This recording of Verdi's Trovatore, made in the 80's, should not be your first choice for a Trovatore recording, despite a beautifully sung interpretation by great singers- Placido Domingo (in his third recorded Manrico), Rosalind Plowright, Birgitte Fassbaender and Giorgio Zancanaro. Conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, late in his career, conducts with utmost delicacy and a slow, leisurely pace, revealing his old age as compared to the vigor he conducted with in such earlier recordings as Mozart's Don Giovanni and the EMI Don Carlos with Domingo, Caballe and Milnes. However, it is a beautiful reading of the score, and sounds considerably darker and more haunting than other conductor's treatments - like the supercharged Herbert Van Karajan for instance or Zubin Mehta.
The CAST: Giorgio Zancanaro [Count Di Luna) ** Rosalind Plowright [Leonora] ** Brigitte Fassbaender [Azucena] ** Plácido Domingo) [Manrico ** Evgeny Nesterenko [Ferrando] ** Anna di Stasio [Ines] ** Walter Gullino [Ruiz] ** Alfredo Giacomotti [An old Gypsy] ** Aldo Verrecchia [A messenger).
Enough has already been said about the flawed vocal technique and interpretation of Leonora by soprano Rosalind Plowright, who has of course retired and other than this recording, is found as Leonora Di Vargas in Forza Del Destino. A British soprano, she possesses a huge, lyric voice but she has been criticized for thsi Leonora because it's considerably underpowered next to the more razzle-dazzle Leonoras of Maria Callas and Leontyne Price. For me, only Leontyne truly satisfies as the best Leonora. Plowright has some things in her favor however. Her account of the role is mature, beautiful and controlled. Instead of succumbing to melodrama, she remains the most cool Leonora ever performed. Consequently, she masters all the slow cavatinas - Tacea La Notte, D'al Amor Sul Ali Rosee and the Miserere scene. For the Miserere scene, however, she self-consciously sings like Maria Callas, lowering her voice to reveal a chest register that is not as good as one would like. In fact, throughout the more dramatic portions of the opera, she imitates Callas quite well, though admitedly she's better than Angela Gheorghiu in the recent recording with Roberto Alagna. But on the upside, Domingo sings what many have come to believe is his finest Manrico on recording. His voice at this stage in his career was darker, more mature and able to produce subtle tones. He has lost the freshness and vitality of his RCA 1970 Manrico with Price and Milnes. I don't think this is his best Manrico, though there are terrific moments such as the famous "Di Quella Pira" which stands out from all others because Giulini followed Verdi's original instructions. Manrico's aria is supposed to be dramatic but written in mezzo di voce and therefore Domingo sings the aria without the glorious high top, stepping it down octaves lower than usual and does not sustain the high note that finalizes the aria. This, however, does not detract from the intensity of the moment, but alas Domingo sounds like he's done with singing Manrico by this point. And indeed he never sang Manrico on recording after this. This is not his best Manrico (the one with Leontyne and Sherill Milnes is) but it is a very handsomely sung interpretation. Is there anything that Domingo does not sing beautifully ? This one's for Domingo fans.
Birgitte Fassbaender had a flexible, lyric mezzo soprano voice and she has done excellent operatic roles that range from Prince Orlofsky from Strauss' Die Fleidermaus and Charlotte the heroine in Massenet's Werther. But Fassbaender is primarily a lyric mezzo soprano and does not possess the "nastiness" and "bite" for the role of Azucena, the vindictive, witch-like Gypsy who gets her revenge on the Count Di Luna at the end of the opera. Fassbaender, therefore, is consequently miscast as Azucena and is lackluster next to the Azucenas of Fiorenza Cossotto and Dolora Zajick- whose account of the role on the Aprille Millo/Domingo Trovatore is unrivaled. Fassbaender does a lot of beautiful things with the music for Azucena but is totally miscast. You have to be a fan of hers in order to appreciate her Azucena. But I think it's purely experimental of her part to sing this. Even Elena Obraztsova scored better success as Azucena.
Finally, Zancanaro is an outstanding Count Di Luna, perhaps even outshining Sherill Milnes. He is into his character, sing with fine Verdi musicality and his bass voice is expressive, huge and handsome. Zancanaro is less admirable as Scarpia which he sang in a recording with Carol Vaness. This role is better suited to his lyric voice. The truth about this recording's merits are that the singers are lyric, as is the conductor's reading of the score. But if you prefer more dramatic and fiery Trovatores, look elsewhere. Try these:
The Maria Callas Trovatore (inevitably)
Any Trovatore with Mario Del Monaco as Manrico
Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, Giuletta Simionato, Ettore Bastianni/Karajan
Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo, Fiorenza Cossotto, Sherill Milnes/Mehta
Aprille Millo, Placido Domingo, Dolora Zajick/Levine
Katia Ricciarelli, Jose Carreras/Sir Colin Davis