LABELS: Hardy Classic Video
ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
WORKS: Il trovatore
PERFORMER: Mario Del Monaco, Ettore Bastianini, Leyla Gencer, Fedora Barbieri; RAI Milan Chorus & SO/Fernando Previtali; dir. Claudio Fino (TV film, 1957)
CATALOGUE NO: HCD 4006
Two performances of Trovatore, separated by 45 years, point to some interesting changes in the way opera is sung and realised visually, though the advantages are not all on one side nor as clear-cut as one might suppose.
The more recent production was seen at Covent Garden last May. Elijah Moshinsky’s staging offers splendid mid-19th-century visuals (the Risorgimento provides the inspiration) in designs by Dante Ferretti, including enormous cannons, an iron foundry and a railway station. Though they’re far from literal, they provide an apt counterpoint to Verdi’s 1853 score. Musically, Carlo Rizzi is an energising conductor, and his cast boasts José Cura’s complex and vocally articulate view of Manrico,
a fearsome Azucena from Yvonne Naef, Dmitri Hvorostovsky in resplendent voice as Di Luna and in Verónica Villarroel a sensitive but over-parted Leonora.
The 1957 version was made for Italian television, and its studio production, preserved in a grainy black-and-white print, looks like cardboard. But despite that the singers’ sense of dramatic conviction is often superb. Mario del Monaco belts his way through Manrico with nostrils flaring and at times considerable purpose. Ettore Bastianini is neither as subtle nor as varied as Hvorostovsky, but his performance is just as engaged. The Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer still has a cult following, and her Leonora is often fascinating, though her head-dresses are weird in the extreme (were they designed by a rival soprano?). Fedora Barbieri is simply terrifying as Azucena. Conductor Fernando Previtali is routine but knows the score.
Plenty of extras with the Opus Arte set, including worthwhile cast interviews and a chunk about the Schläger duelling that dominates the Soldiers’ Chorus (you may well ask…). Nothing with the RAI set apart from a useful historical note. George Hall