Thursday, November 27, 2003

Sunday Classics bonus: Some "Credo" value-addeds


This clip doesn't really add much value. It's just the other video "Credo" clip I found that was marginally less horrible than the rest. And, oh yes, it's got subtitles.


As explained there, we've got two leftover orders of business: (1) a mostly uncommentated sequence of "Credo" recordings, and (2) a juxtaposition of two additional performances featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Jago, first singing in German and then singing as if he were singing in German -- though you'll note that the two German-sung performances we hear in the "gallery," by Michael Bohnen and Heinrich Schlusnus, aren't like this at all.


Here's a vibrant 1908 recording by the outstanding baritone Antonio Magini-Coletti (1855-1912). You might also check out the great Pasquale Amato's 1911 recording.

The "Credo' has been a staple since the dawn of recordings, serving as a standard showpiece for baritones. I don't say that these are the "best" recordings. They're some that I happen to have (mostly in LPs that are hardly the last word technically) which I was able to lay hands on relatively quickly and which seem to me worth hearing, for a variety of reasons.

Eugenio Giraldoni will be known forever as the original Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca, and he must have been formidable. (He did record a nice chunk of the Act II monologue, which we should probably hear sometime.) This was clearly a big, full, wide-ranging voice. Antonio Scotti had an enormous career (he sang at the Met from 1899 to 1933), and as a result is often remembered for singing that wasn't as strong as in his prime years, when he made his famous recordings with his frequent stage partner Enrico Caruso.

"Cannon-voiced" is the description that leaps to mind for Ruffo, for reasons that should be obvious from his "Credo," but it's far from an insensitive piece of singing. The thunderous Gino Bechi for obvious reasons recalled Ruffo. We've already heard him rage as Renato in Verdi's Masked Ball and Gérard in Giordano's Andrea Chénier; it's hardly surprising that he enjoys cutting loose in the "Credo."

The two Germans are both special singers. Most bass-baritones sort of fall between the bass and baritone ranges, but Michael Bohnen's voice had all the depth and fullness of a true bass and the ringing upper-range freedom of a great baritone. Heinrich Schlusnus will be familiar to Sunday Classics readers from our series of Tannhäuser posts. He sang a great deal of Verdi (usually, but not always, in German), but Jago seems to have disappeared from his repertory early on. At least this acoustical recording is the only "Credo" of his I have. (In fact, the only other Otello excerpt I have is the great "Si, pel ciel" duet with tenor Robert Hutt.)

Eugenio Giraldoni (1871-1924), recorded December 1905
[audio link]
Antonio Scotti (1866-1936), recorded March 9, 1906
[audio link]
Mario Sammarco (1868-1930), recorded 1908
[audio link]
Titta Ruffo (1877-1953), recorded Jan. 7, 1914
[audio link]
Michael Bohnen (1887-1965), in German, recorded 1916
[audio link]
Heinrich Schlusnus (1888-1952), in German, recorded 1921
[audio link]
Cesare Formichi (1883-1949), recorded c1927
[audio link]
Gino Bechi (1913-1993), recorded c1942
Milan Symphony Orchestra, Argeo Quadri, cond. EMI, recorded c1942 [audio link]


The German-language performance is from a DG highlights ("Querschnitten," the Germans call them) LP with Wolfgang Windgassen as Otello and Teresa Stratas as Desdemona. The Italian-language complete performance of the opening scene of Act II is from a complete Otello conducted by Sir John Barbirolli (quite beautifully in this scene, I think), with James McCracken in the title role and Gwyneth Jones still in radiant voice as Desdemona -- an oddly frustrating recording, among whose frustrations there's perhaps none greater than Fischer-Dieskau's demented Jago.

VERDI: Otello: "Vanne" . . . "Credo in un Dio crudel" (in German)

[in German] Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Jago; Bavarian State Orchestra, Otto Gerdes, cond. DG, recorded c 1966 [audio link]

VERDI: Otello: Act II, Orchestral introduction; Jago, "Non ti crucciar" ("Do not fret") . . . "Vanne" ("Go then") . . . "Credo in un Dio crudel" ("I believe in a cruel God")
A ground-floor apartment in the castle. Through a window a large garden is seen. A balcony. JAGO on this side of the balcony, CASSIO on the garden side.

JAGO: Do not fret.
If you trust in me, you will soon enjoy again
the flighty favors of Mistress Bianca,
proud captain, with your hilt of gold
and figured baldric.
CASSIO: Do not flatter me . . .
JAGO: Attend to what I say.
You just know that Desdemona is
the leader of our leader,
he lives for her alone.
Beg that generous soul to intercede for you
and your pardon is sure.
CASSIO: But how shall I speak with her?
JAGO: 'Tis her custom to stroll in the shade
of those trees with my wife.
Wait for her there.
Now the way of salvation is open to you;
go then.
[CASSIO moves away. JAGO alone.]
JAGO [gazing after CASSIO]: Go then;
I see your end already.
Your evil genius drives you on,
and I am your evil genius.
And my drags me on, implacable God
in whom I believe.
[Moving away from the balcony, no longer looking at CASSIO, who disappears through the trees.]
I believe in a cruel God who has created me
in his image and whom, in hate, I call upon.
me like himself; cruel and vile he made me.
From some vile germ or base atom
was I born.
I am evil
because I am a man;
and I feel the primeval slime in me.
Yes! This is my creed!
I believe with a firm heart,
just as does the young widow in church,
that the evil I think and which from me proceeds
was decreed for me by fate.
I believe that the honest man is a mocking buffoon,
and in his face and in his heart,
everything in him is a lie:
tears, kisses, glances,
sacrifice and honor.
And I believe man to be
the sport of a wicked fate,
from the germ of the cradle
to the worm of the grave.
And after this derision comes Death.
And then? And then?
Death is nothingness.
Heaven is an old wives' tale.
-- translation by Gwyn Morris
(stage directions swiped from Andrew Porter)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Jago; Piero de Palma (t), Cassio; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded Oct.-Nov. 1968 [audio link]


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