Il Trovatore (CD EMI) August 2002
Verdi: Il Trovatore
Edward Greenfield, The Guardian, 9 August 2002
(4 out of 5 stars) Verdi: Il Trovatore: Gheorghiu/Alagna/Diadkova/
Hampson/d'Arcangelo/ London Voices/LSO/Pappano (EMI, 2CDs)
All you need for Il Trovatore, said Caruso, are the world's four greatest
singers. Record companies have been trying to assemble such a cast since
complete opera sets were devised 80 years ago. It is not surprising that
EMI, after its successful discs of Puccini and Massenet featuring the
husband-and-wife duo of Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna with the
conductor, Antonio Pappano, would look for other suitable operas to record.
Il Trovatore can't have been their first choice. It is a much tougher nut to
crack than even Puccini's Tosca and Massenet's Manon. Yet the first big
success of this new version is Pappano's conducting. He brings out the drama
and atmospheric warmth of the piece fully, helped by superb playing from the
The problem of this opera is to thrust home the melodrama without sounding
crude. Pappano comes near the ideal. By comparison, Zubin Mehta on the RCA
set, red-blooded as his performance is, sounds a little heavy-handed. The
problem for the two principals here is greater than in their previous
recordings with Pappano, since their lyric voices are not, on the face of
it, weighty enough for the roles of Leonora and Manrico. Gheorghiu
characteristically capitalises on the problem, bringing a rare tenderness to
her big arias. This is a portrait of a heroine younger and more ardently
girlish in her love than we are used to, and the drama is the more intense
for it. Only in the bravura aria, Tu vedrai che amore in terra, and the
final scenes does she press the voice so it flickers in emotion.
The casting of Alagna as Manrico is more controversial. Complaints are
growing that he is forcing his tone, and the challenge of a role requiring
heroic power means that in the outburst of Di quella pira at the end of act
three, the voice acquires a rough edge, losing its beauty. Yet even that
intensifies the drama, and undaunted he ends the act with a top C that he
Thomas Hampson as di Luna gives one of the finest accounts of the role on
disc, at once sinister yet ardently sincere in his expressions of love for
Leonora, offering even finer detail than Sherill Milnes gives on RCA while
Larissa Diadkova, with a Slavonic tang in her mezzo tone, is a formidable
and moving Azucena.
CD choice: Il Trovatore
Richard Fairman, Financial Times, 30 August 2002
The big opera CD releases are arriving early this year. Usually the
record companies wait until retailers put up the Christmas decorations -
that is, any time from early October - but this first Verdi recording,
from its "family" of opera stars, is an important one for EMI.
The pairing of conductor Antonio Pappano with the husband-and-wife team
of Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu has become familiar on disc. The
trio won awards with their recording of Puccini's La Rondine and have
followed up quickly with a run of releases that includes Massenet's
Manon and Werther and Puccini's Tosca.
Their new Il Trovatore is that unusual thing in the record shop these
days: a glossy opera set made in the studio and featuring a hand-picked
cast brought together solely for the purposes of the recording. (Several
of the singers have yet to sing their roles on stage.) The trick is to
weld these artists into a team and get them to perform as if they were
in front of a live audience.
By and large, Pappano manages that. His technique in the recording
studio is to go over sections of the score time and time again, striving
to instil more dramatic urgency as he goes along. That must be wearing,
but it seems to work.
Aside from his tendency to start scenes slowly and then whip up the
excitement towards the end, this performance of Il Trovatore emulates
the dramatic tension of a stage production, while being rather better
played. Although opera orchestras generally have improved, not many of
them can rival the London Symphony Orchestra.
Gheorghiu has yet to tackle any of Verdi's heavier roles in the opera
house, but her Leonora is one of the prime pleasures of the set.
Admirers of Maria Callas or Leontyne Price may feel short-changed -
Gheorghiu's voice remains basically a lighter soprano and attempts to
darken it are obviously an effect - but she sings "D'amor sull'ali
rosee" with an easy lyrical sheen at Pappano's flowing speed and makes
the coloratura sparkle. Voices of caution have been warning Alagna
against venturing into heavier repertoire and there are some passages
here where the voice takes on a metallic thread, but he brings out his
best for Manrico's aria "Ah s ben mio". This is eloquently expressive
singing, nicely touched with light and shade.
The American Thomas Hampson exceeds expectations with his vividly
involved Conte di Luna, even if his soft-grained voice does not have the
cut-and-thrust of the typical Italian baritone. Hampson proposes a more
debonair figure, his vocal style not so far from the era of bel canto.
Alone of the cast, Larissa Diadkova has proved herself memorably on
stage in this opera and her Azucena goes at full throttle,
notwithstanding Italian words that come with a strong Russian accent.
Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, by contrast, is a model of clarity as Ferrando.
Riccardo Muti's recent recording for Sony was at the other extreme to
this - a live recording made at La Scala, Italy's premier opera-house,
and sung by a largely Italian cast - so anybody looking for a new set of
Il Trovatore has a real choice in front of them.
But if this EMI set gives an accurate taste of Italian opera under
Pappano's forthcoming reign at Covent Garden, the future should not be