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A special L'Elisir d'Amore from the MET


whipped guy
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In the MET encore thread we recently discussed the most recent broadcast of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. As fine as that performance is… and it may indeed be destined to become a classic… there have been quite a number of other notable performances of this delightful gem of an opera at the MET over the years… and especially featuring the likes of Alfredo Kraus and Luciano Pavarotti in addition to the MET’s most recent Nemorino… the estimable Juan Diego Flòrez. Recently the MET and Sony Records released the broadcast of March 5, 1966 on CD. I had been familiar with this remarkable broadcast via the underground. However, it is now available in much improved sound.

 

This performance of Donizetti’s perennial favorite is indeed a treasure! To begin, it features the animated and vivacious Adina of Roberta Peters who is not overly represented on records as well as MET favorite Frank Guarrera as Belcore. Include the classic Dulcamara of Fernando Corena, plus the alert conducting of Thomas Schippers, and one is guaranteed a quite respectable performance.

 

However, added into this already notable equation is the haunting and extraordinary Nemorino of Carlo Bergonzi. What can one say! They just don’t make tenors like this nowadays… well they do, but they somehow don’t exude the sophistication, style, and eloquence of Bergonzi at his best… and please be assured that on this occasion Signor Bergonzi is indeed at his absolute best!

 

One need only listen to the tenor’s brief opening aria to realize that a very special performance is in the making… and by the time we reach the show-stopping aria “Una furtiva lagrima” the promise is not only realized, but carried out in spades. Indeed, on this occasion Bergonzi gives the most heartfelt rendition of this aria that I have ever heard… One not only feels for the plight of the unfortunate Nemorino, but one is simply in awe of the liquid tones and seamless legato that Bergonzi relishes on the piece. His interpretation of this aria alone is more than worth the price of admission… and as such should be required listening not only for aspiring tenors, but a few present-day world-class tenors as well!

 

Unfortunately many of the traditional cuts common at the time are taken… still, every aria and ensemble is included, if not in entirely complete form… and that along with the monaural sound might preclude this release from being an absolute first choice L’Elisir. However, do get this as a reminder of the greatness of Bergonzi, who was definitely taken for granted and as such probably underappreciated in his day… and finally, kudos to the MET for authorizing such a superlative and special release!

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In the 1960s, my two favorite Italian tenors, without question, were Bergonzi and Corelli. Corelli at his best could be more exciting, but Bergonzi was much much more consistently at his best. The last time I saw him at the Met he was over 60 and definitely past his prime, but could still give a more thrilling performance than most of his younger contemporaries.

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My father - who is certainly at least somewhat responsible for my love of opera - always admired Bergonzi, and I grew up influenced by many of his recordings.

 

Even so, Nicolai Gedda has always been my favorite tenor - his voice, his musicality, and his versatility are amazing to me.

 

But I'll be very excited to hear this new release of l'Elisir.

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