In the Verdi bi-centenary year, Decca released this 3-CD compilation of the late tenore di grande Luciano Pavarotti's Verdi.
Let us be very careful here - the collection is from a very diverse collection in terms of performance quality. Not so much in Pavarotti himself alone, but in many other places from the entire cast. So much care is needed in assessing this compilation.
Let us go disc by disc.
CD1 opens with the highly controversial 1991 live Otello. Any one with any knowledge of 20th century opera knows full well what happened to Pavarotti and Otello. So Decca's compilation in opening this tri-CD album with tracks from this recording was highly suspect in the intention per se. That said, out of sheer curiosity and with the full background knowledge, Pavarotti did not sound too poor in the chosen excerpts at all. The harsh criticisms at the time of the live performance were probably over-played, for listening to it now, one still wonders whether any current tenor can reach this sort of singing level in this role.
Then follows the Macbeth excerpts, a small role of Macduff sung by Pavarotti. The original recording of this opera was grossly underrated, so the excerpts here are a most welcomed release. The Il Trovatore excerpts that follows are from another highly controversial full opera recording, when the other leads apart from Pavarotti all under-performed. Luciano is still at his normal exalted level here, so this compilation is another wonderful release in such format.
The Requiem aria as well as the Luiser Miller excerpts come from top recordings of the respective Verdian masterpieces, so no quibble here.
CD2 begins with a live La Scala `Aida' in the mid-1980's and Pavarotti was still in his vocal prime. The DVD is less eye-catching and the Aida is probably not a perfect match for Pavarotti's exalted Radames. The excerpt from `La Forza' comes from a very late London recording (1995) and is at best a historical memorial piece. The following excerpts from `Il Lombardi' is another late recording of the male lead (61) that unduly hampered the reputation of the entire recording, but if you want to hear how Pavarotti fared at 61, this is in fact not bad at all!
The following `Un Ballo' excerpts are Pavarotti's signature role, and the excerpts are famous renditions that one could not ask for better.
CD3 contains more prime stuff, and of course, with the exception of Ernani when it is the second and lessor attempt by Pavarotti of the title role (the first was a MET DVD of 1988, some years earlier). But again, Pavarotti only has himself to compete here, and the real weak link is Dame Joan Sutherland.
All in all, I don't know what Decca was thinking when compiling this, but for a seasoned critical Pavarotti fan owning nearly all his well-known stuff, I do not mind grabbing this 3-CD issue just to pluck the hole. It will still be played a dozen or so times before it will get shelved permanently, I suppose.