Alvaro came early in Carlo Bergonzi´s career. The first time he sang it in “public” seems to have been a RAI broadcast in July 1951. It also was a role which served him well for several of his house debuts: in 1953 he sang it for his London debut at the Stoll Theatre and later in 1962 for his Covent Garden debut as well for his first appearance in San Francisco in 1969. It was a role he also sang at the Scala in April 1955, at the MET for the first time in 1958 and at the Wiener Staatsoper in 1961.
Here, we hear him at the MET in 1972, his partner being the Greek baritone, Kostas Paskalis, who was among the „clones“ following the early death of Bastianini. The dark and beefy sound instantly reminds one of him. He might have the latter´s sound but not his vocal structure. Apart from some imperfect Italian diction he has the bad habit of discolouring vowels and pressing too much. Though this is a real dark-coloured baritone-voice, the low notes tend to sound husky and the higher middle range often has a spread sound, because he puts so much pressure in the high notes „e tutto il verserOOO“ for example, but he takes back the voice for „lo giuro a Dio“. Opening up again excessively and thus going out of focus at „da un lustro v´ero in trAAAccia.“. „Vissi nel mondo“ sees Bergonzi at what he does best. Steadily pouring out Verdi´s lyric phrases. „Codardo, tale asserto“ has verve and accento. His „Le minaccie, i fieri accenti“ has all the trades of a great singer: he keeps the line slim – sounding just a hint lachrymose in the beginning – opening up only for „in preda ai vEEEti“ and „chi fu solo, sventurAAAto“ turning to a more slim „deh chiniam la fronte al fAAAto“. Non fUUUU disonorata, ve lo giUUUUra un sacerdote“ (where do you hear a clear U nowadays…?) The passage of „Sulla terra l´ho adorata come in cielo amar si puote, l´ amo ancor e s´ella m´ama più non brama questo cor“, alone, summons up the virtues of Bergonzi: how he starts softly „sulla terra l´ho adorato“, builds up a climax onto „l´amo ancor e s´ella m´ama“ with an expert legato and keeping the vocal line compact and uninterrupted soaring neatly over Paskalis´ bellowing again on the repeated „s´ella m´ama…“ He sings up „io mi prostro al vostro PIE.“, though the lower range was not a really weak point of his. At „un brAAAndoo, un brAndo, uscIIIte!“ Bergonzi audibly drives his voice close to its limits. For „Ah segnasti la tua sorte“ and the final lines he is wise to create drama not through volume but with incisive diction and accento.
Paskalis´ singing gives me physical pain. Just listen to his „sangue il tinge di mulatto“ and „finalmente!“. He is mostly crude and monotonous, apart from some ringing top notes. A loud and dark, but uncultivated sound: even Bastianini at his very worst seems a gentleman singer compared to Paskalis here, who is just blurting out in full voice: no nuance, no phrasing, no shaping. Just monotonous and loud singing.
Bergonzi´s Alvaro is nuanced and has certain gripping moments. His handling of the role reminds me in certain aspects of Tucker, yet on a smaller scale and without Tucker´s cutting power. This is no dramatic voice, with only a certain amount of stamina. A voice like Bergonzi´s would have surely been outworn in a short time by the demands of roles like Alvaro, had it been handled by a less expert singer. The role is within his vocal powers – not by nature, but because of the way he approaches it vocally. And he does not cheat himself around its difficulties and demands (like Domingo, who often adapted the heavy roles to his own resources and not vice versa), but he openly faces the challenge. Phrasing, diction, accento, nuance and a steady vocal line instead of reducing a challenging role to just volume and loudness are Bergonzi´s most efficient „tools“ – and he uses them admirably.