For the Verdian who has everything!
P. Blystone | Staten Island, NY USA | 06/15/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In 1939, the editor of an anthology of Italian opera librettos wrote: "There is no one Italian composer who stands out as Wagner does among the Germans. Verdi, of course, is the most important... But only a few of his operas have retained their popularity." At that remote era, fully half of Verdi's operas were little more than names tucked away in reference books, and it's probable that even most Verdi scholars of the day had never heard them performed. They were always quick to "explain" why those operas were such "failures."
Now, many decades later, Verdi's stature has risen to the point where he is fully on a par with Wagner, and it's hard to find any of this master's works that haven't appeared on discs. Thus we have recordings (both live and studio-made) of every one of his 26 operas, not to mention the earlier versions of the operas that he extensively revised, those that he adapted into new operas altogether, LES VEPRES SICILIENNES and DON CARLOS in the original French, separate recordings of his overtures and ballet music... With all that, is there still anything by Verdi that the world has yet to hear?
The answer to that question (until now, that is) has been yes -- and it involves not an obscure opera, but one of Verdi's best-known and best-loved works, IL TROVATORE. In January 1857, when it was still fairly new, that opera was staged by the Paris Opera as LE TROUVÈRE, in a French translation by Pacini. But the language was not the only thing that was different about it -- Verdi had made some changes in the music as well, and now, thanks to the present recording, we can finally hear just what that revised but hitherto little-known version sounds like.
I can only presume that this performance is given uncut -- I don't have access to a score to verify this, and for that same reason, I can't vouch for all the changes in the orchestration. But the following are some of the more obvious differences that we "experts" will notice as we listen to these discs.
The end of Leonora's Act I cabaletta "Di tale amor" ("L'amour ardent") is entirely different, as are parts of the Azucena-Manrico duet in Act II (Azucena's cadenzas and "Un momento puo involarmi"/ "Cet instant pour moi suprême"). The Act III soldiers' chorus "Squilli, echeggi la tromba guerriera" ("Que la trompette aux accents belliqueux") is a little shorter than the version we all know, and leads into a lengthy round of ballet, during which a troupe of gypsies entertain the soldiers (a sort of 15th-century USO!). We can recognize in it some familiar tunes from the Anvil Chorus, and no doubt the soldiers (and the Paris audience) enjoyed it! Later in the scene, after Azucena finishes singing "Giorni poveri vivea" ("Je vivais pauvre et sans peine"), she also gets to sing the plaintive tune that we normally hear only as an orchestral backdrop to the confrontation going on between her and the Count. In Act IV, there's no "Tu vedrai che amore in terra" -- but that's usually cut anyway! And the opera ends entirely differently. After Leonora's death, as Manrico goes to his execution, we hear a short reprise of the "Miserere" ensemble, with Azucena taking Leonora's part. Whew!
This recording is of a live performance, so from time to time one hears rounds of applause. The Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia, led by Marco Guidarini, plays quite well, but the no-name singers are variable. Iano Tamar, as Leonore, sounds almost in over her head; her voice seems a little too "heavy" for some of the more agile passages, but I'll give her an A+ for effort! Likewise, we get good efforts from the other principals: Sylvie Brunet (Azucena), Warren Mok (Manrico/Manrique), Nikola Mijalovic (le Comte de Luna), and Jae-Jun Lee (Ferrando/Fernand). At times, they all have problems with intonation. I'm afraid I've never been as adept as other reviewers at judging singing -- I've always concentrated more on the version of the work in question, and how it differs from other versions. All the same, this is a recording well worth having, and it adds a whole new dimension to a wonderful opera that we all thought we knew backward and forward. Included is a libretto booklet, with the customary erudite article in four languages. We can hope now that some enterprising record company will see the value of this verson of TROVATORE and bring out a studio-made recording with world-class artists in the lead roles. But for now -- if you love Verdi, then go for it!
Now... How about a recording of the original version of LA TRAVIATA, the one that failed so miserably on its opening night in Venice, before Verdi refashioned it into the version we all know so well?
(One small footnote: when Richard Bonynge recorded IL TROVATORE some years ago, he used some of the Paris variations that are evident in this recording, though sung in Italian. His wife, La Sutherland, tossed off the alternate ending of "Di tale amor" with the greatest of ease, and of course Tamar's performance suffers in comparison. The LP of that recording also included the ballet music, but I understand that it's omitted from the CD reissue.)"