This is a very desirable release, dating from the Met broadcast of Feb. 4, 1961. For collectors it runs head to head with a famous Trovatore from Salzburg that pairs Price and Corelli, now apparently out of print, which was broadcast the following year. How do the two compare? Surprisingly, there's much to be said in favor of this Met recording. for one thing, it's clear, well-balanced sound, although in mono, is better than Salzburg's(the best version of which is the festival's official Dokumente release on DG).
The two leads are not significantly different from one set to the other. Price's Leonoa, a signature role, is sung with miraculous vocal skill, and her interpretation seems more or less fixed. corelli, who cannot be said to rise to her level artistically, will always be controversial. To me, he's blaring and coarse,, but of course the voice per se was remarkable, particularly in this early stage. (Those who know inform me that the high C in 'Di quella pira' has been lowered a half step.) His high notes, held beyond Verdi's written notation, are greeted rapturously by the highly stimulated Met audience, and Sony has done nothing to abbreviate their applause. The other two main roles fall in Salzburg's favor, with Ettore Bastianini's magnificent Count far outdoing the reliable but fairly dull Mario Sereni. Giulietta Simionato delivers her signature Azucena, but Irene Dalis isn't far behind her, so long as you don't mind the role being less fire-eating and more restrained.
Il Trovatore doesn't pose great challenges to a competent opera conductor and orchestra. On their own terms, the Met orchestra and house Italian specialist Fausto Cleva do quite well. He panders a bit to the singers but otherwise keeps the dramatic pace moving forward. Even so, Karajan and the Vienna Phil., needless to say, arrive from a higher plane, almost another galaxy. The main reason they don't dominate more is the fairly distant miking and duller sound. I'd also like to commend the Ferrando of William Wilderman at the Met, a regular there, no doubt, but unknown to me. He easily outsings a woolly Nicola Zaccaria in Salzburg.
I've tried to give an objective appraisal, and no one who owns either set need fear. They are both great Trovatores, and one could easily chose one or the other as the best we've ever had in the modern era.