Duets with a tenor and a baritone are not common in opera. There’s the famous one in The Pearl Fishers, the Wolf’s Crag scene in Lucia di Lammermoor is written entirely for a tenor and baritone, but it’s usually omitted. There’s a great duet between a father and son in Verdi’s The Sicilian Vespers. Don Carlo has another well known tenor-baritone duet. And there’s ‘Si pel ciel’ that concludes the second act of the same composer’s Otello. Puccini only wrote one such number in his whole career – the duet for Rudolfo and Marcello that is near the start of the last act of La Bohème. When tenors and baritones sing together there’s usually at least one women joining them. But in La Forza Del Destino Verdi hit an all time high with three tenor-baritone duets.
The first of these is the subject of this article. In it the tenor asks the baritone to swear that he will destroy the tenor’s belongings after his impending death from a recently acquired battle wound.. The baritone swears, but not being a tenor he soon reneges and opens the package he has sworn not to. If he had done as promised the story would have ended right then. But being a liar allows the second half of the opera to proceed.
The duet was first recorded in 1906 by Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti. It was a huge hit and helped establish Caruso as the first recording superstar. Eventually his recording royalties exceeded his fees from stage performances. The duo’s singing is still effective even after 113 years. Caruso-Scotti Solenne in quest’ora
Next a few versions from the 50s. In 1950 Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill released a recital disc that featured their famed rendition of The Pearl Fishers Duet. Included on that disc was an equally fine, though less renowned, performance of the Forza duet. Björling-Merrill Solenne in quest’ora
New Orleans was the site of the first ever performance of an opera in the US. George Washington was president at the time. Opera in the birthplace of jazz has been an off and on again affair ever since. Affairs were definitely positive in 1953 when Zinka Milanov, Mario Del Monaco, and Leonard Warren were engaged for a run of Forza. Del Monaco was not known for the subtlety of his singing, but with a voice more powerful than a speeding locomotive he could get by on sheer power alone. Warren, of course, was the greatest Verdi baritone of his era. Del Monaco-Warren Solenne in quest’ora
In 1957 tenor Flaviano Labò made an unheralded debut at the Met in Forza. The baritone on that occasion was Leonard Warren. When the opera was broadcast in January of 1958 Mario Sereni assumed the role of Don Carlo. Sereni appeared 553 time at the Met over 27 years. His career was proof that being consistently OK pays off. Labò-Sereni solenne in quest’ora
Also from 1958 is the duet recorded in performance by Franco Corelli and Ettore Bastianini. Corelli-Bastianini Solenne in quest’ora
The last excerpt from the 50’s features Giuseppe Di Stefano and Aldo Protti. It’s from a 1959 La Scala performance. Di Stefano was already well along the downhill trail when this recording was made, but the duet fits his voice very well and he sounds as he did in his prime. Protti was a very good baritone who had a long and very successful career despite being consistently underestimated. Di Stefano-Protti Solenne in quest’ora
Don Alvaro was one of Richard Tucker’s favorite roles. He sang it 34 times at the Met. Robert Merrill was Don Carlo 33 times with the New York company. Together they were hard to beat. This is from a 1961 performance. Tucker-Merrill Solenne in quest’ora
Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes were another great combo. This excerpt is from a 1983 recital. Domingo-Milnes Solenne in quest’ora
Finally, and much closer to the present, is the duet sung by Jonas Kaufmann and the French baritone Ludovic Tézier. It’s from a complete performance of the opera in 2013 in Munich. Kaufmann’s interpretation is, as always, sensitive and attentive to the demands of the score. Domingo-Tézier Solenne in quest’ora.
The Italian text followed by and English translation is below.
Solenne in quest’ora,
far pago un mio voto.
Lo giuro, lo giuro.
Sul core cercate.
DON ALVARO (indicando la valigia)
Con essa trarrete un piego celato…
l’affido all’onore. Colà v’ha un mistero,
che meco morrà. S’abbruci me spento…
Lo giuro, sarà.
Or muoio tranquillo;
vi stringo al cor mio.
Amico, nel cielo!
DON CARLO e
Addio, addio, addio.
You must swear to me
in this solemn hour,
to carry out my wish.
I swear, I swear.
Near my heart, look –
DON ALVARO (pointing to the valise)
There you will find a package.
I entrust it to your honour. Within, there is a secret
which must die with me. Burn it when I am dead…
I swear to do so.
Now I can die in peace.
I embrace you with all my heart.
My friend, trust in heaven!
DON CARLO and DON ALVARO
Farewell, farewell, farewell.
Nice collection. But you wrongly slander baritones. Don Carlo did not open the letters he was sworn to destroy. He says: “An oath is sacred to a man of honour;
these papers shall keep their secret safe.”. Instead he finds his sister’s portrait elsewhere in the chest.