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Subject: Re: Corelli and diminuendi (was Celeste Aida etc)
From: "Max D. Winter" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max D. Winter
Date:Sat, 21 Oct 2017 16:13:33 -0400

text/plain (54 lines)

Les Mitnick wrote:

"On a personal level, I've never especially liked this particular tenor aria from the first time I 
heard it as a teenager.  I haven't changed my mind.  I find it surprisingly unattractive and 
most of the time the tenor sounds like he's bellowing.  What has made this aria so prized is 
beyond my comprehension."

"Celeste Aida" is, potentially, an exquisite aria but an extraordinarily difficult one to sing 
effectively.  First, the tenor must sing this technically gruelling piece shortly after he first 
comes on stage and is not yet warmed up.  Second, the rising intervals of the vocal line can 
sound awkward and clumsy if they are not sung with absolute vocal control and elegant 
portamento (which they seldom are).  Finally, if, as usual, the final high note is bellowed, it 
destroys Verdi's intended effect of the piece.  The aria is supposed to be a rather dreamy 
reverie of love by the tenor, but it is rarely sung that way.  (Which is why, like you, I don't 
generally like the aria as it is usually sung, as The Tenor's Big Moment.) 

Bergonzi's 1973 recording (from the Philips album of complete Verdi tenor arias) is IMO the 
most persuasive studio version on disc:

Granted, the diminuendo at the end is not perfect.  (Corelli is the paragon there.)  But 
Bergonzi finds the poetry and reverie in the aria that (apart from the end) is absent from 
Corelli's more muscular version.  In an earlier post I mentioned Bergonzi's singing of this 
aria in the 1967 Met performance.  It can be heard here:

This is extraordinary singing by any standard.  Again, there is a bit of a bobble in the final 
diminuendo, but Bergonzi then gets hold of the note, pianissimo, and it just dies away; the 
postlude is played in blessed silence.  But obviously the audience was expecting the usual 
fortissimo, ringing high B-flat at the end, and the applause is tepid and brief perhaps 
because it didn't get what it was expecting. 

When you compare Bergonzi's gentle singing with (for example) Del Monaco's stentorian 
bellowing, you realize what is usually missing from most renditions of this aria.  Out of the 
many performances of Aida I have heard live, in person, over the years, I have never heard 
a completely satisfying performance of "Celeste Aida."  (Some very good, but all wanting in 
some respect.)


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