‘Di quella pira’ is the cabaletta to the aria ‘Ah sì, ben mio’ which together make up almost the entirety of Act 3 scene 2 of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. The number’s famous high C (or sometimes Cs) were an addition to the score that Verdi allowed provided, he added, that the high note was good. Inevitably some tenors lowered the C to a B. Enrico Caruso and Richard Tucker are prominent among these transposers. Feeling free to add a high note, most tenors feel equally free to omit the repeat of the cabaletta along with its brief connecting phrase for the soprano that’s in Verdi’s score. A few of the excerpts below present the piece as Verdi wrote it, the added high C excepted. But if you want to hear the cabaletta sung exactly as Verdi set it, you’ll have to go to Riccardo Muti’s performance of the opera which opened the 2000-01 season at La Scala. Muti caused a furor when he forbad Salvatore Licitra from singing the climactic high note – even Toscanini allowed it. Here it is in all its pristine strangeness. The soprano is Barbara Frittoli. Di quella pira Licitra
I’ll continue with one of the briefest version of ‘Di quella pira’ ever set to disc, Caruso’s 1 minute and 42 second highlight of the music. As mentioned above, it ends with a B. But it’s a good B. Di quella pira Caruso
Next up are two diminutive tenors, both of whom have appeared here before. Bernardo De Muro was a Sardinian tenor with a spinto voice that was inversely proportionally to his height. He also takes a B. De quella pira De Muro. Joseph Schmidt was about the same height as De Muro (5 feet even) and had the most complete technique of any tenor since the start of the recording era. He could do everything. He was so good that I’ll present two of his recordings of the cabaletta, the first in German made when he was about 26 years old followed by another in Italian recorded about 6 or 7 years later. Lodern zum Himmel Schmidt and Di quella pira Schmidt. It’s hard to do better than this.
Mario Del Monaco has enough voice for two or more Manricos, but of his 143 performances at the Met only one was in Il trovatore. He too transposes the high note down a half tone. Di quella pira Del Monaco
The saddest rendition of this music I ever heard was that of Gino Penno in 1956. He was only 36 years old, but was having a terrible time staying on pitch. The Met even had assistants hiding around the stage sounding pitch pipes in an unsuccessful attempt to keep Penno in the vicinity of the correct note. When the final high C, or whatever was planned, came he opened his mouth and not a sound came forth. Nothing! The encore curtains parted, but he did not appear. He sang the third act of Forza filling in for an indisposed Kurt Baum and then was gone. His career was over. He has started out like gangbusters but sang himself to extinction. This excerpt is from a 1953 performance at La Scala with Maria Callas. Di quella pira Penno
Jussi Björling sang Manrico in Trovatore 17 times with the Met, mostly in the first part of his career. His sound and range were perfect for the part, but the Met auditorium was a little too big for his moderately sized voice. Di quella pira Björling
Richard Tucker didn’t start singing Trovatore until relatively late in his Met career (1963). Thereafter, however, it was a mainstay of his repertoire; he gave 26 performances of the role with the company. The recording is from an appearance at the Florence May Festival. As is true for all his singing after his heart attack in 1962 his voice remained in great shape, but his breath duration was reduced. Di quella pira Tucker
Franco Corelli had just about everything one could wish for in the title role of Trovatore. And he was tall and good looking to boot. He was palpable proof of how unfair life is. Di quella pira Corelli
Alfredo Kraus would have endured the rack or the iron maiden before singing Manrico onstage. But his style and brilliant acuti make his recording one of the best. Di quella pira Kraus
Luciano Pavarotti sang Manrico 26 times at the Met. The first of these shows was the opening night of the 1976 season. Pavarotti’s voice was a little light for the part, but his run during the 1976 season was pretty good. He didn’t return to the role at the Met until 1987 by which time his voice and manner were too worn for the character. This recording presents the tenor at his finest form. Di quella pira Pavarotti
Placido Domingo had all that was needed for Manrico except a high C. The highest notes of a spinto tenor’s range were always a problem for him. This recording is no exception. Di quella pira Domingo
Here’s a surprise. Andrea Bocelli’s singing of the cabaletta is pretty good. He sings the repeat as Verdi wrote it. The soprano is Veronica Villarroel. The first high note is strained, but the second one is right on target. Di quella pira Bocelli
Roberto Alagna has sung Manrico, but not at the Met. He does a very credible job. The soprano is his former wife Angela Gheorghiu. Di quella pira Alagna
Joseph Calleja is a lyric tenor who, as far as I know, has never sung Manrico onstage. Though his singing on this studio recording is quite good, he’d do best to keep away from the role in performance. The soprano is again Angela Gheorghiu. Di quella pira Calleja
Finally, a contemporary tenor who has all the spinto chops needed for Manrico. This is an odd version. The repeat is taken, but without the soprano who was given a pass. This is also a performance best heard and not seen. Manrico’s warrior buddies show up with submachine guns. Of course, this is a German production. Di quella pira Kaufmann
There’s no end to recordings of this cabaletta, but these are enough for one post.