Il trovatore – Opera in four acts to a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano & Leone Emanuele Bardare
Il Conte di Luna – Peter Glossop
Leonora – Gwyneth Jones
Azucena – Giulietta Simionato
Manrico – Bruno Prevedi
Ferrando – Joseph Rouleau
Inez – Elizabeth Bainbridge
Ruiz – John Dobson
Un vecchio zingaro – William Clothier
Un messo – Handel Owen
The Covent Garden Opera Chorus
The Covent Garden Orchestra
Carlo Maria Giulini
Luchino Visconti – Director
Recorded 26 November 1964 at The Royal Opera House, London
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: November 2008
CD No: ROYAL OPERA HOUSE HERITAGE SERIES ROHS011 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 7 minutes
Another welcome live Verdi under Carlo Maria Giulini, but in a work that he returned to in the recording studio, very much later in his career. It is immediately interesting to note that, like the studio recording, there is a welcome tendency not to make this an opera of blood-and-thunder moments but rather to make it a drama of several individuals played out against such a backdrop. Not for Giulini an over-boisterous approach to Verdi’s orchestral writing but rather a considered and serious attempt to really make the instrumental figures cushion the elaborate vocal lines and to match musical mood to dramatic situation.
The Orchestra was on excellent from that night, and even if the recorded sound is on the slightly dry and boxy side one does get the sense of something special emanating from the pit; the strings are warm and they tremor and soar gloriously, woodwinds scarcely less fine. Moments like the soft-string accompaniment to Manrico’s off-stage singing in the first act make their necessary impact. Indeed almost all Verdi’s use of off-stage singing – very important in this opera – comes over well. It’s a shame that the anvils do not quite get it together!
It is said that “Il trovatore” requires great singers for the four principal roles. Here we have two Italians in the roles of Manrico and Azucena, and two singers who were then very much part of Covent Garden’s roster of singers. It is often forgotten that early in her career Gwyneth Jones sang a great deal of Verdi and was justly praised for her rich voice. Her later career was dominated by the heavier Wagner, Richard Strauss and Puccini roles, parts that took their toll on her voice and which caused her singing to be the subject of much division of critical opinion. There was never any doubt about her dramatic abilities. Here she is caught at the outset of her international career, her voice revealed as warm and of generous tone, with an excellent sense of line and, perhaps most surprisingly, flexibility and a fairly supple coloratura technique.
In fact Jones was a relative latecomer to this cast as the singer originally scheduled in what was then a new production – Leontyne Price – withdrew. Jones was in Vienna recording Wellgunde for the Solti/Decca “Götterdämmerung” and had to be flown back for some fairly intensive rehearsals. The story is recounted in John Culshaw’s book “Ring Resounding”. Jones is impressive throughout and also characteristically attentive to the detail of the text – one such example being her inflection of surprise and anxiety at ‘Qual voce’ as she realises the man she has run up to in the shadows in not her lover Manrico. Given she sings the first stanza so well, it is a shame she does not get the reprise of the cabaletta of ‘Di tale amor’. Later she charts well Leonora’s predicament, and is moving in her death scene. Jones’s fans will certainly want this recording, as she set-down relatively little of her Verdi repertoire.
The other house singer was the late Peter Glossop (who died in 2008). Like Jones he reveals his dramatic sensibilities early on and creates a strong aural picture of the vengeful and cruel Count, but also manages to evince his nobility and charisma as well. His singing is wonderfully forthright and full-bodied, and in ‘Il balen’ his sense of line is very true. His Act Three encounter with Leonora (Jones) is very exciting.
Bruno Prevedi’s successful career is now largely forgotten, probably because he did not record much. This release goes some way to rectifying that. His is a stylish and unfailingly musical Manrico. The nobility of his singing adds to the sense that the character is out of place in his gypsy milieu. His tone is clean, sappy and always pleasant on the ear. True, this is not the most extrovert of Manricos and his voice perhaps lacks the metal for ‘Di quella pira’. However, one would be hard pushed to find many tenors who’d sing the role so well today.
Those hoping, given her reputation and on reading the late Alan Blyth’s booklet note (this release is dedicated to his memory), that the Azucena of Giulietta Simionato would be the performance’s crowning glory, may be disappointed. In truth she was either caught too late in her career, or was having something of an off night. Her singing, whilst always characterful and full of dramatic insight, is often wayward and she resorts to a rough and raspy chest voice alternating with a rather cackling one far too often. Her registers of the voice do not seem integrated either. Overall, as a one-off listen it sort of works, but I could not imagine returning to this aspect of this performance with much enthusiasm.
Ferrando is also an important role as it is his narration that has to grip the audience from the start. Joseph Rouleau was certainly more than capable of doing that and the men’s chorus provide sterling and support, as they do also in the scene when Azucena is identified and captured by the Count’s men. Their rather-more-passive lady colleagues make pleasant sounding nuns. Interesting to hear those Covent Garden stalwarts. Elizabeth Bainbridge and John Dobson, in roles they must have reprised in numerous revivals over the following decades!
Giulini’s later recording on Deutsche Grammophon is not that dissimilar from this one in terms of the orchestral interpretation, but his later cast was more even. Even so, this Covent Garden version, in decent enough mono sound, is certainly worth a listen. As always with this series the discs are handsomely packaged and annotation is informative (texts and translations are also included) and supplemented by evocative photographs.