Verdi: Don Carlo / Adler, Corelli, Rysanek, Metropolitan Opera

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A thrilling performance by a first-rate cast recorded in mono sound so good that one forgets it’s almost “historical”.

Even allowing for the cuts so often made during this era at the Metropolitan Opera, this is one of the swiftest of the live four Act versions. The sound is really very good for a mono radio broadcast. Consequently it gives you a compelling sense of the excitement of the occasion under the experienced baton of Kurt Adler, who had conducted a similarly distinguished cast in this opera in 1955. The cuts – the whole of the Fontainebleau Act, this being the four Act version, plus excisions in the Third Act auto-da fé and the final sublime duet – are all the more regrettable considering that Corelli never made a studio recording of “Don Carlo”. We must be grateful for what we have. It was a favourite opera that saw Corelli through the seventies until he had virtually retired; he clearly identified with the haunted, neurotic Carlos.

The cast features five established Met stalwarts in Corelli, Leonie Rysanek, Irene Dalis, Giorgio Tozzi and Hermann Uhde; in addition, the distinguished Romanian baritone Nicolae Herlea was making his Met debut in the role of Posa.

Many consider this to be the best of the available live performances of Corelli as Don Carlo, although the 1970 Vienna recording also has much to recommend it in that it has a superlative cast and gives little sign of Corelli’s supposed vocal deterioration by this date. Here in 1964, the famous bronze squillo in the tone and the expressive diminuendo are both much in evidence, as is Corelli’s artistic licence - which some call sloppiness. There is also his pronounced lisp, which on the evidence of the duet from”Aida” he made around the same time with Callas seemed particularly pronounced that year.

Apart from the expected pre-eminence of Corelli in the eponymous leading role, the special pleasure for me in this performance is Herlea’s vibrant, Italianate baritone as Posa. He was evidently determined not to be over-awed either by the occasion or his temperamental tenor colleague. He matches Corelli in volume and intensity, sustaining a nobility of line and brilliance of tone which is well nigh perfect for this heroic baritone role. He has splendid top notes and even a good trill. Corelli seems to fear that he is in danger of being eclipsed by his stage-mate and consequently throws in a slightly precarious and not very musical high C to conclude their duet in Act 1, “Dio che nell’alma infondere”.

Irene Dalis, despite not having the largest or most refulgent of mezzo-sopranos is clearly a very intelligent and able singer who has the resources to manage both the “Veil Song” and “O don fatale” – not always the case with this role. She has a vibrant, smoky, seductive timbre which is ideal and handles the coloratura in a way that is adept and agile. She is also a good vocal actress who sounds both vindictive then truly remorseful without resorting to over-emoting.

Giorgi Tozzi, who died last May (2011) at 88, was originally a baritone. Occasionally that shows in a lack of sonorousness in his low notes, such as on the low F at the end of his monologue and some loss of resonance in his soft singing. He is more impressive in louder passages when his steady, imposing tone cuts through the surrounding textures. I find his characterisation of the weary king a little applied and blustery. He too often sounds angry rather than melancholy and thus lacks the massive inwardness found in the Philip of Christoff, Siepi and Ghiaurov. He also has a tendency to drift sharp in the soliloquy but his confrontations with Il Grande Inquisitore and Rodrigo are both stirring and dramatic, if not very subtle. Uhde is black and menacing of voice but struggles with his top E and F.

Justino Diaz is noble, steady and implacable as the Friar/Carlo Quinto. It’s a part which although brief must not be under-cast if the opening and ending of the opera are to make the required impact.

In my survey of the singers thus far, you will note that I have left Leonie Rysanek till last. This is because I cannot quite decide what I think about her Elisabetta. I am used to the fact that in live performance she usually took a while to warm up and that the strange, hoarse croon in the lower ranges of the voice would ease off as the opera progressed. I continue to be delighted by her shining top notes and the amplitude of the sound she makes but equally irritated by her habitual swoop and scoop in to phrases. The dark colouring and occasional hoarseness in her tone is in many ways redolent of the unrelenting sorrow and suffering undergone by Elisabetta, that most doleful of Verdi heroines. She rises to her last great aria, floating notes exquisitely on “Francia” and “Fontainebleau” and delivers superb top Bs and B flats which sound almost disjointed from the main body of her voice. She certainly creates a rounded character and always delivers the text convincingly but listening is not always comfortable when she is “wallowing” into a note. She was always a favourite with the Met audience which responds enthusiastically to all the artists here.

The standard of instrumental playing is variable; neither of the introductions to Acts 3 and 4 constitutes the orchestra’s finest hour and intonation can waver alarmingly. By and large though Adler directs a tight ship.

This, alongside the 1968 “Die Walküre”, is probably the most desirable issue so far in this Sony Metropolitan series. It certainly represents the best of Corelli in this particular opera but is more than that. It enshrines a thrilling performance by a first-rate cast recorded in mono sound so good that one forgets it’s almost “historical”. There are many good recordings of this opera but none encompasses all its demands. Most serious collectors will want several versions of both the four and five Act versions in Italian and the French recording conducted by Pappano. In that context, there is certainly room for this slim and very affordable issue on your shelves.

There is a synopsis and cues but obviously no libretto, this being a budget set.

-- Ralph Moore, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: August 16, 2011

  • Catalog Number: 88697910042

  • UPC: 886979100428

  • Label: Sony

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

  • Conductor: Kurt Adler

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

  • Performer: Franco Corelli, Gabor Carelli, Giorgio Tozzi, Hermann Uhde, Irene Dalis, Justino Diaz, Leonie Rysanek, Nicolae Herlea