For best sound on this recording, you'll need a connection like this

Verdi: La forza del destino  
Renata Tebaldi, soprano (Leonora); Mario del Monaco, tenor (Don Alvaro); Aldo Protti, baritone (Don Carlo); Cesare Siepi, bass (Padre Guardiano); Fedora Barbieri, mezzo-soprano (Preziosilla); Renato Capecchi, bass (Fra Melitone); Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Communale di Firenza, Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond. 
Archipel ARPCD 0126 (3 CDs) (M)  (ADD) TT: 2:42:58
 


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June 14, 1953 the Florence Teatro Communale presented the first of five performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s La forza del destino. On that occasion an all-star cast sang under the direction of one of the most inspirational of conductors.  It was an evening when all of the elements came together to produce one of the greatest performances of Forza ever preserved on disc.  As far as I can tell, the new Archipel issue is the only currently available release of this extraordinary Forza.  I’ve previously heard it on a few other labels.  A Turnabout LP set was marred by boxy, distant sonics and inferior pressings.  A Foyer CD release offered far better sound, but limited in upper frequencies.

The new Archipel is, in many ways, the best I’ve heard to date.  Archipel claims the set is “issued from the original source.”  Whatever that means, the sound has more clarity and definition, with a particularly noticeable improvement in the upper range.  Both orchestra and voices emerge with a presence not previously evident.

Now the bad news.  Archipel has (for reasons that escape me) added artificial "stereo" to the recording.  It seems that this effect is limited to the right channel.  The left channel has fine sound.  As playback systems vary, do what is necessary with equipment you have to listen only to the left channel.  Some preamplifiers/receivers have a control that will allow you to do this.  If your controls will not enable this, you could use a connector as pictured above which will permit you to connect the left channel signal into the two stereo inputs.  It's quite a bit of trouble for sure, but it will enable you to hear the fine-sounding mono version of this performance.

And what a performance it is!  Every one of the principals is in top form.  Renata Tebaldi is in glorious voice with ravishing, opulent tone, and little of the hardness that crept into her upper register in later years.  In the great Monastery Scene, she is able both to give full vent to Leonora’s despair, and to float a magical “La Vergine degli Angeli.”  Tebaldi’s “Pace, pace” is another highlight of this performance, as is her heartbreaking delivery in the final Trio.  All in all, one of the most radiant performances ever given by this treasured artist.

As in the case of Tebaldi, Mario del Monaco is in the absolute top form of his early years.  At this stage of his career del Monaco possessed one of the most miraculous tenor voices of the 20th century, with an incredible focus and power that continued unabated from the dark lower register to a brilliant, ringing top.  Del Monaco easily could make a great effect (as he often did) through sheer vocal opulence.  But here del Monaco sings with a subtlety not often associated with this dramatic tenor.  “O tu che in seno” features some gorgeous long phrases, with very effective use of hushed tones not typically associated with this singer.  Throughout the performance del Monaco takes unusual care to apply a wide range of dynamics and vocal colors.  The result is an interpretation of far greater cumulative impact than some of the tenor's “can belto” outings.

Cesare Siepi is a magnificent Padre Guardiano, noble in voice and bearing.  Renato Capecchi, a fabulous singing actor, is one of the best Fra Melitones on disc.  Fedora Barbieri as Preziosilla is in superb voice as well, faring about as well as can be expected with one of Verdi’s less gratifying mezzo roles. Aldo Protti is a singer who rarely earns much in the way of praise.  At a time when there were several great baritones on the scene, there was little that was distinctive about Protti, either in terms of vocal quality or characterization.  On the other hand, he possessed a firm and vibrant Italianate voice and certainly sang with style and vigor, if with a rather generalized approach. In this performance Protti is a more than competent Don Carlo, one who does not let the side down, even in such august company.  It’s a shame that he and del Monaco were not given the opportunity to sing the “Sleale!” duet, cut in this performance, as it often was at the time.

Conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos leads a riveting account of Verdi’s score, one of tremendous momentum and power.  The ensemble is much better on this occasion than in the 1960 Vienna performance I previously reviewed, although the conclusion of the “Invano, Alvaro” duet does come a bit unglued.

I’m sorry Archipel decided to tinker with what is obviously excellent source material.  But as I mentioned above, their transgression can be easily corrected, allowing you to enjoy a unique and glorious representation of Verdi’s epic tragedy.

K.M. (April 2003)

(Ed. Note:  About two decades ago there was minor interest in issuing "long playing mono CDs," with each of the normal stereo channels carrying one mono signal permitting twice as much program material. One issue was on the Rodolphe label (RPC 32516.17), Wagner's Parsifal from the 1953 Bayreuth Festival with Clemens Krauss conducting, a 2-CD set with a playing time of about four hours. To play these recordings it was necessary to have equipment that would permit listening to just one channel, either the left OR the right, which added to the setup confusion. The "long playing mono CD" concept was quickly abandoned.)