If a knowledgeable opera goer were asked to name the most demanding and beautiful bel canto aria written for the soprano voice “Casta diva” from Bellini’s Norma or “Bel raggio lusinghier” from Rossini’s Semiramide or perhaps “Regnava nel silenzio” from Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor might head the list. But to my ears nothing is as beautiful and asks more from the singer than “D’amor sull’ali rosee” from the fourth act of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. It’s also the last bel canto aria in the long series started by Rossini just as it’s parent opera is the last bel canto opera in the same series. Thereafter Verdi took the genre in a new direction.
The standard for this piece was set 60 years ago by the greatest Verdi soprano I ever heard – Zinka Milanov. Milanov was born in Zagreb, Croatia in 1906. She died in New York City in 1989. Her career was centered at the Metropolitan Opera where during the early and mid fifties she was the prima donna assoluta at the house. In almost six decades of opera going I have never heard her like. Her voice was pure gold and she had the unique ability to spin high outs high notes that seemed to take on a life of their own and float through the house like soaring swans.
D’amor sull’ali rosee (Milanov). Listen to this before judging what some of the great sopranos of the past and present can do with it.
When Montserrat Caballé (born 1933) first appeared at the Met, Milanov remarked that she sounded like “early me.” This was true of her beautifully modulated pianissimos; but the Catalan artist did not have the vocal richness that characterized Milanov’s middle and lower ranges. Nevertheless, she was one of the greatest sopranos of the 20th century in the Italian repertoire of the first half of the 19th century. D’amor sull’ali rosee (Caballé).
Leontyne Price (born 1927) succeeded Milanov as the Met’s great Verdi soprano. She made a sensational debut in 1961 at the Met as Leonora in Il Trovatore (also Franco Corelli’s debut). She sang this role 27 times at the Met. I heard her throughout her career and think she was better 10 years into her Met career than she was at its start, which is saying a lot as she was very good indeed when she first arrived at the New York house. Her voice had a unique smoky quality to it that instantly identified her to the listener. This recording was made close to the time of her Met debut. L Price – D’amor sull’ali rosee
Maria Callas (1923-77) is next. She has passed into legend and is the only soprano whom everybody knows regardless of how little they care about opera. She was a marvel at interpretation and was a great actress. The sound of her voice was not particularly appealing. She also had the inestimable luck to be the darling of most of the influential critics of her time as well as those who followed. If you gave me the choice of attending a performance of Trovatore with either Milanov or Callas as Leonora, I’d take the former in a millisecond. Tosca would be another matter. The legend has far outpaced reality. She was an exceptional artist, but there were many others just as gifted. Of course, the legend will prevail. Callas – D’amor sull’ali rosee.
Claudia Muzio (1989-1936) was brought up in the opera house. Her father was a stage manager at both Covent Garden and the Met. She was famous for the beauty of her tone, the emotional content of her singing, and for her pianissimo - but no trills. Most of her recordings, unfortunately, are of poor quality as is this one. Muzio – D’amor sull’ali Rosee.
Rosa Ponselle (1897-1981) was a phenomenon. She made her operatic debut, at the Met no less, opposite Enrico Caruso as Verdi’s other Leonora (La Forza Del Destino) at the age of 21. She retired before she was 40. When everyone at the Met was going crazy over Milanov the old timers said, “But you should have heard Ponselle.” She was unquestionably the greatest soprano America has produced. She had a dark, seamless, and rich voice on top of an almost flawless technique. Ponselle -D’amor sull’ali rosee. Because of the time limits of acoutic recording the recitative is omitted on this recording made the same year of her debut – ie, when she was 21.
If you heard Renata Tebaldi (1922-2004) during the last 10 years of her career, you listened to a lot of off pitch screaming. But in the fifties, especially, she had a big gorgeous voice that was among the greatest of the 20th century. She couldn’t trill and her floated pianissimos were not in the same league with Milanov or Caballé, but she nonetheless was worth a special trip to hear. Tebaldi – D’amor sull’ali rosee.
Among singers currently active, the American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky (born 1969) is the leading exponent of this role. She can float high notes virtually equal to those of her great antecedents. Radvanovsky – D’amor sull’ali rosee.
The Italian and English lyrics to the song are below.
Lasciami, né timor di me ti prenda…
Salvarlo io potrò forse.
(Ruiz si allontana)
Timor di me?… sicura,
Presta è la mia difesa.
I suoi occhi figgonsi ad una gemma che le fregia la mano destra.
Notte ravvolta, presso a te son io,
E tu nol sai… Gemente
Aura che intorno spiri,
Deh, pietosa gli arreca i miei sospiri…
D’amor sull’ali rosee
Vanne, sospir dolente:
Del prigioniero misero
Conforta l’egra mente…
Com’aura di speranza
Aleggia in quella stanza:
Lo desta alle memorie,
Ai sogni dell’amor!
Ma deh! non dirgli, improvvido,
Le pene del mio cor!
Go … leave me,
and don’t fear for me.
I can save him, perhaps.
Fear for me? … Sure
and ready is my protection.
She looks at a ring on her right hand.
Shrouded in this dark night,
I’m near you, and you don’t know it!
Moaning wind, you who blow here,
ah, mercifully take my sighs to him.
On the rosy wings of love
go, oh mournful sigh;
comfort the flagging spirits
of the wretched prisoner.
Like a breath of hope
flutter in that room;
waken in him the memories,
the dreams, the dreams of love.
But, pray, don’t imprudently tell him
the pangs, the pangs that rack my heart!