ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
WORKS: II trovatore
PERFORMER: Joan Sutherland, Lauris Elms, Jonathan Summers; Australian Opera Chorus, Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra/Richard Bonynge; dir. Elijah Moshinsky (Sydney Opera House, 1983)
CATALOGUE NO: 100276
Joan Sutherland is the reason for this release; and as reasons go it’s a pretty good one. Leonora’s two great arias — prayers really — ‘Tacea la none’ and ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ are magnificently done. Too rarely nowadays do you hear this kind of legato, and such effortless and appropriate coloratura. Never mind that the voice lacks the weight for Leonora or that Sutherland is imprisoned in a vast bell-bottomed crinoline — hung with a heavily jewelled pectoral cross that would break a cardinal’s neck — and crowned in an improbable scarlet wig. At her best she made you believe anything, even in 1983 when this Opera Australia production was recorded.
Swallowing one’s doubts about the rest of Elijah Moshinsky’s production isn’t so easy. Drowned in shadows it’s difficult to get your bearings. And why has medieval Spain become Risorgimento Italy, with Mannco’s gang dressed as Garibaldi irregulars, red scarves knotted at their necks? Richard Bonynge in the pit never quite finds the right bounce for this kind of Verdi and the rest of the cast simply isn’t in Sutherland’s league. A young Jonathan Summers makes a brave but awkward stab at Di Luna and Kenneth Collins tackles Manrico… well, manfully, even producing the optional top notes for ‘Di quella pira’ though the look exchanged between two members of the chorus behind him speaks volumes. As Azucena Lauris Elms is a graduate of the Madame Arcati School of Drama, wild hair and wide eyes, arms fluent in semaphore but with not a lot of voice in the bottom register. Christopher Cook