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EXCITING BUT IDIOSYNCRATIC VERDI
on 18 August 2011
I have enjoyed this uneven but oddly compelling performance for many years and it's good to finally have it commercially available in much improved sound. That's not to say that it doesn't sound its age in a lack of depth and inevitable moments of odd balance in this live performance, especially between the orchestra and the chorus in the Auto-da-fe scene. Cleaned up, it definitely displays the singers to better advantage. The quirky casting won't be to everyone's taste but if I concentrate on the principals' performances, it's because that's where I feel the value of this set lies. Certainly the value doesn't lie in the presentation. A synopsis, nothing at all about the performance itself, and Irene Dalis's photo as Eboli printed twice, once captioned as "Leonie Rysanek (Elisabetta)"
This broadcast took place two months after previous performances under Solti, with Giorgio Tozzi the only singer carried over, so it's surprising that it hangs together so well under the baton of Kurt Adler. At that time the Met performed the truncated 1883 four-act revision omitting amongst other things the Fontainebleu scene, so the raison d'être for this reissue is presumably the presence of Franco Corelli as Carlo, a role he never recorded commercially. Known for playing overtly romantic heroes, Corelli finds the febrile, neurotic Carlo a surprisingly congenial role - perhaps not so surprising given the singer's allegedly insecure nature. He makes an immediate impact in a desperate "Io l'ho perduto"; even if the text gets pulled about a bit, who could match him for integrating those ringing high notes so successfully into the musical line and maintain this level throughout the performance?
Corelli and Leonie Rysanek are an exciting pairing. Both are artists who live very much in the moment and bring a passionate, erotic thrill to their music, but at this time the Viennese soprano was at her most variable and thrilling vocalising above the stave isn't matched in lower-lying phrases. She is often lovely in Elisabetta's many melancholy moments and though "Tu che le vanita" finds her at her best and cheered to the rafters, there's an awkward cadenza at the end of the aria. As always, she means every word she utters so we know everything about Elisabetta, perhaps less about Verdi.
If Irene Dalis lacks the final ounce of power and richness for Eboli, she is a hugely intelligent singer who knows exactly how to deploy her resources to present a satisfying portrayal, from a speedy but neatly sung, Veil Song to an exciting "O don fatale". On the other hand, Giorgio Tozzi has the power for Philip and he's by no means inexpressive, but he doesn't truly get to the heart of the man. The sheer contrast between the Philip's public, sometime brutal authority and private anguish isn't there for me.
Making his Met debut, Rumanian baritone Nicola Herlea seems determined to make an impact and not be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Met. There are oceans of rich, tone but this Posa remains two dimensional, with little sense of the troubled, idealist.
Finally, as a great admirer of Hermann Uhde, I take no pleasure in saying that by 1964 this outstanding singing actor could no longer do justice to the role of the Grand Inquisitor, though the steely, unyielding fanaticism is brilliantly conveyed. He was only 50 at the time and may already have been in failing health; the following year he suffered a fatal heart attack on stage.
This shouldn't be your first choice for "Don Carlo", but I wouldn't want to be without this set for Corelli, Rysanek and Dalis. If you cherish singers from the era before bland was beautiful, you could do worse than invest in this budget set.