La Gioconda
Franco Corelli


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Franco Corelli La Gioconda
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Two Performances

(Philadelphia, Feb. 18, 1964; complete performance). Corelli, Curtis-Verna, M. Dunn, Bardelli, Giaiotti; Guadagno, cond.; Philadelphia Lyric Opera.
Plus La Gioconda (October 18, 1966; 71 mins. of highlights). Corelli, Tebaldi, M. Dunn, Chookasian, Colzani, Hecht; Guadagno, cond.; Philadelphia Lyric Opera.

 


Corelli sang Gioconda many times with the Met but never elsewhere--apart from these two Philadelphia performances. These are his only available Enzos, and this is their first-ever release. The CDs were made from tapes supplied by Steve Cohen, the official recording engineer for The Philadelphia Lyric Opera.

 

Corelli uses a mechanistic vocal method involving manipulating the position of the larynx. In dramatic passages he sings with his larynx lowered to the bottom of his neck, to give his voice maximum heft, core and brilliance. In lyric passages he repositions his larynx somewhat upward.

He sings caressingly in the love scenes with Dunn and with anguish in the third-act ensemble. In both performances he is in wonderful voice and even interpolates a high C in Act I and another in Act IV. Above all, as in no other role, he expresses blind fury, in his confrontations with Curtis-Verna and Tebaldi.--Stefan Zucker


Kenneth Meltzer, writing in Classical CD Review

"This release documents two of Franco Corelli's appearances in Philadelphia, a city the Italian tenor returned to with frequency and great success. In many ways, Philadelphia offered Corelli an ideal venue. Its close location to New York allowed the Italian tenor to coordinate appearances at the Metropolitan Opera and the Academy of Music. And a bit of separation from the pressures of New York and the Met seemed to put Corelli in a more relaxed frame of mind. As a result many of his Philadelphia performances capture Corelli in a freewheeling mood and sterling voice.

"That is certainly the case with the two Gioconda performances included on this Bel Canto Society release. The first two discs encompass the complete performance from 18 February 1964. The third disc features extended highlights, starting with Act II, from a staging 18 October 1966. In both cases Corelli is in glorious form. The upper register has amazing security and power. In fact Corelli interpolates some unwritten high notes, including blazing Cs in the Act I 'Enzo Grimaldo' duet and the final-act trio. Corelli's trademark mastery of the long line and dynamic shading is very much in evidence, perhaps most notably in the stunning 'Cielo e mar!' from the 1966 performance. Throughout Corelli is entirely convincing as the passionate, heroic Enzo. It's a shame Corelli never recorded Enzo commercially. Fortunately we have this Bel Canto Society release, plus a 1962 Met broadcast, to show how impressive Corelli was in a role tailor-made for his unique gifts.

"In both performances Corelli is joined by worthy partners. American soprano Mary Curtis-Verna is a fine Gioconda, floating a lovely B-flat in Act I, and lavishing ample voice and temperament throughout. The lack of a strikingly beautiful or individual timbre consigned Mary Curtis-Verna to a ranking below such stars as Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, and Leontyne Price. But she was a most valuable singer, and would certainly be an important presence on the current opera scene.

"And speaking of Renata Tebaldi, the 1966 Gioconda finds her in representative form for this stage of her career. The middle of the voice is absolutely glorious, the upper register less so, both in terms of tonal quality and pitch. Tebaldi, whose acting skills were often given short shrift, throws herself completely into the role, and to great effect. Overall Tebaldi gives a riveting performance, and her Gioconda is a welcome addition to this set.

"Mignon Dunn is a fresh-voiced and passionate Laura in both the 1964 and 1966 performances. Gladys Kriese contributes a heartfelt 'Voce di donna' in the 1964 Gioconda. Cesare Bardelli (1964) and Anselmo Colzani (1966) exude the kind of masculine, vibrant Italian vocalism that was so plentiful among Italian baritones of their generation. Bonaldo Giaiotti, always a reliable singer, is a fine Alvise.

"The 1964 Gioconda is marred by a frequent lack of coordination between the orchestra pit and stage. Anton Guadagno, the conductor on both occasions, achieves a much more disciplined performance two years later.

"The 1964 performance, recorded for potential broadcast, is in clear sound, with a realistic balance between singers and orchestra. The 1966 performance seems to have been taped from a prime location in the audience. Again, the sound is quite fine." [Steve Cohen taped both recordings from more or less the same location.]


John T. Hughes, reviewing in Classic Record Collector

"Philadelphia was the venue in 1964 and 1966 for Franco Corelli's assumption of Enzo, a role to which he brought that exciting, virile sound, virtually unmatched at the time. It is not a matter of barnstorming vociferation, for Corelli alters the weight of his tone to suit the situation. The 1966 recording starts at 'Cielo e mar', but the 1964 offering is complete and presents Mary Curtis-Verna as a Gioconda lightish but effective, her voice focused. The sonorous bass of Bonaldo Giaiotti is well suited to Alvise, and one hears Cesare Bardelli (1911-2000), of whom I know no studio recording, as a biting Barnaba. In 1966 Gioconda is Renata Tebaldi at her most dramatic, even using chest-notes."


Robert Levine, reviewing in Classics Today

"What we're presented with here is a complete Gioconda from 1964 in Philadelphia with Franco Corelli, Mary Curtis-Verna, Mignon Dunn, and Cesare Bardelli, and 71 minutes from a 1966 performance (Act 2 from 'Cielo e mar' to the end, Act 3 somewhat abridged, and all of Act 4) in which Corelli is joined by Renata Tebaldi, Dunn, and Anselmo Colzani. Both performances are led by Anton Guadagno. There are thrills galore--sometimes pretty sloppy thrills in ensembles, in the orchestra, and in the stage-pit relationship, but they're thrills nonetheless. Most of them come from Corelli, who is in crazily big voice, with every note secure, and a bonus high-C at the end of the first-act duet with Barnaba and in the trio in the last act. His animal magnetism comes through and it can't help but make you tingle. That having been said, there are very few moments when he sings softly (the gorgeous melody, marked pianissimo, that begins the Act 3 finale with the words 'Già ti veggo...' has little effect here sung so loudly) and it's a pity--you just know he can do it if he wants to.

"The other cast members are not dismissable: Mary Curtis-Verna was a fine spinto soprano with a good career in the '60s; she's reliable, concerned, and manages a glorious, soft high B-flat in Act 1. She's everything but unique or interesting. As Laura, Dunn is the same in both performances--workmanlike and big-toned. Colzani outsneers Bardelli, but both make pretty vivid impressions. The Alvises and Ciecas are good enough. Happily, Tebaldi turns in a thrilling late-career performance, singing her heart out, pushing excitingly at both ends of her range. Too bad the first act of her performance is missing.

"These performances catch the spirit of this blood-and-guts opera."


Alan Blyth, reviewing in Gramophone

"In much better sound [than a La Wally on another label] is the Bel Canto issue of a 1966 Tebaldi appearance at the Philadelphia Opera as Gioconda. The tapes, lovingly restored, unfortunately excluded Act I. Tebaldi is in magnificent form, both as singer and vocal actress, bringing out all Gioconda's confused feelings in her tragic situation, culminating in a superb account of 'Suicidio!', her Act 4 solo.

"This set also records one of the few examples of Tebaldi's partnership with the equally legendary Franco Corelli, now also an octagenarian. He may be as self-indulgent as ever as Enzo, but that is abundantly forgiven for his glorious, vital tenor, in peak form. The rest of the cast, especially Mignon Dunn as Laura, and conductor Anton Guadagno, provide suitable support. This issue also includes a complete account of the same work, made two years earlier at Philadelphia, again with Corelli (who didn't record the part elsewhere) but with a lesser soprano in Maria Curtis-Verna."


"Stefan, you have outdone yourself with this restoration. We all had tapes of these Giocondas, in poor sound--what great performances. Alas, I won't live long enough to hear their equal."--Dr. Doug Fox, host, "Evening at the Opera," WMNR-FM, Monroe, CT


Comments from Our Customers

"The Gioconda set with Corelli is legendary. How do you guys achieve transfers of such astonishing quality? Best in the business."--Ian Rowlands, Bedford, Great Britain
For the answer, scroll down to the sections on mastering and our CD process.


"I have a Gioconda with Corelli, Farrell, Rankin, Merrill and Tozzi, with Cleva conducting, from the Met, 'live' in 1962, and, while it is good, it totally lacks the theatrical atmosphere of these Philadelphia performances. Farrell was one of the great voices, but she was much too placid and proper to be effective as Gioconda. I can think of no other tenor of the 20th century able to create Corelli's incredible excitement. What really surprised me was Curtis-Verna. I know she was considered a 'house' soprano in the late 50s and into the 60s. A soprano with her vocal qualities (great top, not afraid of chesting) would be a leading singer nowadays.

"I have, to be honest, never found Tebaldi able to handle the upper reaches of this demanding role. In highlights of several Met performances such moments as 'Enzo adorato, o come t'amo' are excruciating. She is nowhere near the correct pitch and loses all spin from the voice. As we all who admired her know, this problem plagued her through the 1960s and 1970s. However, I do find she is in much more stable voice in the Philadelphia highlights. Even Dunn seems to catch more fire from Tebaldi than from the much more vocally stable Curtis-Verna. Which brings me to my point.

"Regardless of poor high notes and occasional intonation problems, there is no substitution for pure greatness, and this Tebaldi had in abundance. Vocal splendor is something that even a singer with a perfect voice cannot imitate or create. It is either there or it's not. From the moment Tebaldi walks on stage and sings her first line, you know you are in the presence of greatness. That's why we forgave Corelli a lapse in taste, Tebaldi a strangled high note, Sutherland her mushy diction, Milanov an occasional hootiness or Gencer a glottal attack. They had vocal gold in their throats, great charisma onstage and the ability to excite an audience to frenzy. Who nowadays can do this? Thanks!"
--Don Bowers, Nanuet, New York

Franco Corelli Photos