Best Trovatore Ever!
Despite the grainy black and white picture, boxy audio (which peaks out at crescendos, varies wildly at times and can really become constricted during large ensembles), painted clouds, sets that range from starkly stagey yet realistic to "huh?", lip-synching that for most of the film is so good it looks as though the singers are really singing then degenerates into hit 'n miss, and some nasty cuts, the performances are simply astonishing. I hadn't planned on watching the entire thing, but once in the video machine I was along for the ride.
Leyla Gencer absolutely amazes me. If this woman were singing today she would be having productions of whatever she wanted, wherever she wanted and cast with whomever she wanted. Verdian style, ease of vocal production, ear ravishing mezzo voces and spot on high notes attacked with precision and clarity that had me doing something I hate to do - rewind whole sections and play them over and over again - so much so that the 2 hour video took me closer to 3 hours to watch. In "Tacea la notte .." she throws in this soft, high Db that may be one of the most beautifully produced single notes I've ever heard.
(Note: I have to say, right here, that listening to Gencer today I was struck for the very first time at how similar a sound she shares with (drum roll, please) Renee Fleming. I'd never noticed before, but the weights of both of their voices are very similar, they have similar sounding "chest" (Gencer seemed to sing almost all of "Tu vedrai" in chest voice - which blew my mind!) - and just the sheer sound of their voices has an uncanny similarity. I'd never once thought of Fleming as a Leonore, but now I'm wondering ... )
Mario Del Monaco is thrilling both in sound and looks, his acting right on the mark for Manrico. His high note (C?) at the end of "Di Geloso amor" is not nice and sounds like it's tagged on, and maybe not even his (though I doubt that). All of his other high notes are definitely THERE and I was particularly affected by his ensemble work (who said he always had to show off? He's definitely a team player in this show). The "Pira" (down a tone) has all the ping one could want. He's just terrific. (Okay, admittedly, in Act IV Mario definitely goes over the top, all flashing dramatic eyes and Bela Lugosi poses, but I don't think these are out of place because they seem to come genuinely from him.)
Although not one of my absolute favorite singers, Ettore Bastianini is commanding, and in excellent voice as DiLuna and a great foil to Del Monaco's Manrico.
Plinio Clabassi opens the film with a fairly rousing "Abbietta zingara" and the men's chorus act and sing nobly.
There are touches of humour in the direction (notably in the Anvil Chorus) both intentional and seemingly unintentional (a gypsy who's mock anvil striking can't help but provoke a grin).
Fedora Barbieri (the most unfortunate victim of the wardrobe mistress), despite her protestations in a recent Opera News article, uses chest voice and does so splendidly (I think she likes to call it something else, but it's chest to me). But her Azucena has so much beauty throughout. One of her most beautiful moments comes in that little trio toward the end: Gencer sustaining a lower note, Del Monaco "buffing" the middle and Barbieri enters ravishingly, on a higher sustained note returning to her "Ai nostri monti." It is the magic of Verdi right there and it is the magic of singers who know what to do with this ravishing stuff.
Any director worth his salt should look at this and realize that "concept" is irrelevant, unnecessary and can stand directly in the way of telling a story. The power of the music and singers who know how to react to it and eachother, are more than enough. The drama came through in spades here, despite the deficiencies of great visuals or expertly engineered sound.
Many moments I jumped up to my feet, cheering at the screen. The ending, for once, felt as brutal and stomach churning as Verdi must have intended it to. Oh, to experience a Trovatore like this in a house just once!