Les vêpres siciliennes was Verdi’s first French ‘grande opéra’, which, after much insistence by the Paris Opera, he composed on a libretto by Eugene Scribe and Charles Duyverier. It is one of his longest operas, thanks in part to the lengthy ballet in the third act, which was compulsory for the Paris of the time (no less than half an hour!).
Renata Scotto, ‘la mia Divina Assoluta’, was born on 24 February 1934 in Savona. She made her opera debut at the age of eighteen as Violetta (La Traviata). Her ‘official’ debut was the next day in Milan. Shortly afterwards, she sang Madama Butterfly in Savona.
Because there was no chance to hear her in the Netherlands, I travelled with a few friends, they were also great fans, to Paris, where she gave a recital. It was sold out and I really only remember the huge queue in front of her dressing room: people wanted her autograph, they came with flowers, chocolates, gifts…. I had never seen anything like that in the Netherlands.
But the day finally came and she sang in Amsterdam! On 19 October 1996 she performed in the Netherlands for the first time since 1963. During the Amsterdam Saturday Matinee she sang before the interval Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et la mer and after the interval Poulenc’s La voix humaine. She made a real performance out of it: there was a table with a telephone on it, and with the telephone cord she strangled herself at the end. Those who were there will never forget it.
This recording comes from Barcelona 1996:
During her long career, Scotto performed in operas written by 18 composers and her repertoire included some forty-five roles. And then there are the studio recordings. I cannot possibly discuss everything, so I will restrict myself to a few recordings.
The order is random.
In 1953 she auditioned at La Scala for the role of Walter in Catalani’s La Wally with Renata Tebaldi and Mario del Monaco, amongst others. Giulini was to conduct. It is told that afterwards Victor de Sabata, one of the jury members, said: “Forget about the rest.”
La Wally premiered on December 7, 1953, and Scotto happily accepted fifteen curtain calls. Tebaldi and del Monaco got seven each.
In Edinburgh, Milan’s La Scala staged Luchino Visconti’s production of La sonnambula, with Maria Callas as Amina. The production had been so successful that La Scala had decided to add another performance. But Callas was tired, and besides, she wanted to go to the party that Elsa Maxwell was giving for her in Venice. So she told the Scala people that she would definitely not be singing this. Nevertheless, La Scala announced the extra performance with Callas. And Callas refused. With only two days’ notice, Scotto took over the role of Amina and replaced Callas on 3 September 1957. The performance was a great success, and the 23-year-old Scotto became an international opera star overnight.
This recording with Alfredo Kraus is from 1961:
My all-time favourite is a Ricordi recording from 1960 (now Sony 74321 68779 2), with Ettore Bastianini in the lead. Renata Scotto sings a girlishly naive Gilda, who is transformed into a mature woman through her love for the wrong man. She understands better than anyone that the whole business of revenge can lead nowhere and she sacrifices herself to stop all the bloodshed and hatred.
Bastianini and Scotto in the finale:
Renata Scotto has (or should I say had?) something that few other singers possessed: a perfect technique that enabled her to sprinkle her coloraturas like it was nothing at all. Her high notes sounded a bit steely but they were undeniably flawless. She possessed the gift of acting with her voice (and not only with her voice!), and because of her perfect articulation you could not only literally follow what she was singing, but also really understand it.
Her perhaps most beautiful (there are several recordings) Violetta she recorded in 1963 (DG 4350562), under the very exciting direction of Antonino Votto. Alfredo is sung by the sweet-voiced Gianni Raimondi, and Ettore Bastianini is a warm, indeed fatherly, Giorgio Germont.
And don’t think that in the old days, when everything was done by the book, the performances were static and boring! In 1973, La Scala was on tour in Japan, and there, in Tokyo, a legendary performance of La Traviata was recorded (VAI 4434).
The leading roles were played by the then still ‘curvy’ Scotto and 27-year-old (!) José Carreras. DVD does not mention the name of the director, perhaps there was none, and the singers (and the conductor) did it all themselves? Anyway, the result is really beautiful, moving and to the point. I am not going to say any more about it, because this recording is an absolute must for every opera lover.
Finale of the opera:
To the younger generation I would especially recommend the DVD with Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi and Giuseppe Taddei (Hardy Classic Video HCD 4014). It is not only the beautiful voices of the past that impress (Scotto, Bergonzi, Taddei – who can still sing like them?), the eye is also given a lot to enjoy.
Do not think that they just enter the stage, sing an aria facing the audience and then take a bow. It is theatre pur sang and a better acting singer than Scotto has yet to be born.
Renata Scotto sings ‘Prendi, per me sei libero’:
I can be very brief about this: there is no better Liu. Renata Scotto is a very fragile and moving Liu, which is in stark contrast to Corelli’s macho and seductive Calaf and Birgit Nilsson’s chilling Turandot.
For me an absolute ‘numero uno’ is the 1966 recording by EMI (now Warner 0190295735913) under Sir John Barbirolli. One might imagine a more lyrical or alternatively a more dramatic Cio Cio San; one with less metal in her voice or maybe one with a more childlike voice. But no other singer was able to grasp the complex nature of the girl so well and to characterise her change from a naive child into an adult woman, broken by immense grief, so impressively
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
Renata Scotto never recorded the role in the studio. However, there are several pirate recordings of her in circulation, with Luciano Pavaratti, Alfredo Kraus, Carlo Bergonzi and Gianni Raimondi as Edgardo.
Of these four, the recording with Raimondi is dearest to me, not least because of the very energetic and dramatically balanced direction by Claudio Abbado. It was recorded at La Scala in December 1967 and it once appeared on Nuova Era (013.6320/21). Unfortunately, that recording is very difficult to obtain, but those who search….
Scotto’s interpretation of the tormented heroine is available on DVD (VAI 4418). The production was recorded in Tokyo in 1967. It circulated for years on pirate video, but since the sound and picture quality was particularly poor, the commercial release has made many opera lovers very happy. The sound is a little sharp, making Scotto’s high notes sound even more metallic than usual, but who cares?
Her interpretation is both vocally and scenically of an unprecedented high level. With a childishly surprised expression (my brother does this to me?) on her face, she agrees, albeit not without grumbling, to the forced marriage with Arturo (an Angelo Marchiandi who is hideous in every way).
Below, Scotto sings ‘Il dolce suono’. Try to follow her example!
History was made with La Bohème from the Met in 1977 (DG 0734025): it was the very first direct transmission from the New York opera house on TV. The production was in the hands of Pier Luigi Pizzi, who at that time was not yet obsessed with excessive ballets and the colour red.
Although I was never a big fan of Pavarotti, I cannot deny that he produces a fresh sound here and that his high notes stand like a house. Acting was never his cup of tea, but here he does his best.
It becomes really exciting when Mimì enters: in 1977, Renata Scotto was at her unprecedented peak. She spins the most beautiful pianissimi and her legato and mezza voce are so beautiful they make you want to cry. The rest of the cast is no more than adequate, but the young James Levine conducts as if his life depended on it!
Scotto sings ‘Si mi chiamano Mimì’:
Musetta was not really a role with which we associate Scotto. Neither did she herself, but she accepted the challenge with both hands. In the Zefirelli Met production of 1982, she sang a Musetta to die for. Alongside the very moving José Carreras and Teresa Stratas, she was the undisputed star of this recording (DG 073 4539 9).
Scotto as Musetta:
In 1979, Renata Scotto sang her first Luisa at the Metropolitan Opera and she did so with her usual devotion. But before she could start her first big aria, a ‘joker’ caused a scandal by shouting ‘brava Maria Callas’ at the top of his lungs.
Sherrill Milnes, here in the guise of Luisa’s father, took the emotional Scotto in his arms and so saved her concentration. And the performance. And the day.
All this was broadcast live on TV and thus it ended up on the pirate videos in circulation. I had been cherishing mine for years, and now the performance has been released on DVD by Deutsche Grammophon, with the necessary cuts, including that famous incident. A pity, but after all it is not about the incidents but about the opera and the performance. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
In the video below, the main actors (Scotto, Domingo, Milnes and Levine) discuss Verdi’s opera and the 1979 production:
My favourite CD recording was recorded by RCA (GD 82046) in 1976. The cast is delightful: Renata Scotto sings Maddalena, Plácido Domingo Cheniér, Sherrill Milnes is Gérard, and in the minor roles we hear Jean Kraft, Maria Ewing, Michel Sénéchal and Gwendolyn Killebrew, among others. James Levine, who conducts the National Philharmonic Orchestra, understands exactly what the opera is about. It is so beautiful that it will make you cry.
Scotto sings ‘La Mamma morta’:
Here I can be very brief: buy the Menotti production with Renata Scotto and Plácido Domingo from the Metropolitan Opera (1980) and you are set for life. There is no other production that even comes close to it and I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. Scotto sings and acts Manon as no other has done before and together with Domingo she provides us with an evening of old-fashioned weeping. Menotti’s very realistic, true to life and oh so exciting production simply could not be any better. (DG 0734241)
In November 1981, Scotto sang all three heroines at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with Levine conducting. Once a pirate released it in its entirety and it was briefly on YouTune. Too briefly, unfortunately. It is possible, however, to find fragments of all three.
On CD, the recording under Maazel from 1977 is my first choice. Certainly because of Scotto’s Angelica, nobody comes close to that. Add to that Marylin Horne as her evil aunt and the young Cotrubas as the quick-witted sister Genovieffa. In Il Tabarro, too, it is Scotto who demands all the attention as Giorgetta, helped along by a very macho Domingo and Ingvar Wixell in one of his best roles.
But don’t forget La Gioconda from San Francisco 1979! For her interpretation of the role, Scotto received an Emmy award. It also meant a violent quarrel with Luciano Pavarotti, whom she did not even mention by name in her autobiography “More than a diva”. He became “A certain tenor”.
FRANCESCA DA RIMINI
And no one should miss Francesca da Rimini by Zandonai from the MET:
Renata Scotto, ‘la mia Divina Assoluta’ werd geboren op 24 februari 1934 in Savona. Haar operadebuut maakte zij op haar achttiende als Violetta (La Traviata). Haar ‘officiële’ debuut was de volgende dag in in Milaan. Kort daarna zong zij in Savona Madama Butterfly.
Omdat er geen kans bestond om haar in Nederland te horen ben ik met een paar vrienden die ook fan waren naar Parijs gereisd, waar ze een recital gaf. Het was uitverkocht en ik herinner mij eigenlijk alleen maar de enorme rij voor haar kleedkamer: men wilde haar handtekening, men kwam met bloemen, bonbons, cadeaus…. Zoiets had ik in Nederlend nooit eerder gezien.
Maar er kwam een dag dat zij ook in Amsterdam mocht zingen! Op 19 oktober 1996 trad ze voor het eerst sinds 1963 in Nederland op. Tijdens de Amsterdamse ZaterdagMatinee zong zij voor de pauze Ravel (Pavane pour une infante défunte) en Chausson (Poème de l’amour et la mer) en na de pauze Poulencs La voix humaine. Zij heeft er een echte voorstelling van gemaakt: er was een tafel met de telefoon er op, en met de telefoonsnoer heeft ze zich aan het eind gewurgd. Wie er bij was zal het ooit vergeten.
Gedurende haar lange carrière trad Scotto op in opera’s geschreven door 18 componisten en haar repertoire omvatte zo’n vijfenveertig rollen. En daar komen nog studio-opnamen er bij. Ik kan onmogelijk alles bespreken vandaar dat ik mij maar tot een paar opnamen beperk. Wellicht kom ik er nog op terug?
De volgorde is willekeurig
In 1953 deed zij auditie in La Scala voor de rol van Walter in Catalani’s La Wally met o.a. Renata Tebaldi en Mario del Monaco. Giulini zou dirigeren. Er wordt verteld dat hierna Victor de Sabata, één van de juryleden, zou zeggen: ” “Forget about the rest.”
La Wally ging in première op 7 december 1953, en Scotto werd teruggeroepen door vijftien keer het doek op te halen. Tebaldi en del Monaco kregen er elk zeven.
In Edinburgh heeft de Milanese La Scala Luchino Visconti’s productie van La sonnambula opgevoerd, met Maria Callas als Amina. De productie was zo succesvol geweest dat La Scala had besloten nog een voorstelling toe te voegen. Maar Callas was moe, bovendien wilde zij graag naar het feest dat Elsa Maxwell voor haar gaf in Venetië. Dus vertelde zij de Scala-mensen dat ze de extra voorstelling beslist niet zal zingen voor de extra voorstelling. Desondanks heeft La Scala de extra voorstelling met Callas aangekondigd. Callas weigerde. Met een opzegtermijn van twee dagen, nam Scotto de rol van Amina over en verving haar op 3 september 1957. De voorstelling was een groot succes, en de 23-jarige Scotto werd een internationale operaster.
Deze opname met Alfredo Kraus is uit 1961
Mijn grootste favoriet aller tijden is een Ricordi opname uit 1960 (tegenwoordig Sony 74321 68779 2), met Ettore Bastianini in de hoofdrol. Renata Scotto zingt een meisjesachtig naïeve Gilda, die uit liefde voor de verkeerde man omgetoverd wordt in een volwassen vrouw. Als geen ander snapt ze, dat het hele gedoe met wraak nergens toe kan leiden en offert zichzelf op, om al dat bloedvergieten en haat te stoppen.
Bastianini en Scotto in de finale:
Renata Scotto heeft (of moet ik zeggen: had?) iets wat weinig andere zangeressen bezaten: een perfecte techniek die haar in staat stelde om met coloraturen te strooien alsof het niets was. Haar hoge noten klonken weliswaar een beetje staalachtig maar waren ontegenzeggelijk loepzuiver. Zij bezat de gave om met haar stem (en niet alleen maar met haar stem!) te acteren, en door haar perfecte articulatie kon je niet alleen letterlijk volgen wat ze zingt, maar het ook begrijpen.
Haar wellicht mooiste (er bestaan meerdere opnames met haar) Violetta nam ze in 1963 op (DG 4350562), onder de zeer spannende leiding van Antonino Votto. Alfredo wordt er gezongen door de zoetgevooisde Gianni Raimondi, en Ettore Bastianini is een warme, inderdaad vaderlijke, Giorgio Germont.
En denk maar niet dat de voorstellingen vroeger, toen alles nog volgens het boekje gebeurde, statisch en saai waren! In 1973 was La Scala op tournee in Japan, en daar, in Tokyo, werd een legendarische voorstelling van La Traviata opgenomen (VAI 4434).
De hoofdrollen werden vertolkt door de toen nog ‘volslanke’ Scotto en de 27-jarige (!) José Carreras. DVD vermeldt geen naam van de regisseur, wellicht was er ook geen, en de zangers (en de dirigent) hebben het allemaal zelf gedaan? Hoe dan ook, het resultaat is werkelijk prachtig, ontroerend en to the point. Ik ga er verder niets meer over vertellen, want deze opname is een absolute must voor iedere operaliefhebber.
Finale van de opera:
De dvd met Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi en Giuseppe Taddei (Hardy Classic Video HCD 4014) wil ik speciaal de jongere generatie aanbevelen. Het zijn niet alleen de prachtige stemmen van weleer die imponeren (Scotto, Bergonzi, Taddei – wie zingt ze dit nog na?), het oog krijgt ook het een en ander om te genieten.
Denk maar niet dat ze het toneel opkomen, hun aria met het gezicht naar het publiek zingen en buigen, want dan komt u bedrogen uit. Het is theater pur sang en een beter acterende zangeres dan Scotto moet nog geboren worden.
Renata Scotto zingt ‘Prendi, per me sei libero’:
Hier kan ik heel erg kort over zijn: betere Liu bestaat niet. Renata Scotto is een zeer broze en ontroerende Liu wat in een schitterent contrast staat met de zee macho en verleidelijke Calaf van Corelli en ijzingwekkende Turandot van Birgit Nilsson
Voor mij een absolute ‘numero uno’ is de in 1966 bij EMI (tegenwoordig Warner 0190295735913) verschenen opname onder Sir John Barbirolli. Je kan je een lyrischer of juist een meer dramatische Cio Cio San indenken; eentje met minder metaal in haar stem of eentje met kinderlijker stem. Maar geen andere zangeres wist zo het complexe wezen van het meisje te doorgronden en haar verandering van een naïef kind in een volwassen, door immens verdriet gebroken vrouw zo te karakteriseren
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR
Renata Scotto heeft de rol nooit in de studio vastgelegd. Er zijn wel verschillende piratenopnames met haar in omloop, met als Edgardo onder anderen Luciano Pavaratti, Alfredo Kraus, Carlo Bergonzi en Gianni Raimondi.
Van die vier is de opname met Raimondi me het dierbaarst, niet in de laatste plaats vanwege de zeer energieke en dramatisch evenwichtige directie van Claudio Abbado. Het werd opgenomen in La Scala in december 1967 en is ooit op Nuova Era (013.6320/21) verschenen. Helaas is die opname zeer moeilijk verkrijgbaar, maar wie zoekt….
Scotto’s interpretatie van de gekwelde heldin is wel op dvd beschikbaar (VAI 4418). De productie is in 1967 in Tokio opgenomen. Het circuleerde jarenlang op piratenvideo, maar aangezien de geluids- en beeldkwaliteit bijzonder matig was, zijn er met de commerciële uitgave heel veel operaliefhebbers bijzonder blij gemaakt. Het geluid is een beetje scherp, waardoor Scotto’s hoge noten nog metaliger klinken dan normaal, maar: who cares?
Haar interpretatie is zowel zangtechnisch als scenisch van een ongekend hoog niveau. Met een kinderlijk verbaasde uitdrukking (mijn broer doet het mij aan?) op haar gezicht stemt ze in, al is het niet zonder morren, met het gedwongen huwelijk met Arturo (een in alle opzichten afgrijselijke Angelo Marchiandi).
Hieronder Scotto zingt ‘Il dolce suono’. Doe het haar na!
Met La Bohème uit de Met 1977 (DG 0734025) werd er geschiedenis geschreven: het was de allereerste rechtstreekse transmissie uit het Newyorkse operahuis op TV. De productie was in handen van Pier Luigi Pizzi, die toen nog niet geobsedeerd was door overmaat aan ballet en de kleur rood.
Hoewel ik nooit een groot fan van Pavarotti was, kan ik niet ontkennen dat hij hier een fris geluid produceert en dat zijn hoge noten staan als een huis. Acteren was nooit zijn ‘cup of tea’, maar hier doet hij zijn best.
Echt spannend wordt het bij de binnenkomst van Mimì: in 1977 was Renata Scotto op haar ongekende hoogtepunt. Zij spint de mooiste pianissimi en haar legato en mezza voce zijn om te huilen zo mooi. De rest van de cast is niet meer dan adequaat, maar de jonge James Levine dirigeert alsof zijn leven ervan afhangt!
Scotto zingt ‘Si mi chiamano Mimì’
Musetta was niet echt een rol waar we Scotto mee associëren. Zij zelf eigenlijk ook niet, maar ze nam de uitdaging met beide handen aan. In de Zefirelli Met-productie uit 1982 zong zij een Musetta uit duizenden. Naast de zeer ontroerende José Carreras en Teresa Stratas was zij de onbetwiste ster van deze opname (DG 073 4539 9)
Scotto als Musetta:
In 1979 zong Renata Scotto bij de Metropolitan Opera haar eerste Luisa en ze deed dat met de voor haar gebruikelijke toewijding. Maar voordat ze aan haar eerste grote aria kon beginnen, zorgde een ‘grapjas’ voor een schandaal door keihard ‘brava Maria Callas’ te roepen.
Sherrill Milnes, hier in de gedaante van Luisa’s vader, nam de door emoties bevangen Scotto in zijn armen en redde zo haar concentratie. En de voorstelling
Dat alles was live op tv uitgezonden en zo kwam het op de in omloop zijnde piratenvideo’s terecht. De mijne koesterde ik al jaren, en inmiddels is de voorstelling door Deutsche Grammophon op dvd uitgebracht, met de nodige cuts, waaronder dat beroemde incident. Jammer, maar het gaat tenslotte niet om de incidenten maar om de opera en de uitvoering. En daar is dus helemaal niets mis mee.
In het filmpje hieronder bespreken de hoofdrolspelers (Scotto, Domingo, Milnes en Levine) de opera van Verdi en de productie van 1979:
Mijn dierbaarste cd-opname is in 1976 door RCA (GD 82046) vastgelegd. De cast is om te likkebaarden: Renata Scotto zingt Maddalena, Sherrill Milnes is Gérard en in de kleine rollen horen we o.a. Jean Kraft, Maria Ewing, Michel Sénéchal en Gwendolyn Killebrew. James Levine, die het National Philharmonic Orchestra dirigeert, snapt precies waar het in de opera over gaat. Om te huilen zo mooi.
Scotto zingt ‘La Mamma morta’:
Hier kan ik heel kort zijn: schaf de Menotti productie met Renata Scotto en Plácido Domingo uit de Metropolitan Opera (1980) aan en dan bent u voor uw verdere leven klaar. Er bestaat geen andere productie die daar zelfs in de buurt kan komen en ik verwacht niet dat het binnenkort gaat gebeuren. Scotto zingt en acteert Manon zoals geen ander eerder heeft gedaan en met Domingo samen zorgt zij voor een avondje ouderwets janken. De zeer realistische, natuurgetrouwe en o zo spannende productie van Menotti kan gewoon niet mooier. (DG 0734241)
In november 1981 heeft Scotto alle drie de heldinnen gezongen in de Metroolitam Opera in New York, Levine dirigeerde. Ooit heeft een piraat het in zijn geheel uitgebracht en het stond kortstondig op YouTune. Helaas. Wel kunnen we fragmenten van alle drie vinden..
Op cd is de opname onder Maazel uit 1977mijn eerste keus. Zeker vanwege Angelica van Scotto, daar komt gewoon niemand bij in de buurt. Tel daarbij Marylin Horne als haar kwaadaardige tante en de jonge Cotrubas als de spring in het veld zuster Genovieffa. Ook in Il Tabarro is het Scotto die alle aandacht opeist als Giorgetta, daarbij goed geholpen door de zeer macho Domingo en Ingvar Wixell in één van zijn beste rollen..
Maar vergeet ook La Gioconda uit San Francisco 1979 niet! Voor haar interpretatie van de=ie rol heeft Scotto Emmy award gekregen. Het betekende ook een heftige ruzie met Luciano Pavarotti, die zij in haar autobiografie “More then a diva” niet eens bij de naam noemde. Hij werd “A certain tenor”. Het kwam allemaal goed.
FRANCESCA DA RIMINI
Wat niemand ook mag missen is Francesca da Rimini van Zandonai uit de MET
Why do we love Manon so very much? She is not really virtuous. She leaves the love of her life for an old rich man, but as soon as she gets bored, she allows her young lover to come back to her. She is willing to run away with him, but not without her jewels. A child can see that it cannot end well.
Once caught, Manon is taken prisoner and exiled to America, where she dies in the arms of her lover. The poor soul refused to leave her. Talk about real love!
It is thanks to Puccini, who captured her character in the most beautiful notes, that she never becomes one-dimensional and you must be made of stone if you do not love her.
The role of Manon was created in 1893 at the Teatro Reggio in Turin by Cesira Ferrari, an Italian soprano who made her debut as Micaëla in Carmen and three years later sang the first Mimì in La bohème. Perhaps here is an indication of the type of voice that Puccini had in mind for his Manon?
How many good Manons are there nowadays? Not many, I think. The role makes very high demands on the performer. It requires a voice that can combine the childishly naive sex appeal of the silly girl in the first three acts with the real tragédienne in act four.
But Des Grieux, too, is a role that is not easy to fill. The man himself may be a sissy, but Puccini has written such violent notes for him, challenging him with such utterly emotional outbursts, that the singer must be a would-be Calaf to survive the opera with his voice intact.
There is no doubt about it: Magda Olivero was the very best Manon Lescaut of the second half of the twentieth century. In 1970, when she was 60 (!) years old, she sang the role in Verona with the not yet 30-year-old Domingo at her side. Quite bizarre when you consider that Olivero made her professional debut eight years before Domingo was born. And yet her portrayal of the young heroine was utterly convincing. Most of her colleagues could not (and cannot) match her performance!
The role of Des Grieux was a role that could have been written for Domingo. As Renato, he was able to combine all his charm, his sehnsucht and his boyishness (something he has managed to retain to an advanced age) with a cannon-like voice. My copy was released on Foyer (2-CF 2033), but nowadays there are more releases in better sound quality and the recording can also be found on You Tube.
Two years later, Olivero sang the role in Caracas. The performance of 2 June 1972 was recorded by Legato Classics (LCD-113-2). The sound quality is reasonably good, but what makes the recording really desirable is Des Grieux by the then 60-year-old Richard Tucker. So yearning, so in love, so beautiful…. Sigh. Yes, folks: once upon a time, opera was made by voices, not by beautiful bodies!
Duet from the fourth act:
Manon was sung in Verona in 1970 not by Magda Olivero alone, but also by Raina Kabaivanska, with the same cast and the same conductor. The recording is very poor and therefore only for the diehards among us, but if you have a chance to listen to it: please do! Between Kabaivanska, who is still extremely underrated, and the young Domingo, a chemistry can be heard that, despite the poor sound quality, comes across really well.
The duet from II Tu, tu, Amore? tu?
As a bonus, you get fragments from 1953 of the live performance in Mexico, with Mario del Monaco and Clara Petrella. Not bad at all! (GAO 162/63)
In 1991, the Maltese Gauci was not exactly an unknown, but her great career only took off with her role as Manon Lescaut at the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp. The opera was the first in the Puccini cycle, created by the then fledgling Canadian director Robert Carsen. Those who were present will never forget it. Because of the magnificent production, of course, but also because of Gauci’s scorching performance.
In 1992, Gauci recorded the role for Naxos (8660019-20), with Bulgarian tenor Kaludi Kaludov at her side as a very lyrical sounding Des Grieux. His “Donna non vidi mai” is very passionate, but at the same time kept within the boundaries of lyricism. To fall in love with, so beautiful. Alexander Rahbari’s direction is very intense, but also lacks many nuances. A real must because of Gauci and Kaludov.
Highlights are on Spotify:
I can be very brief about the offers on DVD: buy the Menotti production with Renata Scotto and Plácido Domingo from the Metropolitan Opera (1980) and you are set for life. There is no other production that comes even close to it and I do not expect that event to happen any time soon. The compulsiveness with which many contemporary directors want to update everything can only kill the opera. Such was the case with Mariusz Trelinski’s production in Brussels a few years ago, with Eva-Maria Westbroek and Brandon Jovanovich. And this was also the case with the latest production from the MET, directed by Richard Eyre, with Kristine Opolais and Roberto Alagna in the leading roles.
Scotto sings and acts Manon like no one else has done before, and together with Domingo she provides us with a lovely evening filled with a whole lot of old-fashioned crying. Menotti’s very realistic, true-to-nature and oh-so-exciting production could not be any better.
It is quite unique (DG 0734241).
THE VERY FIRST MANON
Back to the very first Manon. What did she sound like? There is a recording by Cesira Ferrari of “In quelle trine morbide”, made in 1905. It is on a double CD by Standing Room Only (SRO-818-2) with the title “Creators Records”. What you hear is a light, almost soubrette-like voice, but with dark undertones. And with a lot of body. You could say it’s a bit of a big-boned Lolita.
Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas and Beverly Sills
Lucia di Lammermoor has always been, perhaps even more than Norma, a point of contention between the supporters of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. The performances of both ladies are indeed fantastic and, moreover, totally different. Which of the two should you own? That is not easy. A matter of taste, shall we say?
Joan Sutherland is unprecedentedly virtuoso and her coloraturas so perfect that they hurt. And yet I remain untouched by her. Why? Perhaps because it is too perfect? I do not know. It could just be me.
Whatever you choose, you really can’t do without at least one Callas. Try Naxos (8110131-32) with Giuseppe di Stefano and Titto Gobbi, under Tulio Serafin, for although Francesco Tagliavini (Warner Classics 2564634081) is a much better Edgardo, the rest of the cast (including Callas herself!) is much stronger here.
Personally, I prefer Beverly Sills (Westminster 4712502), especially when it is a choice between studio recordings. Her portrayal unites the best of both divas: the virtuosity, vocal beauty and pure intonation of la Stupenda and the great acting of la Divina. Not really a great tragédienne (but then, neither is Lucia); she is more like a passive girl child who allows herself to be completely overwhelmed. The rest of the cast (Carlo Bergonzi, Piero Cappuccilli, Justino Diaz) is also at a very high level and Thomas Schippers conducts it all with a firm hand . But what makes this recording really special is the use of a glass harmonica in the mad scene, exactly as Donizetti had originally prescribed it.
My most beloved Lucia, Renata Scotto, never recorded the role in the studio. There are, however, several pirate recordings of her in circulation, with Luciano Pavaratti, Alfredo Kraus, Carlo Bergonzi and Gianni Raimondi as Edgardo.
Of these four, the recording with Raimondi is dearest to me, not least because of the very energetic and dramatically balanced direction by Claudio Abbado. It was recorded at La Scala in December 1967 and it appeared on Nuova Era (013.6320/21). Unfortunately, this recording is very hard to find.
Below Gianni Raimondi and Giangiacomo Guelfi (Enrico) in ‘Orrida è questa notte…
Scotto’s interpretation of the tormented heroine is available on DVD (VAI 4418). The production was recorded in Tokyo in 1967. It circulated for years on pirate video, but as the sound and picture quality were particularly poor, the commercial release has made many opera lovers very happy. The sound is a little sharp, making Scotto’s high notes sound even more metallic than usual, but who cares? ‘
Her interpretation is both vocally and scenically at an unprecedented high level. With a childishly surprised expression (my brother does this to me?) on her face, she agrees, albeit not without grumbling, to the forced marriage with Arturo (an Angelo Marchiandi who is hideous in every way).
Below, Scotto sings ‘Il dolce suono’. Who could do it better?!
After her mad scene, you tend to pull the plug, because everything that comes after it can only feel like a cold shower. But you are wrong about that. Edgardo’s two arias, sung by Carlo Bergonzi, will take you straight to (singer’s) heaven.
Afterwards, you can’t help but be a little sad, because where have they gone, yesterday’s singers? Small, tall, fat, skinny, with or without acting talent… None of them was a ballet dancer, but could they sing! And it was through their voices alone that they were able to convey all of the feelings that now require a whole ‘artistic team’. In spite of the cuts that were common at the time, this is an absolute must.
Below, Bergonzi sings ‘Fra poco a me ricovero’
Patritia Ciofi (French version)
In 1839, Donizetti adapted his opera for Paris and Lucia became Lucie. It is not the language alone that distinguishes between the two versions, for Donizetti tinkered considerably with both the libretto and the music. Alisa (Lucia’s lady-in-waiting) was cut out of the opera and our heroine remains the only woman in an otherwise purely male company, which makes her even more lonely and vulnerable.
Normanno is now called Gilbert and his role has been considerably expanded. His false play and manipulations make him into a key figure and he grows to almost Iago-like proportions. Arturo has also become more three-dimensional as Henri. And although I miss ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ and scenes between Lucia and Raimondo, I must admit that the French version is dramatically much better.
In this recording (once TDK, hopefully still available), Patrizia Ciofi is nothing less than phenomenal as a rather neurotic Lucie, Ludovic Tézier is superb as a villainous Henri and Roberto Alagna is in his element as Edgar. It was (at the time) one of his best roles.
The director duo Patrick Courier/Moshe Leiser rarely disappoint. Their productions are always realistic, embedded in a historical perspective, but with enough of a nod to the present. Moreover, they do what directors are supposed to do: provide a good mise-en-scène and guide the singers in their performance as to appear convincing.
THREE LUCIAS OF RECENT TIMES
Deutsche Grammophon released the Live in HD broadcast of Lucia di Lammermoor by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2009 on DVD and Blu-Ray (DG 0734545). Anna Netrebko sang the main role. I never really thought Lucia suited her. Moreover, at that time she was more concerned with showing off than with the soul- searchings of the tragic heroine she portrayed.
Piotr Beczala is, as always, a fantastic Edgardo, but all the other singers are fine too. All have an individual timbre, so that in the very homogeneously sung sextet you can also recognise the individual voices.
Valery Gergiev conducts energetically and really speeds up the orchestra, which sometimes results in breakneck tempi. On the other hand he actually stretches out the ‘mad scene’ (with glass harmonica, bravo!)
Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky Theatre put its own Lucia di Lammermoor on CD (MARO 512). Natalie Dessay is a gifted artist. She has a beautiful voice of unprecedented height, with which she sings the most difficult coloraturas and fiorituras as if it were nothing. She is also beautiful and can act incredibly well; it is always a pleasure to see her in action.
However, her voice, which is not so big, has its limitations. Scenically, she knows how to hide these through her superb acting, but without visual images, things can go wrong. Which you can hear on this live recording from 2010. Her coloraturas are perfect but empty; they have no substance. This Lucia does go mad but we do not know why. But once she is crazy, she totally makes our heads spin.
Piotr Beczala is, as always, a fantastic Edgardo, but all the other singers are fine too. All have an individual timbre, so that in the very homogeneously sung sextet you can also recognise the individual voices.
Valery Gergiev conducts energetically and really speeds up the orchestra, which sometimes results in breakneck tempi. On the other hand he actually stretches out the ‘mad scene’ (with glass harmonica, bravo!).
Diana Damrau, one of the world’s best and most famous sopranos, seems to be perfect for the role of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor. She sang the part already in 2008 at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Five years later, she delighted audiences in her home town of Munich with her interpretation. The concertante performances were recorded live by Erato, but I am sadly disappointed with the result.
Not that there is anything wrong with Damrau’s coloraturas. They are still impeccable, but to my ears they are empty, without any real substance. In her mad scene, she looks more like the mechanical puppet Olympia from Les contes d’Hoffmann than a woman of flesh and blood.
The male roles are all well cast. Joseph Calleja (Edgardo) sings his role with such ease and flexibility that I am reminded of the young Pavarotti. Ludovic Tézier and Nicolas Testé are perhaps not entirely idiomatic, but their impeccable singing is really not to to be criticized. Even the small role of Normanno is perfectly sung by the excellent Andrew Lepri Meyer.
Jesús López-Cobos’ tempi are remarkable, to say the least. It is stop and go again all the time. Sometimes I do not even recognize the music. It seems as if new embellishments have been added.
The recording itself is also quite unbalanced. It is understandable that the opera could not be recorded in one go, but some things were ‘brushed up’ in the studio and unfortunately we can hear this.
My top three remains unchanged:
1. Renata Scotto with Carlo Bergonzi, VAI 4418
2. Beverly Sills with Bergonzi, recorded in the studio in 1970 (Westminster 4712502)
3. Maria Callas, no matter which one
Sometimes I think that Placido Domingo must be the reincarnation of Puccini. Not because they look so similar (although they are very much alike in the photos), but because of the music. It seems to have been created for Domingo’s timbre. It is as if Puccini composed with Domingo’s voice in mind.
And yet (or perhaps because of this): there is no other repertoire that shows as clearly whether a role suits him or not. He was never a memorable Rodolfo and his Pinkerton was not noteworthy. Even as Calaf, despite the great performances, he did not really identify with the role. He was too friendly, too kind, too human.
Domingo sang his very first Cavaradossi on 30 September 1961 and since then he has sung more performances of Tosca than of any other opera. This is the role he researched with the utmost care. He even added some qualities to the painter’s character that are not really there, in my opinion.
Personally, I find Cavarodossi’s flirtation with the revolution no more than a whim, but Domingo takes it dead serious and sees himself not only as the lover but also as the freedom fighter. From the start, he knows that the execution is actually going to take place, but he is playing along with the lie to spare his beloved Floria. Very humane and very moving.
He sang his first Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera in 1969. It was not planned: he took over at the last minute for the sick Sándor Kónya. Birgit Nilsson was Tosca. In her memoirs, she stated that she found his acting ‘superb’ and his singing ‘gorgeous’.
It was indeed a memorable performance, not least because of Nilsson’s ‘scream’.
Fortunately, the performance was recorded for radio and was released on CD (Nuova Era 2286/870).
Of the studio recordings, two are very dear to me. On Warner Classics (5665042), Renata Scotto meticulously sings all the notes prescribed by Puccini ( her colleagues are not always as scrupulous) and Renato Bruson is very ‘courteously dangerous’ as Scarpia.
RCA (88697448122) has recorded one of the best Scarpias ever: Sherrill Milnes. I once heard him live in the role and it was a real experience! Leontyne Price is a sultry Tosca.
On DVD, I find the Decca film version (0434909) by far the most impressive. It was shot on location in 1976, which was not very common at the time. Well, location… The Palazzo Farnese was then home to the French Embassy, so filming was not allowed inside.
Milnes was once again present and the lead role was sung in a very tormented way by Raina Kabaivanska.
Domingo is so beautiful it makes you want to cry, but what gives the film that little bit extra is the tiny role of the little shepherd. It is sung by Placido junior, then 10 years old.
Another Puccini role that fits him like a glove is Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut. Of this opera with Domingo, there are many recordings, both studio and live. Not all of them are worth listening to and in most cases it is the interpreter of the title role who presents the problem. It is nothing new: when a record company had a new ‘star’, he or she just had to record everything available. With often disastrous results.
In 1970, Domingo sang Des Grieux in Verona, with Magda Olivero in the title role. Quite bizarre when you consider that Olivero made her professional debut eight years before Domingo was born. And yet: her portrayal of the young heroine is utterly convincing. Indeed, most of her colleagues still cannot match it! My copy was released on Foyer, but better quality editions are now available.
In 1980, the opera was broadcast on TV. That recording is now available on DVD. Believe me: there is no better. Scotto sings and acts Manon like no one else has done before, and together with Domingo, she makes us cry with the beauty and the sadness of it all. Menotti’s very realistic, true to life and very exciting direction simply could not be better. A MUST (DG 073424)
Luigi in Il Tabarro was also a role after Domingo’s own heart. His recording from 1968 with the New York City Opera, conducted by Julius Rudel (Melodram 17048) is splendid, with Jeannine Crader as Giorgietta, a wonderful singer who sadly never made it in Europe.
On DVD, there is a fine Zeffirelli production from New York, recorded in 1994. Giorgietta is sung by Teresa Stratas. Unfortunately, it is coupled with Pagliacci with Pavarotti and again with Stratas, in the leading roles. Not really my ‘cup of tea’ (DG0734024).
Below a curiosity: a duet from Il Tabarro with Domingo and Beverly Sills from 1967
There are at least two good reasons to welcome the 2006 Edgar (DG 4776102): it is the very first studio recording of the work and it is the first time that Domingo sings the role, the only one still missing from his Puccini discography.
I never understood why the opera was so unloved. Musically, it is in line with Verdi, but one can already hear tentative fragments of the ‘real’ Puccini: a vague promise of Manon Lescaut, a study for La Bohème and creative exercises for Turandot.
With Adriana Damato and Marianne Cornetti, we can welcome a new generation of phenomenal singers and Domingo is, as always, very musical and committed.
LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST
For me, the very best is a 1978 DG recording (4748402), with an underrated Carol Neblett as a very fierce Minnie. Domingo is a languorous and surprisingly lyrical Johnson, and Sherrill Milnes sounds like he’s in a real western.
Two worthwhile recordings have appeared on DVD. One with Mara Zampieri and Juan Pons (Opus Arte OA LS3004 D) from La Scala, 1991, in a beautiful, colourful direction by Jonathan Miller.
The other is with Carol Neblett and Silvano Carroli (Kultur Video 2038) from the Royal Opera House, 1982.
There were once plans to make a feature film about Puccini, in which Domingo would play the composer. It did not go ahead. In preparation for the project, Domingo recorded all Puccini’s songs in 1989, under the title Unknown Puccini (Sony 44981).
For the cover, he is made to look like Puccini and there he is: dressed in white, hat on his head and the moustache prominent on his face. Puccini to the life!
Anyway, it is all about the music and it is a must- have for anyone interested in Puccini. Most are first ever recordings and gradually you follow the composer on his path towards his Manon’s, Tosca’s and other ‘girls’. The renowned conductor Julius Rudel accompanies Domingo on piano and organ.
There are those operas you just don’t know what to do with. You find them beautiful, divinely beautiful even, and you are moved to the depths of your soul. And that without understanding even a single word. Apparently the composer knows how to hit a sensitive chord, because as you listen you keep hoping that the heavenly music will never stop.
Heavenly is perhaps indeed the best word with which to describe Cecilia by Licinio Refice (1883 – 1954), an opera that most resembles a mystery play.
I am not insensitive to the miraculous, I grew up as a Jewish girl in a strongly Catholic Poland. But even as a child I was already aware that all those miracles were unattainable to me and therefore I found them extremely exciting and attractive.
We know Saint Cecilia as the patron saint of music and church music, which, according to many hagiographers, is based on a misunderstanding. What we know of her comes mainly from the Legenda Aurea by Jacopo da Voragine, a reference book on the lives of saints, written in the thirteenth century. That book was the starting point for Refice’s opera. Refice, who was not only a composer and a conductor, but also a priest!
The legend (and the libretto) in short: the stunningly beautiful Cecilia went to martyrdom as a virgin, but not before she had persuaded her husband Vergilio (whom she never de facto made her husband) and his brother Tiburzio to come to the true faith. Both gentlemen share the same fate as Cecilia (beheading), with Cecilia being tortured first, which she endures in a miraculous way.
The premiere in Rome in 1934 was an unprecedented success and the opera was performed more than a thousand times until the rational took over from the mysterious. Cecilia’s musical language is blatantly veristic, with sentiment increased to exeptional heights. You recognize fragments from Butterfly, but the rousing chords and the scents of roses and lilies, as captured in notes, remind me most of Zandonai and his Francesca da Rimini. One also tastes the atmosphere of Byzantium, that of La Fiamma of Respighi. I love it very much and I can completely lose myself in this music.
Until recently I only knew the opera from two shortened recordings, one with Renata Scotto and one with Renata Tebaldi, and from two arias sung by Claudia Muzzio.
Renata Scottio sings ‘Per amore di Gesù’:
The performance, recorded live in the Cathedral of Monte Carlo in 2013, is, as far as I know, the first complete commercial recording of the work and I am sorry to say that the performance is no more than satisfactory.
Denia Mazzolla Gavazzeni
Denia Mazzolla Gavazzeni has for years been the greatest advocate of obscure and little-known veristic operas and for that alone she deserves the greatest praise. She has never been the best opera singer of the world; there was always a frayed edge to her voice and her high notes could sound unpleasantly metallic. But I could (and can!) forgive her these flaws. She was always able to strongly identify with her roles and her performances could be scorching at times. But now that her voice has lost its freshness, her Cecilia cannot convince me of her unearthly beauty. To produce the heavenly sounds he composed for Cecilia, Refice needed someone to sing with ‘God in the throat’. And that is lacking here.
Giuseppe Veneziano is a decent Valeriano, Corrado Cappitta is convincing in the double roles of Tiburzio and Amachio and Serena Pasquini sounds angelic enough for the “L’annunzio” sung by God’s Angel. Everyone really is trying their best, it is just not good enough for a top performance, which may also be due to the very prosaic and down to earth direction of Marco Fracassi.
Below: Claudia Muzio in two scenes from Cecilia: the prologue ‘Per amor di Gesu’, recorded in 1934, and the death scene, ‘Grazie, sorelle’, from 1935:
The fact that Refice has not yet been completely forgotten is due to ‘Ombra di Nube’ (Shadow of the clouds) a song that is still being sung and recorded, a.o. by Jonas Kaufmann:
And here again is Claudia Muzzio, for whom Refice originally composed the song. Now you can hear what Refice meant by ‘God in the throat’, this singer can and does give a tangible feeling to his deep faith and she is also able to make you believe that the ‘dark clouds will disappear naturally, making life beautiful again’.
There is no doubt in my mind that Plàcido Domingo is the greatest interpreter of Otello, especially in the last 30 years of the twentieth century. Not only as a singer, but also as an actor Domingo knows how to adapt to his partners in a really brilliant way, thus his interpretation always fascinates and it is never the same twice. Sir Laurence Olivier, one of the greatest British actors, once said: ‘Domingo plays Othello as well as I do, and he has that voice!’
Domingo’s fascination with Otello started early on. In 1960 he made his debut in this opera, but as Cassio. In 1962 – it was also the last time he sang the role – he sang opposite Mario del Monaco’s Otello. In his memoirs he writes that he already knew then that Otello was going to be his ‘dream role’.
He sang his very first ‘Moor from Venice’ in Hamburg, on 28 September, 1975. He himself says it is one of the most important dates in his career. Desdemona was sung by the very young Katia Ricciarelli and the opera was conducted by James Levine. The complete production is now available on You Tube:
A year later the opera was performed at the Milanese Scala. It was the first collaboration between Domingo and Carlos Kleiber (outside of studio production). Mirella Freni sang Desdemona and Piero Cappuccilli Jago. It was broadcast live on Italian TV and it is now also on You Tube.
There is a sound recording also. It has been released on various pirate labels and can also be found on Spotify. It is actually mandatory for lovers of the opera, despite the poor quality of the sound and the abcense of a few bars from the third act (something happened in the audience).
Another fantastic live Otello comes from London, recorded on 19 February 1978. Again with Carlos Kleiber, but Desdemona was sung by Margaret Price and Silvano Carroli was Jago. Very exciting.
Of all his studio recordings of Otello, the one from – once RCA now Sony- released in 1978, is the one I hold most dear. Desdemona was sung by Renata Scotto and she gave the role an extra dimension. She was not only innocent, but also audibly angry, sad and scared. Sherrill Milnes was a devilish Jago and the whole was led by James Levine.
Opus Arte (OA R3102) has released an old-fashioned, beautiful performance from Covent Garden (director Elijah Moshinsky). It was recorded in October 1992. With her beautiful lyrical soprano, Kiri Te Kanawa is a dream of a Desdemona. Her passivity fits the role well, especially as it is also very much within the director’s concept. Sergei Leiferkus (Jago) is not really idiomatic in Italian, but he sings and acts well and the orchestra, under the firm leadership of Georg Solti, plays the stars from the sky.
The same production was given at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1996 and recorded by Deutsche Grammophon (0730929). It was a milestone in opera history, because Renée Fleming made her unparalleled debut in the role of Desdemona.
She really made my heart contract with sorrow and emotion. Her ‘Willow Song’ with the strongly accentuated repetitions of ‘cantiamo’, her angelic ‘Ave Maria’, her oh-so-human played despair, disbelief and sorrow – no one could remain unmoved.
The lyrical tenor Richard Croft was also visually well cast as Cassio, and the whole production was under the thrilling leadership of maestro Levine.
Here is an excerpt:
Romeo and Juliet, painting by Frank Bernard Dicksee, 1884
Ongelukkige liefdes zijn door de eeuwen heen de grootste de inspiratiebron geweest van schrijvers, dichters, schilders en toondichters. Logisch, want wat kan ons meer ontroeren dan het treurige lot van twee mensen die uit liefde voor elkaar de dood boven het leven verkiezen? Romantiek ten top en een beetje mens houdt eenmaal van snotteren.
Shakespeares Romeo en Julia zijn wellicht het bekendste liefdespaar van ze allemaal. Toneelstukken, films, balletten zijn er op gebaseerd en/of door geïnspireerd. En opera’s, uiteraard. Iedereen kent Romeo et Juliette van Gounod. Berlioz komt ook het en der voorbij. Maar wist u dat ook Bellini daar een opera over schreef? Nee? En waarom niet? Omdat het bijna nooit meer uitgevoerd wordt? En dat terwijl zijn I Capuletti e i Montecchi adembenemend mooi is!
Mijn geliefde uitvoering is in 1968 live in de Milanese La Scala opgenomen, met een tenor (Giacomo Aragall op zijn bestl!) als Romeo en Renata Scotto als Giulietta. Tebaldo werd gezongen door (wat een weelde!) een jonge Luciano Pavarotti en Claudio Abbado dirigeert (Gala GL 100.517).
Aragall en Scotto in ‘Si, fuggire!… Vieni ah! vieni, e in me riposa’:
In 2009 kwam er een nieuwe opname op de markt met niemand minder dan Anna Netrebko en Elina Garanča in de hoofdrollen. Als Tebaldo hoort u, toen een nieuwe tenorale hoop, nu een naam van faam, Joseph Calleja (DG 4778031). Zonder meer de moeite waard.
In de Dynamic-box (CDS 552/1-25) met alle Bellini opera’s (mocht u hem nog niet bezitten – ga meteen er achteraan!) wordt Julia gezongen door Patricia Ciofi. Wat een zangeres! Niet alleen alle noten en kwinkslagen zijn er (en allemaal ‘a punto’), ook als stemactrice is zij bijzonder overtuigend. De opname is in 2005 gemaakt in Martina Franca.
Patrizia Ciofi in ‘Oh! quante volte’ uit de productie vana I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Barcelona 2016:
For me, Andrea Chénier is one of the best and most beautiful operas ever. I think the music is nothing less than divine and the story is timeless. It remains current, perhaps now more than ever. The tyrant must be cast off his throne and the people must take control. Surely, we all agree on that?
If only it were that simple! Anyone who grew up in a post-revolutionary totalitarian regime knows how much horror it brings. One terror is replaced by another.
This, at least for me, is the main theme in Giordano’s biggest hit. I don’t think the real lead role is the actual poet, André Chénier (did you know that Giordano used Chénier’s poems in his arias?) nor his beloved Maddalena. It is the French Revolution, which, as Gérard (once Maddalena’s houseboy and now one of the revolutionary leaders) bitterly observes, devours its own children.
To my great surprise, I read that Domingo didn’t much like the part of Andrea Chénier. He loved the opera, but the role, one of the toughest in the ‘lirico-spinto’ repertoire, was not really interesting for him dramatically. For him, Chénier was ‘an idealist who always has his head in the clouds’. And yet it was one of the operas he loved to sing!
I myself think the role of the poet/revolutionary fits him like a glove. Passion for love and enormous involvement in everything that happens in the world were – and still are – his trademarks.
Domingo sings ‘One of all’azzurro spazio’:
He sang his first Cheniér in 1966 in New Orleans, as the last-minute replacement for Franco Corelli, but that was not his first performance of the opera. In the 1960/61 season he sang The Incredible and The Abbot, in Mexico.
My favourite CD recording was recorded in 1976 by RCA (GD 82046). The cast is delectable. Renata Scotto sings Maddalena, Sherrill Milnes is Gérard and in the small roles we hear, among others, Jean Kraft, Maria Ewing, Michel Sénéchal and Gwendolyn Killebrew. James Levine, who conducts the National Philharmonic Orchestra, understands exactly what the opera is about. Tear jerkingly beautiful.
Scotto sings ‘La Mamma morta’: