The acclaimed Renata Scotto made a local debut as Violetta at the age of 18 in 1952, and she maintained La Traviata as a specialty throughout the rising arc of her career. I've heard three recordings on CD that capture her in various stages of vocal and dramatic achievement, and I thought it would be interesting to offer comparative comments:
1962 (DG) -- Here is Scotto in freshest voice, but even at this early stage her voice had "as much needle as thread in it," to quote a comment once made about a similar soprano, Beverly Sills. Both recorded exciting but vocally impure Violettas. In this case, the slack rhythms and lagging pace set by Antionio Votto on the podium ruin the entire performance for me, and nobody in the cast except Scotto is of much note. Also, Scotto's unique dramatic daring hadn't emerged yet. If this is her most beautiful Violetta, it's also her tamest.
1973 (Opera d'Oro) -- This off-air recording suffers from a good deal of mircophone shatter when the singers hit high notes, which is especially unflattering to Scotto's already edgy timbre. But she and her Alfredo, the young, charismatic Jose Carreras, throw off sparks, and the combinaiton is fiery and exciting. On the podium Nino Verchi, conducting before a Tokyo audience, is better than Votto but not much. Overall, however, I'd rate this a very successful reading if you don't mind the occasional aural irritation. And the bargain price doesn't hurt.
1980 (EMI) -- Although billed in this remastering as a 'Great Recording of the Century,' this studio product under Riccardo Muti finds Scotto and her Alfredo, the middle-aged Alfredo Kraus, in less than youthful voice (he had been Callas's tenor in her fabled Lisbon Traviata almost thirty years before). But in both cases the vocal deficiency is minimal, and in return we get Kraus's superbly stylish singing -- this is one of his prime roles -- and Scotto's intense dramatic instincts, which were second only to Callas's.
We also get a smooth, assured if aloof Germont from Renato Bruson (not a favorite of mine), and Muti is less hard and driven than his wont. He's a titan compared to his two previous rivals. The pace is generally fast, as with Carlos Klieber on DG, and Muti gets disciplined playing from the Philharmonia. Critics originally complained about somewhat cavernous sound, but I found it intrusive only in the big scenes with chorus. Otherwise, the leading voices are caught quite naturally.
In the end, this EMI set has the most pluses and fewest minuses. Only those listeners who can't abide Scotto's squawky high notes and the wobble in her voice under pressure should stay away. In the immense catalog of recorded Traviatas, this one deserves an honored place.