G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 08/31/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I just finished watching a video of Trovatore from 1957 that has me
wondering why it's been so long since I've watched it. I believe this is a
television production using the RAI Milan forces (there are almost no
production notes whatsoever). Despite the grainy black and white picture,
boxy audio (which peaks out at crescendos, varies wildly at times and can
really become constricted during large ensembles), painted clouds, sets that
range from starkly stagey yet realistic to "huh?", lip-synching that for
most of the film is so good it looks as though the singers are really
singing then degenerates into hit 'n miss, and some nasty cuts, the
performances are simply astonishing. I hadn't planned on watching the
entire thing, but once in the video machine I was along for the ride.
Leyla Gencer absolutely amazes me. If this woman were singing today she
would be having productions of whatever she wanted, wherever she wanted and
cast with whomever she wanted. Verdian style, ease of vocal production, ear
ravishing mezzo voces and spot on high notes attacked with precision and
clarity that had me doing something I hate to do - rewind whole sections and
play them over and over again - so much so that the 2 hour video took me
closer to 3 hours to watch. In "Tacea la notte .." she throws in this soft,
high Db that may be one of the most beautifully produced single notes I've
(Note: I have to say, right here, that listening to Gencer today I was
struck for the very first time at how similar a sound she shares with (drum
roll, please) Renee Fleming. I'd never noticed before, but the weights of
both of their voices are very similar, they have similar sounding "chest"
(Gencer seemed to sing almost all of "Tu vedrai" in chest voice - which blew
my mind!) - and just the sheer sound of their voices has an uncanny
similarity. I'd never once thought of Fleming as a Leonore, but now I'm
wondering ... )
Mario Del Monaco is thrilling both in sound and looks, his acting right on
the mark for Manrico. His high note (C?) at the end of "Di Geloso amor" is
not nice and sounds like it's tagged on, and maybe not even his (though I
doubt that). All of his other high notes are definitely THERE and I was
particularly affected by his ensemble work (who said he always had to show
off? He's definitely a team player in this show). The "Pira" (down a tone)
has all the ping one could want. He's just terrific. (Okay, admittedly, in
Act IV Mario definitely goes over the top, all flashing dramatic eyes and
Bela Lugosi poses, but I don't think these are out of place because they
seem to come genuinely from him.)
Although not one of my absolute favorite singers, Ettore Bastianini is
commanding, and in excellent voice as DiLuna and a great foil to Del
Plinio Clabassi opens the film with a fairly rousing "Abbietta zingara" and
the men's chorus act and sing nobly.
There are touches of humour in the direction (notably in the Anvil Chorus)
both intentional and seemingly unintentional (a gypsy who's mock anvil
striking can't help but provoke a grin).
Fedora Barbieri (the most unfortunate victim of the wardrobe mistress),
despite her protestations in a recent Opera News article, uses chest voice
and does so splendidly (I think she likes to call it something else, but
it's chest to me). But her Azucena has so much beauty throughout. One of
her most beautiful moments comes in that little trio toward the end: Gencer
sustaining a lower note, Del Monaco "buffing" the middle and Barbieri enters
ravishingly, on a higher sustained note returning to her "Ai nostri monti."
It is the magic of Verdi right there and it is the magic of singers who know
what to do with this ravishing stuff.
Any director worth his salt should look at this and realize that "concept"
is irrelevant, unnecessary and can stand directly in the way of telling a
story. The power of the music and singers who know how to react to it and
eachother, are more than enough. The drama came through in spades here,
despite the deficiencies of great visuals or expertly engineered sound.
Many moments I jumped up to my feet, cheering at the screen. The ending,
for once, felt as brutal and stomach churning as Verdi must have intended it
to. Oh, to experience a Trovatore like this in a house just once!
Grainy black and white picture, poor lip-synching, still fiv
Toni Bernhard | Davis, CA United States | 10/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When Italy began broadcast television in the late 1950's, it was natural that producers would turn to opera. This is one of several titles now available on DVD (others include Lucia di Lammermoor and Don Pasquale). It's in black and white. The picture is grainy. The sets and costumes look artificial. The lip-synching is poor. Even the subtitles are full of misspellings. But for me, it's five stars anyway because the four leads give five star performances. To heck with the rest!
Leyla Gencer brings out the lyric beauty of the arias composed by Verdi for Leonora. She sings them at a slower pace than usual, but that only showcases the elegance of an aria such as "Tacea la notte." She then takes the quick-paced cabaletta that follows and performs it in a light and dreamy mood as opposed to the usual desperate rush we're used to. Truly unique.
In Act IV, the ethereal quality that she brings to "D'amor sull'ali rosee," makes her heartbreak just that much sadder for us watch. It's one of the most beautiful renditions of the aria that I've heard; the way she floats those high notes is just stunning. It's only in the "Miserere" that her desperation begins to show, making it understandable why she would poison herself.
Mario Del Monaco's deep tenor voice is stronger and louder than we're used to modernly. Combine the sheer power of his voice with his old-fashioned dashing and heroic interpretation of Manrico, and it's a performance to treasure. I love how he savors every note of the tender and slow "Ah! si, ben mio" instead of rushing through it to get to famous battle cry, "Di quella pira."
Fedora Barbieri has a powerful mezzo voice with great range from low to high. But along with its power, her voice possesses a beautiful flow that is associated more often with sopranos. She moves flawlessly from crazed to loving mother. I'd heard her Azucena on CD (it's one of her signature roles), so it's a great treat to see her on DVD.
Ettore Bastianni has a beautiful burnished baritone voice - almost a bass baritone - yet he is at home in the higher notes too. He emphasizes the human side of Di Luna, managing to make him a sympathetic character. This is helped by his superb rendition of "Il balen." His success in drawing our sympathy in this aria is due in large part to the pure beauty of his voice.
Take these four superb solo voices, put them together in Verdi's ensemble piece, and the resulting duets and trios are riveting. The Manrico, Leonora, Di Luna trios that end Acts I and II really rock. (Sorry, but I think of them as rock and roll trios because of their driving rhythms; I can hardly sit still through them.) The Act IV duet between Leonora and Di Luna builds to a lightening-fast pace, their voices blending beautifully as her desperation turns to a kind of otherworldly ecstasy as she believes that, by sacrificing her own life, she has saved Manrico. It's thrilling to watch. The icing on the cake is the short Manrico, Leonora, Azucena trio just before the opera ends. The soprano Gencer takes the low note, the mezzo Barbieri takes the high note, the tenor takes the middle, and we are transported musically to that heightened place to which only opera can take us.
If you love Il Trovatore as I do, don't miss this DVD."