Rysanek, Dalis; Corelli, Herlea, Tozzi, Uhde, Díaz; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, K. Adler. No text or translation. Sony Classical 88697 91004 2 (2)
When general manager Rudolf Bing arrived at the Met in 1950, one of his stated goals was upping the theatrical ante of the house by bringing in strong stage directors and creating a well-rehearsed ensemble feel to productions. Opening night of his first season, in 1950, was a new Don Carlo, directed by Margaret Webster. Bing believed in this neglected Verdi opera, then unheard at the Met for nearly thirty years; that belief was still in evidence at the time of this 1964 broadcast. Don Carlo was seen frequently in the house and on tour during Bing's regime (nearly eighty times) and cultivated a generation (mine) of operagoers who grew up loving the work. Bing's theatrical vision for the house did not last as long as the physical production of Don Carlo, which remained in use through the 1971–72 season; Don Carlo casts were constantly juggled, and singers frequently stepped into principal roles without benefit of rehearsal. The result was an era of great unevenness yet great excitement.
Sony's series of Met historic broadcasts has rekindled memories of many vivid performances, and this particular Don Carlo is certainly one of them. Franco Corelli was appearing in a role unusual for him. (He had sung only two previous Carlos at the Met.) Leonie Rysanek was bringing her intense but vocally flawed Verdi singing to the role of Elisabetta; Romanian baritone Nicolai Herlea was making an auspicious on-air debut as Rodrigo. Don Carlo had been seen earlier in the season, but there was a two-month gap between those performances — which had been led by Georg Solti — and this broadcast, conducted by Kurt Adler. While Adler does a generally good job, there are some serious coordination issues, most glaringly in the accompanied cadenza at the close of Rysanek's "Tu che le vanità." The chorus sounds out of sorts in passages, and the Flemish deputies are not quite an ensemble. This is also the legendary performance in which Corelli missed his entrance in the auto da fé scene, leaving a rather awkward gap in the proceedings where Rysanek sings "Qui Carlo!" but he is not at all "qui."
On the plus side, the performance as a whole boasts tremendous energy and drive, with some hair-raisingly exciting singing from Corelli and Rysanek. At the time, I recall feeling that perhaps a more aristocratic-sounding Carlo, such as Bergonzi, might have been preferable. Corelli's no-holds-barred, heroic vocalism then seemed a bit much to me, and the stunt of popping out a high C at the end of the famous "Dio che nell'alma infondere" duet struck me as simply vulgar. The fact that I now find Corelli's Carlo something thrilling to cherish possibly reflects more about what we miss in opera singing today than about a reversal of aesthetic leanings. In an opera in which the title character is often an also-ran, Corelli takes charge, and from his opening recitative to the final duet with Rysanek (his missed entrance aside), he is committed and vocally generous, lingering on high notes other Carlos of the era struggled to hit. There is also a minimum of the slurring, sliding and mushy diction that could creep into his work; his singing here is direct and clear. The impression is of Carlo as the leading character — no mean feat in this four-act version of the opera, with additional internal cuts to his remaining duets with Elisabetta.
Rysanek was at the time of this broadcast still in the vocal crisis from which she emerged soon thereafter. The requisites of this role — firm legato, plunges into chest voice, ethereal soaring phrases — present great challenges for her. But Rysanek emerges as an enormously touching Elisabetta, bringing down the house with her deeply human, albeit imperfect "Tu che le vanità." And her endless high B natural at the opera's conclusion demands replay. Herlea possesses a stunning instrument of great freedom and power — power he overuses as Posa, missing the character's sensitivity. Herlea does manage a trill in his Act I arioso, but he later races through "Per me giunto," missing the trill and the point. Adler scurries after him. Still — what a voice!
The remainder of the cast is uneven but not uninteresting. American Irene Dalis was favored by Bing for the big Verdi mezzo roles, for which she was not ideally suited vocally. As Eboli, she alternates phrases delivered with great aplomb and intelligence with some raw, choppy vocalism. But Dalis is always engaged, and the good parts are very good indeed. Giorgio Tozzi contributes his firm legato as Filippo, but is somewhat lacking in authority, conveying the king's emotional desperation in applied snarling mannerisms. The great German baritone Hermann Uhde was then past the twenty-five-year mark in his career; a fine Inquisitor in his prime, Uhde was by 1964 unable to thunder out his lines in the terrifying manner one hopes for, and the great duet suffers in impact. Luxury casting offers the young Justino Díaz sounding impressive as the friar.
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