WORKS: Il trovatore
PERFORMER: Roberto Alagna, Angela Gheorghiu, Thomas Hampson, Larissa Diadkova, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo; London Voices, LSO/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 57360 2
It’s not true that you need a quartet of the world’s greatest Verdians for Il trovatore, but you do need a conductor with an instinct for this music. Antonio Pappano begins well. Those threatening drum rolls, horn calls and the jagged chords that launch the opera really do send a shiver down your spine. Thereafter he takes a very personal view of Verdi’s tempi. The finale to Act II is laced with unnecessary pauses while the Miserere in Act III refuses to take wing.
As for the reason for this new recording – Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu – neither of them is ideal vocally. Gheorghiu lacks the weight required for Leonora, and while her technique is formidable there’s an off-putting ‘whiteness’ in the voice. True, she can float a line out over the orchestra like no one since Caballé. But at full stretch the tone coarsens and the pitch is insecure. Leontyne Price for Mehta (RCA) remains the finest recorded Leonora, though Rosalind Plowright for Giulini runs her a close second.
As Manrico Roberto Alagna cuts a dash, but there’s an unattractive tendency to scoop the note from underneath. When does acceptable portamento become inaccurate singing? And he would have been well advised to have left his top notes for ‘Di quella pira’ at home. Compared with Plácido Domingo on RCA, or even Carlo Bergonzi for Tullio Serafin on DG, Alagna is rarely best value for money.
Nevertheless Thomas Hampson coasts through the black-hearted Count di Luna, and for once he’s an attractively credible rival to Manrico. A match too for his fellow American Sherrill Milnes on RCA. But the real joy of this new recording comes from the chorus, London Voices, and Larissa Diadkova’s Azucena. As she curdles her voice round ‘Stride la vampa’ you can understand why Verdi once thought of naming this opera for the gypsy and not il trovatore. A fine performance but not quite fine enough to efface the memory of Fiorenza Cossotto’s blood-freezing Azucena for Zubin Mehta. This RCA recording still brooks no rivals. Christopher Cook