Tebaldi and Corelli
Great Opera Duets
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Anton Guadagno, conductor
Decca, 1973 (2004)
As it happens with the famous concert in Tokyo in 1973, the only regret about the album Great Opera Duets is that it was recorded in September 1972, just four years before both the careers of two of the greatest opera superstars of the 20th century, soprano Renata Tebaldi and tenor Franco Corelli, were over. At this time, Tebaldi was in the limelight for twenty-eight years, Corelli for twenty-two, and even though their voices still have signs of the softness and smoothness of the past, the inevitable signs of wearing and decline were fatally present.
Despite the weakening of their vocal means and the regret that they did not record the same duets ten years before, Tebaldi’s and Corelli’s greatness and inspiration still have a powerful impact on the listener. The splendour of their previous years is not matched in Great Opera Duets of course, but even here there is something that is worth to be heard.
Corelli’s voice is better preserved that that of his colleague, but nonetheless he seems more uncomfortable than Tebaldi. He is often short of breath and in some passages it is really painful listening to him (in particular in the duets from Manon Lescaut and Aida), but the unchanged freshness of his approach is still mesmerizing. Corelli has not lost anything of his energy and there are memorable moments, especially in the last three duets of the album (the ones from Adriana Lecouvreur, La Gioconda and above all the long scene from Francesca da Rimini), where there is even possible to forget his weariness in front of his genuine élan, which seems to belong to a far younger man.
Renata Tebaldi’s voice has suffered much more. It is not by chance that she has chosen to leave the roles of Aida and Gioconda in favour of their mezzo counterparts, Amneris and Laura respectively, as her high register, which was not her strongest point even in her best days, seems to have declined further. This is something that does not pass unnoticed in the duet from Manon Lescaut, which is the worst piece of the recording for Tebaldi and Corelli as well and that, being the first piece of Grand Opera Duets, makes you fear the worst.
The rest of the album is anyway another sample of Tebaldi’s artistry. Her Amneris is a bit unusual as she is not a true mezzo and the same can be said of Laura, but both the roles are sung well overall as Tebaldi’s middle register has not lost its precious velvet. Her best moment is anyway the long duet from Francesca da Rimini, an opera she had hoped to sing on stage but did never had the chance to fulfil her wish. This duet is the only hint of what her Francesca could have been, a tormented, sweet and firm woman, as usual with Tebaldi even though the last trait is in contrast with the psychology of the character.
Great Opera Duets is the evidence of the vocal decline of two of legends of opera only to a certain extent. It is better to consider it as one of last exploits of Tebaldi and Corelli.