The Santa Fe listener has beaten me to it with his comprehensive and discriminating review on Amazon.com, so I will not render this review otiose by re-hashing his observations, as I pretty much agree with his judgement. (I will readily confess that I sometimes find him harsh and uncharitable in his pronouncements, but this one is right on the money.) This as close as we shall ever get to the-recording-that-never-was-but-should-have-been; I would add only that it would be dishonest to fail to remark that Callas' top notes are indeed a bit screamy - but they pale into insignificance when set against the depth and brilliance of her Violetta. She is in good voice and for once worthily partnered; Valletti especially is in perfect voice; youthful, boyish, unaffected and impassioned. He never makes an ugly sound but there is no shortage of commitment to his Alfredo. The sound is perfectly adequate: a bit hissy and congested but, unlike the La Scala recording, consistent throughout. It is true that Zanasi sounds far too young as Germont - turn to Bruscantini for an authentic sounding father (see my review of the Gardelli set with Freni and Bonisolli) - but he sings honestly and expressively with far more sensitivity than either the detached Sereni or the boorish Bastianini (much as I love both in other roles and recordings). Rescigno supports Callas unobtrusively with flexible, unhurried tempi and his calm control obviously allowed the diva to feel as comfortable as possible.
This is the set I shall take down from my shelves when I want to hear Callas' incomparable characterisation of Violetta in all its lacerating pity and pathos; for me, it renders the other two pirated recordings and the Cetra studio recording obsolete. She maintains such poise and control in key moments such as "Dite alla giovane" that it is easy to forgive the odd instance of vocal frailty - of which there are surprisingly few, in any case.
P.S. A mild curiosity: just after the overture has begun, you can hear Callas warming up quietly in the wings, accompanying the orchestra! Presumably this is something the mike picked up but the audience could not.
on 22 January 2012
For many years this was the unattainable recording. And I find it astonishing that EMI chose to ignore this, over the Milan and Lisbon Traviatas, as this is in almost every respect superior.
Much has been written about the Covent Garden Traviatas. Not least that (frustratingly) Callas' performances improved greatly as the run progressed and here we have an early one preserved. But even so, this is very special and one can only imagine what the later performances were like.
No other singer in my experience has quite managed to get under the skin of Violetta. Callas' way with words is simply unparallelled. The playfulness of the fioratura in the act one duets is enchantingly done, almost sexy in it's carefree way. But in act two, the drama begins to play out, in the great duet. So many moments hit home; for me none more powerfully that the "addio" to Germont, where Violetta promises to be true to the end; the word "finultimo" can never have carried more meaning.
Famously, Callas was criticised in Milan, three years earlier, for the sick quality to her voice in the final act. It is even more pronounced here and the death scene is quite harrowing. Her great cry before "Grand Dio, Morire!" is astonishing, as is her final, fading "gioia!"
Balancing this, it has to be said that her "Sempre Libera!" in act one is not for the faint hearted. The top Cs and the perilous E flat at the very end are not sounds of beauty; that they are perfectly in character is another matter (this is a Violetta who truly is clinging onto life) and no doubt the effect in the theatre was thrilling. For those who like well modulated voices and warm tone, perhaps sample first. But those who like opera as theatre, you will embrace Callas' vocal frailties as part and parcel of the whole; no other singer could turn such problems to their dramatic advantage!
Callas' partners are the smooth sounding Zanasi as Germont Pere and the fresh faced Valletti as Alfredo. The latter is superb in every way, singing with taste and style but fully engaged in the drama. Zanasi, with his warm voice and quick vibrato is less menacing and more sympathetic than many in his role, but I think it works. The sound he makes is very beautiful.
Rescigno conducts a passionate view of the opera, pushing his singers to their limits but bending and flexing and breathing as one. All is preserved in remarkably clear and tolerable sound, infinitely preferable to all the other Callas Traviatas.
The only niggle is a tiny accidental cut from the recording of the orchestral passage before Germont's big aria. It is cut from all the CD editions I have heard, including this one, yet is present on my scratchy old LP issue - a slight mystery. As the splendid Ralph Moore observes, one of the delights is hearing Callas warm up during the prelude. It's the only moment to remind us that this is play acting. Once the curtain is up... fasten your safety belts for the Traviata of a life-time!
on 22 June 2014
I love Callas, & there is some fine singing on it, so I am not criticising the singing, but this recording is incomplete missing the Bridndisi, amongst various other items and edits..why??and is untidy in tempos, and scrappy chorus singing, it makes for a frustrating and unsatisfactory listen. These things should have been flagged up for those who thought it was almost complete, yes the cut before Germont Pére was mentioned, but entire chorus sections with and soloists, and other parts of the Opera performance are missing !! No!! NOT ACCEPTABLE!!