1962. It captures the voices very clearly, and the orchestra decently enough, though with a moderate degree of distance and muddiness. The prompter is audible, but frankly far less so than I had expected. I never found it distracting.
The chief interest here is yet another live Franco Corelli Chénier, and this one from his second season at the Met capturing his voice in prime condition. For many opera lovers the choice recording of this opera is the live 1960 Vienna performance where Corelli shares the stage with Renata Tebaldi and Ettore Bastianini, and where the conductor is the brilliant Lovro von Matacic (Orfeo 682 062). This should not be thought of as a replacement for that version but a supplement. It features a rare pairing of Corelli with one of the superstars of an earlier generation, Zinka Milanov.
Chénier is one of those roles that seems almost to be composed with a singer like Corelli in mind. He is glorious here, holding on to high notes, sometimes even building intensity during their duration, showing an innate feel for the shape of Giordano’s phrases. He also demonstrates a great deal of sensitivity in the form of dynamic shading, using the full range between pianissimo and fortissimo. This is grand opera singing at its grandest. Giordano gives the tenor four arias (if you count ‘Credi al destino’) and two big duets, and there is more juicy writing in between. Hearing Corelli peal forth at ‘Credi al ‘amor; Chénier, tu se amato’ is to experience an immense thrill. I would not claim this performance to be superior to the Vienna one, but it is different enough in some details to be newly rewarding. He seems more willing to hold on to high notes here (or perhaps Cleva gave him greater freedom than Matacic). Some might object to holding on for so long, but I find it wildly exciting. (Both performances are, however, greatly preferable to his earthbound EMI studio recording.)
By 1961 Milanov was approaching the end of a long and distinguished career as a Met prima donna. There are many moments that recall the glory of her large, darkly colored dramatic soprano. Her phrasing in the duets and in her big aria, ‘La mamma morta’, is utterly idiomatic. As you listen, you know you are hearing a voice of importance, one with a distinctive color that immediately identifies the singer. Less happily, it is also a voice showing signs of age. Many of the top notes are harsh, and some are cut short. There is, however, much compensation. In the opera’s final scene, Milanov and Corelli simply pour out electrifying torrents of sound. As rare as it is to hear the two singers together, they are heard to even greater advantage on a 1957 Covent Garden TOSCA [OP1343 & OP0214].
Baritone Anselmo Colzani joined the Met in 1960 after the sudden death of Leonard Warren, and he remained one of the company’s leading baritones through 1978. Although he never achieved true stardom, Colzani was a fine artist who always added value to whatever performance he appeared in. His was not a voice of unique power or richness, but his Gérard is sung with a warm tone evenly produced throughout its range and a clear feeling for the drama. The ovation he receives after ‘Nemico della patria’ demonstrates the admiration Met audiences had for him.
As Madelon, the blind old lady who gives her grandson to the revolution, Lili Chookasian gives an extremely moving and beautifully sung rendition of her lovely little aria. The other smaller roles are well taken, and Fausto Cleva provides knowing, idiomatic conducting without reaching the levels of unique intensity that Matacic achieved in that Vienna performance noted above.
Even if this cannot be recommended as someone’s first choice for ANDREA CHÉNIER, for anyone who loves the opera and Corelli, as well as those of us for whom Zinka Milanov was a special treasure, this release has real value. As noted above, considering its source the mono sound quality is very listenable. No libretto or plot synopsis is included."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, 2020
“That grand but variable soprano Zinka Milanov returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoon at her grandest. She sang Maddalena in ANDREA CHENIER and the best adjective to describe her performance is sublime.
One found it difficult, in hearing the wealth of youthful tone she produced during the afternoon, to believe that Miss Milanov will celebrate the 25th anniversary of her Met debut next month. Her singing was luminous, beautifully shaded, and under perfect control, over the full dynamic range. Of her acting less can be said, but one must not be greedy.
Anselmo Colzani sang his first Gerard with the Company, adding another strong and believable characterization to his splendid record at the Met….
It was, all told, a splendid performance to which everyone contributed his best. But it was clear from Miss Milanov’s first notes that the afternoon belonged to her.”
- Alan Rich, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 18 Nov., 1962
"Even when the gloss is off the fabric of her tone, it retains a measure of succulence quite individual and reassuring. Now, when the opulence is diminished but the style remains majestic, the phrasing can sometimes seem a bit ostentatious, since its grand expanse is not filled to the fullest with comparably sumptuous tone.
Everything about her performance on this afternoon reveals the diligence of the dedicated artist. We, who are in her debt, can [joyfully] applaud her success on this afternoon."
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.492-494