By Paul Dorgan
There are over 70 cds and dvds of Il Trovatore currently available. Be not afeard: I have no intention of listing them all. For some reason there are more "live" recordings of this opera than there are studio-made ones, resulting, especially in performances from the 1950's and early 1960's, in the same singers and conductors appearing in various combinations at different opera houses, which make for fascinating comparisons. To avoid any hint of my trying to influence your choice (PAC does NOT mean Paul's Actual Choice!), I've a) separated the recordings into those on CD and those available in some video format; and, b) listed them alphabetically by tenor, since Manrico is the Troubadour; Leonora; Azucena; Count di Luna; orchestra/chorus; conductor; label. Where possible I've given the date of the performance/recording.
Baum; Callas; Simionato; Warren; Mexico City; Picco. Opera d'oro. 1950. This recording captures Callas's first performance of Leonora. The following year she sang the role in Naples (also available on cd); at La Scala in 1953; her final stage performances (legendary, because her Manrico was Jussi Björling, and because the rumored recording was rumored destroyed) were in Chicago in 1955.
Bergonzi; Stella; Cossotto; Bastianini; La Scala; Serafin. DGG. 1963.
Bergonzi; Tucci; Simionato; Cappuccilli; La Scala; Gavazzeni. Opera d'oro. Live performance 1964.
Björling; Milanov; Barbieri; Warren; RCA Victor; Cellini. RCA. 1952. When RCA, in the 1950s, began recording complete operas in New York City, Renato Cellini was on the conducting staff of the Metropolitan Opera; the RCA Victor Orchestra may well have consisted of many of the Met's regular players; while the soloists could be heard on any regular night during the season at Broadway and 39th Street. Today we would consider this cast luxurious in the extreme.
Bonisolli; Price; Obraztsova; Cappuccilli; Berlin Philharmonic; Karajan. EMI. 1977. Bonisolli was blessed with ringing high notes; blessings often become curses, and so it proved with him. He became (in)famous for hanging on to the final high C of the aria that ends Act 3; at one performance (maybe more!) he was still singing it long after the curtain fell!
Corelli; Price; Dalis; Sereni; Metropolitan Opera; Cleva. Sony. On January 27, 1961, the audience at the Metropolitan Opera was electrified by the debuts of two extraordinary singers: Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli. The Met. might have been excused its delay in engaging Corelli, despite his regular appearances over the previous decade in the major Italian houses. But there seems little excuse when it came to the great American soprano. She had already sung major roles on NBC (when Network TV actually produced opera); San Francisco Opera heard her in 1957; Covent Garden in 1958; and Herbert von Karajan, no slouch when it came to voices, was regularly conducting her at La Scala, the Vienna Staatsoper, and at the Salzburg Festival. Whatever the reason for the Met's lagging, this Trovatore was the beginning of a long relationship between Price and the company. This is a commercial release of the performance broadcast on February 4.
Corelli; Price; Simionato; Bastianini; Vienna Staatsoper; Karajan. DGG. This is a live performance from the 1962 Salzburg Festival. It is also available, at half the price, on Opera D'oro!
Di Stefano; Callas; Barbieri; Panerai; La Scala; Karajan. EMI. 1956. For Herbert von Karajan, the Highest Priest of Highest German Art (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Strauss and Wagner), as well as the exemplar of "conductor as supreme egotist", to conduct Il Trovatore, the epitome of mid-nineteenth-century Italian opera, which was based on the supremacy of the voice, might seem anomalous But for over twenty years he returned regularly to this score, assembled the best available singers, and produced master-classes in how this music should be performed. Of course the fact that he could click a finger and the greatest Verdi singers would magically be available, can only have helped. There are more recordings, both from the opera house and from the studio, of Trovatore led by Karajan than of any other opera he ever conducted.
Domingo; Kabaivanska; Cossotto; Cappuccilli; Vienna Staatsoper; Karajan. RCA. Live from Vienna, 1978.
Domingo; Price; Cossotto; Milnes; New Philharmonia; Mehta. RCA Victor. 1970. All "live" performances, and most of those recorded in the studio, observe "standard cuts" (sections where repeated music and text are not performed). This studio recording, from 1970, includes every note Verdi composed for the première in Rome.
Fontaine; Morlet; Lapeyrette; Noté; Ruhlmann. Marston. 1912. This is a treasurable oddity. Verdi did supervise a production of Le Trouvère for the Paris Opéra in 1857, obviously using a French text. Here's how French singers sang Verdi in 1912!
Pavarotti; Sutherland; Obraztsova; Wixell; San Francisco; Bonynge. Decca. Live 1975.
Pavarotti; Sutherland; Horne; Wixell; London; Bonynge. Decca. 1976. This includes the Ballet, composed for the Paris Opéra production, which accounts for the fact that there are 3 cds! This studio recording is also available, without the ballet, as an import, on the standard 2 cds.
Pavarotti; Banaudi; Verrett; Nucci; Florence Maggio Musicale; Mehta. Decca 1990.
Alagna; Neva; Nioradze; Ko; Orange Festival; Nosada. Live 2007.
Alvarez; Frittoli; Urmana; Nucci; La Scala; Muti. Live 2000.
Alvarez; Radvanovsky; Zajic; Hvorostovsky; Met; Armiliato. Live 2011
Cura; Villaroel; Naef; Hovorostovsky; Covent Garden; Rizzi. Live 2008.
Del Monaco; Gencer; Barbieri; Bastianini; RAI; Previtali. TV production 1957.*
Domingo; Kabaivanska; Cossotto; Cappuccilli; Vienna Staatsoper; Karajan. Live 1978
Pavarotti; Marton; Zajic; Milnes; Metropolitan Opera; Levine. DGG. Live 1988.
* This performance needs an introduction. Fedora Barbieri and Ettore Bastianini sing Azucena and di Luna, respectively, on a number of performances listed above. Mario del Monaco had a huge sound and his greatest successes came in dramatic roles like Otello and Andrea Chenier; the vocal elegance and flexibility of the bel canto style was, for him, an undiscovered country to whose bourn he never travelled. Leyla Gencer is, I would bet, the singer most of you have never heard of. She was born in Turkey and studied there with Giannina Arangi-Lombardi, an Italian soprano whose very name personified the vastness of her voice. In 1953 Gencer sang for the first time in Italy; it became her home until she died in 2008. Gencer sang throughout Europe, and with all the major American opera companies, except, of course, the Metropolitan Opera. Her repertoire was vast - some 70 roles by composers ranging from Monteverdi and Gluck to Poulenc, Britten and Menotti; surprisingly, given that historical span, she was most renowned for her Donizetti heroines. No major record label was interested in her: EMI/Angel had Callas, and, besides, was not especially interested in recording the kind of roles in which she was supreme (the same could be said for the roles Callas recorded for them); Decca/London had Tebaldi, who couldn't sing roles that required vocal flexibility; DGG was interested in the Italian repertoire only if Karajan conducted, or if La Scala (a Karajan fiefdom) was part of the project; while RCA used mostly American singers. But in the days when radio broadcasts were regularly "pirated" to LPs (remember those?), Gencer was the Prima Donna Assoluttatissima. Most of those performances are now available on cd. And what they show is a voice capable of just about anything any composer could throw at it! In 1957 the odd assortment of sets; the constriction/distortion of the overall sound; the operatic "acting" of everyone; the sometime non-coordination between what we hear and what we see; not to mention the unclarity of the filming: none of this would have bothered viewers of this production by RAI, the Italian national radio/television broadcaster. They would have thrilled to see "stars" in an opera every Italian absorbs at the maternal breast, and any deficiency in the transmission would have been supplanted by the vocal/visual ideal supplied by that versatile breast. Search Gencer on Youtube.com. You'll be amazed by her singing.
There are two films it is essential you watch before you come to Utah Opera's production of Il Trovatore . A Night at the Opera, stars the Marx Brothers; Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones are the singing love-interest; while Margaret Dumont, at her most imperious, is a wealthy patron of the Opera (just listen to her pronunciation of that word!); the climactic chase takes place in front of the curtain, and behind it, during a performance of Verdi's opera. I like to think that the great man, were he around to watch the inspired comic genius of these great comedians, would be, in our acronymic text-messaging age, ROTFL - for all you Luddites out there, it means Rolling-on-the-floor-laughing. I guarantee Il Trovatore will never be the same again.
If A Night at the Opera ends with Verdi's opera, Luchino Visconti's Senso begins with it. We are at a performance of Verdi's opera at Venice's La Fenice theatre; Manrico's thrilling aria at the end of Act 3 provokes a huge demonstration in favor of Italian unification. The plot of the film traces the relationship between an Italian Countess, whose cousin is deeply involved in the fight for freedom from the Austrian rulers, and a Lieutenant in that army of occupation. The script is based on a short story by Camillo Boito, whose younger brother was Arrigo: the librettist of Otello and Falstaff. Initially Visconti was fairly faithful to this story. But then he saw Maria Callas in Trovatore, and re-wrote the script. Callas was to sing those opening scenes, but scheduling conflicts scuttled that idea. The movie's plot is pure melodrama, but that's the term Italians use for what we call opera. The dvd version includes extra "bits", most of which can be ignored. But on the second disc is an interview with Visconti, from the BBC, which discusses his work in film, theatre and opera. The opera segment includes interviews with Callas, with Bernstein, with Solti, with Giulini. At one point the interviewer asks how he would like to be remembered. "As a good worker". May we all be remembered thus.