Verdi: Le Trouvere
In 1856, Giuseppe Verdi accepted an invitation from the General Administrator of the Paris Th╚âtre de l'Op╚ra to prepare a French-language version of his wildly popular Il Trovatore. For his efforts Verdi was paid an amount commensurate with the composition of an entirely new work. Verdi selected Emilien Pacini to author a French translation of Salvatore Cammaranoĺs original Italian libretto.
The successful premiere of Verdiĺs Le Trouv╦re took place at the Salle Le Peletier on January 12, 1857. Fifty-five years later, a group of distinguished French artists recorded Verdi's Le Trouv╦re for Path╚, as part of the company's ongoing "Le th╚âtre chez soi" ("Your Theater at Home") series. Marston, who has already reissued the Path╚ Carmen and La Favorite on compact disc, now adds Le Trouv╦re to its catalogue.
This is an important release for many reasons. First, it affords the listener the opportunity to hear Verdi's own adaptation of one of his great Italian operas for the French stage. Quite often translations of operas evoke the image of the proverbial "square peg in the round hole," as the original rhythms and melodies are distorted in order to fit the new text. However, since Verdi worked directly with Pacini, the wedding of the music to the French text is natural and idiomatic. To be sure, this quintessential Italian opera takes on a different character when performed in French.
It should also be noted that the music for Le Trouv╦re is no mere carbon copy of Il Trovatore. There are numerous small modifications to the vocal and orchestral lines. These modifications are discussed in detail by Julian Budden in the second volume of his superb "The Operas of Verdi" (Oxford University Press). By far the most noticeable changes occur in the opera's final two acts. At the request of the Op╚ra's management, Verdi composed a ballet, to be performed after the Soldier's Chorus in Act III.
Perhaps even more striking are the modifications to the opera's conclusion. In the original version, Manrico is whisked off to his execution immediately after the death of Leonora. Azucena awakens just in time to witness the death of Manrico and to then inform the horrified Count di Luna that the Troubadour was his brother. The entire episode lasts about fifty seconds. In Le Trouv╦re, Verdi extends this sequence by some thirty bars that feature a reprise of the Miserere, as well as additional music for Azucena and Manrico. Budden hypothesizes that Verdi made these changes to the finale "to allow plausible time for Manrico to be beheaded" and "to give more prominence to the Azucena of Mme Borghi-Mamo" (who sang the French premiere). Budden is probably correct that "most of us will prefer the ending we know, however precipitate." Still, the expanded conclusion certainly makes for a fascinating comparison.
But the merits of the recording extend far beyond academic considerations. This Le Trouv╦re offers a performance of considerable stature. Each of the principalsimportant exponents of French opera in the early part of this centuryacquit themselves with distinction. Belgian tenor Charles Fontaine is an outstanding Manrico (for ease of reference, I'll refer to the characters by their original Italian names). Fontaine is a bit shaky at his entrance, and lacks the trills for "Ah, sì, ben mio." With the exception of those blemishes, he is just about all one could hope for. The voice radiates admirable warmth and power throughout its range, all the way up to a pair of ringing high "Cs" in "Di quella pira." Fontaine also nicely differentiates the various aspects of Manrico's personalitythe loyal son, the lover, and the warrior.
Perhaps the star of this recording is yet another Belgian artist, baritone Jean Not╚, who offers a sterling Conte di Luna. Not╚'s attractive, masculine high baritone negotiates the punishing tessitura of this role with remarkable ease. Additionally, Not╚ manages to make di Luna both elegant and fearsome, an entirely appropriate characterization for the nobleman who is obsessed by love and the desire for revenge. I would definitely place Not╚'s di Luna alongside Leonard Warren's classic 1952 RCA account as the best I have heard.
Soprano Jane Morlet possesses the beauty of voice and agility needed to do full justice to the demanding role of Leonora. And, as with her male colleagues, Morlet is able to provide elegance and passion where appropriate. Mezzo-soprano Ketty Lapeyrette, the L╚onore on the classic 1912 Path╚ recording of Donizetti's La Favorite, is the Azucena. Her interpretation may be a bit more refined than the norm, but I don't find that to be a drawback, particularly in light of her sterling vocalism.
Ward Marston has done a typically superb job of transferring the Path╚ discs, notorious for their problematic sonics. Voices emerge with admirable presence. Not surprisingly, there is little in the way of instrumental detail. Still, it is possible to discern the admirable collaboration between the vocalists and conductor Fran┴ois Ruhlmann, who allows the singers ample time to make their individual points without disrupting the music's flow. Indeed, the liberal yet judicious application of rubato throughout offers an important window to a style of performance whose current absence is lamentable.
As a welcome bonus, Marston has included excerpts from Le Trouv╦re featuring other prominent French artists. This is a historical release of the first order, a recording that will reward the patient listener with unique and considerable pleasures.