Verdi: Il trovatore

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Il trovatore
PERFORMER: Luciano Pavarotti, Antonella Banaudi, Leo Nucci, Shirley Verrett; Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Chorus & Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
CATALOGUE NO: 430 694-2 DDD
The cliché that all a performance of Il trovatore needs to ensure success is four great singers may be a useful starting-point, but it’s by no means the whole story. The delicate balance between music and theatre has to be maintained as much here as in Verdi’s more perceivedly sophisticated operas, as these two reissues and one new recording testify.

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As one might expect, the Karajan is the most personal, a characteristic product of the maestro’s spacious, finely honed later (1977) manner, and on its own terms utterly convincing. The emphasis falls on the subtleties of Verdi as master musician rather than blood-and-guts dramatist and the four principals accordingly give less visceral interpretations than on their other more theatrically oriented recordings. For these drawn to exploring Verdi the composer, this mid-price reissue makes compelling listening.

The new Decca is a typically glitzy product, its principals – headed by a steely Pavarotti – adequate but hardly revelatory and let down by the wilfully idiosyncratic conducting of Zubin Mehta, at times painfully laboured, at others simply banal. At full price, this should detain only completist Trovatore freaks.

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Excellent value on mid-price Philips Duo is the 1980 Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, account, idiomatically conducted by Colin Davis and with the entire cast, led by a heroic Carreras and eloquent Ricciarelli, on fine vocal form. It slightly hangs fire dramatically – a live recording might just have provided those extra frissons of risk and excitement – but it compares favourably with more illustrious golden-age accounts.