Lauri-Volpi, primo tenore assoluto!
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 08/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Source: Remastered 1951 broadcast.
Sound: Good mono emphasizing the voices over orchestra.
Documentation: No libretto. Short plot summary. Track list.
This is a good, solid, even admirable performance of an Italian opera with an Italian orchestra, an Italian conductor and an almost entirely Italian cast. There is authenticity here, a feeling of rightness from beginning to end, too rare a thing in these days of one-size-fits-all international performance. That said, the real point of buying this recording is to capture a rare complete operatic performance by one of the greatest singers of the Twentieth Century.
Giacomo Lauri-Volpi was born in 1892, two years after Beniamino Gigli. The two men shared what must have been amazing seasons at the Metropolitan Opera up to the early 1930s. Both had glorious voices, with Lauri-Volpi inclining toward the heavier roles of the Italian repertory such as Radames, Manrico and Otello.
When this recording was made, Lauri-Volpi was nearly sixty, although you might never guess it from the sound of his voice. I remember being told by people who had often heard him that Lauri-Volpi's voice had deteriorated during the war years. If so, he must have been something to hear in the 1920s and 30s. In the 1950s, Lauri-Volpi became a mentor to that dashing newcomer, Franco Corelli. Listening to Corelli, you can hear his debt to Lauri-Volpi. And, in comparing the two, it is plain that Corelli was never quite up to the old man.
For those not familiar with this slightly obscure opera, you will find Acts I and II to be fairly routine early Verdi. They are competent, although lacking in the fiery passion and intensity of "Ernani" or even "Giovanna d'Arco." Act III is different. With only the most subtle changes on the part of the composer, the cardboard characters of the earlier acts come to life. They are no longer lay figures who sing set-piece songs but unique people who are defined by and exist in their music. Verdi has crossed a threshold in his art to surpass Bellini and Donizetti. "Rigoletto" and "La Traviata" are in sight."
Heart-rending, honest Verdi
S. Erickson | 05/12/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I quite agree that this performance has that sense of `rightness' about it, something I greatly value in many an older recording. This was my first exposure to Lauri-Volpi and makes a treasured addition to my tenor experience. Lucy Kelston also struck me as an excellent and convincing Luisa. In the wonderful role of her father (Miller) Scipio Colombo gives a touching performance that I have grown very much attached to. Each of these artists sings with great sensitivity to character and their expressive intent clearly illuminates the text. The passion and sweep of it all is utterly irresistible and overwhelming.
I have listened to this recording a great many times now and only love it more each time. It is exciting and deeply satisfying to listen to singers who make their characters so emotionally real and who do justice to the drama of Verdi. Conductor and all the artists live and breathe the opera's joys and sorrows together making a powerful appeal to the heart and winning a unique place very near my own. The recording is not without its flaws and I will detail them but let me first say that I feel they are more than compensated for by the overall worth of the performance and the intense enjoyment I continue to derive from it.
My first Luisa was that marvelous Met DVD with Domingo/Scotto Verdi - Luisa Miller. I was immediately smitten and still count Luisa Miller among my favorite Verdi. Then I chose this recording and have since added the classic Bergonzi/Moffo/McNeil on RCA Giuseppe Verdi: Luisa Miller. The latter is an excellent studio recording and would be a great place to start with the opera. The RCA is very fine but this RAI performance is the one I hold dearest for its dramatic punch and emotional impact.
So, for the flaws- I must mention that of Scene 2 in Act 1 we get only the beginning with Walter's aria "Il mio sangue la vita darei" then cut straight to Scene 3 (back in Miller's house with Luisa waiting for Rodolfo to come from the hunt). It hurts to miss Rodolfo's first interaction with his father and then that wonderful duet of Rodolfo and Frederica. Also, Act 2 Scene 2 omits the final unacompanied quartet and there are other small cuts of repeats in both Acts. But I'm so grateful for all that we do have. All of Act 3 is here and it is sung and played with stunning intensity. This is fine theater.
For those leery of `live' recordings let me assure you that there is absolutely no audience noise or applause (if there is even an audience present). I suppose this was performed for radio broadcast so no stage thumps or singers moving about. Sound is tolerably good. If you are sensitive just put it on over speakers rather than good headphones and much of the harshness will fade away into space. (Perhaps Opera d'Oro's Grand Tier issue Giuseppe Verdi: Luisa Miller is improved?) This may all sound rather negative and I'm being very frank so you can avoid surprises but there's nothing here to inhibit anyone willing to embrace an exciting document from the past with its attendent limitations.
I love this recording so much I almost hesitate to elaborate on its faults. Would I have purchased it after reading this review of mine? Hmmm.. I don't know... But, I did get it and am VERY glad I did so. I know I'll always treasure this performance no matter what others come along. Maybe this isn't the best choice for your first Luisa Miller since it's not complete but by all means give it a try sometime! It is a truly remarkable account.