Saturday, January 30, 2010

Il suo nome è...

When pressed to name my favorite singers, I usually (after a deep sigh) begin a list so long that it threatens to become meaningless for my hapless listener. I do slightly better when asked to name my favorite interpreters of specific operatic roles. Calaf, for instance. He's not an easy character vocally or psychologically (as Mr. Domingo once said, "He's a little bit crazy, that boy!") But Puccini tenors have a way of making me go weak at the knees, and this crazy prince is no exception, from "Padre, mio padre!" to "Hai vinto tu!" I like to think that he's won over, not by a "horrible fascination," as Liu says, but by the fear in the princess's eyes, and the conviction that she can and must be a warm, interesting human being... and that he's the one to drag her down from her tragic heaven. And so, the mesmerizing melodies spin out, in longing, in anger, in hope, in love. I would love to hear Fabio Armiliato's Calaf, but there's no recording yet. In the meantime... who IS Calaf?

For some, the voice of Calaf will always be the voice of Pavarotti... and understandably so.

Ah, yes. This is the reason for my "Big Luciano" love: that huge, unmistakable voice. You can mock the scarves (though I think they were rather fabulous) and goodness knows you can question the publicity choices (sigh), but sound like that you cannot argue with. (Good Lord, says the audience with its lips twisted and brow furrowed, does she fancy that she needs to--dares to--argue that Pavarotti is a king among tenors? Frightful impudence. Yes... except that I have had a disheartening number of conversations discussing the romantic glories of staged opera countered by an interlocutor's, "But... wasn't Pavarotti... fat?" After a banshee-like wail of dismay, I usually respond with a splutter in which the words "His voice... his voice!" can just be distinguished. And after I plunge frenziedly into my piles of CDs, emerge, and play them "O Soave Fanciulla," their response is usually, "...Oh." And I breathe again.) A brilliant recording features the great man's Calaf alongside Dame Joan as his ice princess, Caballe's Liu, and Nicolai Ghiaurov as Timur. But for all that saliva-inducing glory, my heart will always belong to another: the Calaf of Franco Corelli.

The studio recording which I own (following months of virtually hoarding the public library's copy) is, to my mind, a prime example of precise artistic control perfected to sound like spontaneous abandon. Then there's the live recording, likewise featuring Nilsson as his nemesis/partner-in-crime. And though perhaps less perfect, I do love the dynamism of this one, unwritten high Cs, notes held for longer than their value, and all. This excerpt from a 1958 RAI television production (with Lucille Udovich rather than Nilsson) is unfortunately not embeddable... but the entire production is fortunately available on DVD! What is it about Corelli and Calaf? For me, that readiness to always infuse words and melody with engaged, overflowing passion is what makes this magical: not only the size and beauty of his voice in "Non Piangere, Liu," the Riddle Scene, "Nessun Dorma," but the tenderness in "Dimmi il mio nome," the exquisite dreaminess of "O divina bellezza! Meraviglia!" I too am enthralled.

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