Verdi: Il trovatore (in German)
On the surface this recording, a transcription of an October 18, 1936 Stuttgart radio broadcast, would appear to be of only passing interest. The mono broadcast sound, while thoroughly acceptable, certainly can’t compare to studio recordings of the past fifty years. In addition the performance features a German translation of the original Italian libretto. However, this is a recording that anyone who loves Il trovatore will seriously want to conside for it contains one of the greatest assumptions of the title role ever committed to disc.
Danish tenor Helge Rosvaenge is not exactly a household name, particularly in the United States. That lamentable status has little or nothing to do with Rosvaenge’s abilities, but rather the tenor’s decision to focus his career in Germany during the Second World War. Nevertheless, the records — both studio and in performance — speak eloquently for themselves. Rosvaenge was one of the finest and most versatile tenors of the 20th century. Here was a singer whose repertoire spanned Mozart to Wagner, with Verdi serving as one of his specialties. At his frequent best Rosvaenge displayed a flawless legato, an extraordinary dynamic range, and a stunning upper register.
Rosvaenge places all of these attributes at the service of Verdi’s Manrico. Here is a tenor capable of portraying all aspects of the Troubadour — the warrior who is also a devoted son, tender lover, and poet. Manrico’s great Act III scene (“Ah sì, ben mio…Di quella pira”) is a case in point. How many tenors are able to supply the flowing legato, broad palette of vocal colors, and superb trills that Rosvaenge lavishes upon the aria? And how many who successfully negotiate that lyrical music are then able to trumpet two clarion high Cs — the second lasting ten seconds — in the ensuing cabaletta? Very few indeed, but Helge Rosvaenge is one who surmounts all hurdles with vocal ease and interpretive fire. Such is the case in almost each and every measure he sings in this stunning performance.
The remaining principals, while not achieving Rosvaenge’s mastery, are of interest as well. The superb Austrian soprano Maria Reining, while sometimes taxed by role’s cruel tessitura, contributes a passionate, beautifully vocalized Leonora. A precarious “Il balen” apart, Hans Hermann Nissen is a forceful, incisive Count di Luna. Inger Karén is probably the least proficient of the quartet, but she contributes a welcome intensity to Azucena’s music. Wilhelm Strienz is a first-class Ferrando. Conductor Bernhard Zimmerman elicits fine contributions from the Stuttgart Chorus and Orchestra, and demonstrates a welcome understanding of the dynamism and flexibility necessary for a successful Verdi performance.
But in the end, it is Helge Rosvaenge who makes this 1936 German-language trovatore a performance I will return to often, and with the greatest pleasure.
K.M. (April 2000)