Karajan had recorded Il trovatore in 1956 and this TDK reissued effort, from 1978, was his last. But he had led other productions of Verdi's uneven crowd-pleaser, including a highly successful 1977 Vienna staging that included Luciano Pavarotti and Leontyne Price. A year later, he returned for this presentation of Il Trovatore, keeping Josť Van Dam and Piero Cappuccilli from the previous year's production and employing, among others, Raina Kabaivanska as Leonora and Franco Bonisolli as Manrico. How Domingo got into the cast makes for an interesting anecdote: after his Act III Ah sì, ben mio, Bonisolli became greatly annoyed by boos from the audience who had been allowed in for dress rehearsals, and as a result heaved his sword into the pit. He then stormed off the stage and took himself out of the production. (One account has it that he tossed the sword in Karajan's direction!) Anyway, Domingo was engaged to take over the role of Manrico and, as they say, the rest is history. I use the word 'history' here, because this turned out to be an historic recording in the absolute best sense of the word.
Every major role is sung well in this production. Domingo is brilliant and Cossotto mesmerizing. Karajan conducts with an incisive baton throughout, making the most of the music and the libretto's plentiful weaknesses. The sound is very good, if not up to today's standards, and the stage production excellent. That said, the visual aspects here will arouse controversy: the singers are given too many close-ups by TV stage director Günther Schneider-Siemssen. As a result, the viewer, at times, gets an almost claustrophobic sense of the action. Still, this is not a major flaw, and the overall effort must be given a very strong recommendation, for, on musical and dramatic grounds, this is probably the finest DVD recording of Il Trovatore available today. Certainly it surpasses the very excellent Carlo Rizzi-led BBC/Opus Arte production featuring Jose Cura, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Verónica Villarroel and Yvonne Naef, from 2002, reviewed by me here two years ago.
Copyright © 2005, Robert Cummings