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Another classic from Decca's miraculous summer of 1971
on 24 December 2015
This magnificent recording was made by Decca in the summer of 1971 in virtually the same session as the "Rigoletto" with the same conductor, principal cast members and sound engineer and in the same venue, so artistically and sonically it is superb. The only difference is that the the orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera are employed rather than the LSO and the Ambrosians, which entails no loss, just a maintenance of high quality.
I am bewildered by carpers who complain about the lack of atmosphere, Sutherland's diction and Pavarotti sounding too little like Edgardo and too much like himself. Their complaints are, as far as I'm concerned, either highly subjective or illusory; this recording makes others look under-powered and is so much better than either Sutherland's first version under Pritchard ten years before or Bonynge's forgettable remake twenty years later. She might sound rather more mature - she was only 44 - but technically she is absolutely extraordinary, her voice huge, agile and powerful up to a top E. Pavarotti is very involved - I hear no coasting - and produces singing to set alongside his Duke of Mantua. I remember being thrilled by Milnes' opening two arias the first time I played the LPs and in many ways this recording finds him in the best voice I have ever heard, complete with snarl and ringing top G. Ghiaurov is in smoothest chocolate voice, a perfect foil to the sibling hysteria displayed by Enrico and Lucia. Ryland Davies and Sutherland's most frequent mezzo partner, Huguette Tourangeau, complete a very strong cast.
Decca has now transferred this 140 minutes of music from an unnecessarily extravagant three discs to two but this is a complete, uncut version. There have in fact been very few studio recording sin the last fifty years and even fewer of any note. Others may prefer accounts by Moffo and Sills - they certainly have their merits and I reviewed the former with five stars - but as far as I am concerned this is the only studio version to rival Callas in her pomp accompanied by Di Sefano and Gobb or Tagliavini and Panerai (both conducted by Serafin), as it is a truly large-scale, Grand Opera concept.