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5.0 out of 5 stars
Verdi: La Traviata
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 28 January 2017
It has taken me a good few years to alight upon this recording as possibly the most satisfying of all in a field which has surprisingly few top-notch recordings and a good few clinkers for so perennially popular an opera. I have worked my way through the Caballé recording conducted by Prêtre, Moffo with Previtali, Freni with Gardelli, Studer with Levine and, my favourite of all, Callas' live recording at Covent Garden in 1958 conducted by Rescigno on the Myto label. All have their considerable charms and merits and none is perfect. I have discounted both Sutherland recordings, the first because to my ears she sings flat but no-one else seems to hear it, and the second because she recorded it a bit late and it's rather generic - but I suspect that I shall eventually return to both and give them another try.

But back to this one: it is Cotrubas in fact who comes closest to rivalling the pathos and detail of Callas' Violetta. Like Callas, she is adept at suggesting vulnerability and like Callas there are some incipient technical weaknesses in her soprano, but both had the gift of harnessing those to create the most complete and touching depiction of Violetta. It is also true that despite suggesting a kind of breathy frailty wholly appropriate to a tubercular heroine Cotrubas actually possessed a formidable technique. She can handle the fioriture of "Sempre libera", soar up to a high D flat at its conclusion, maintain a totally steady line in the cantabile passages like "Dite alla giovine" and like Callas plunge into a surprisingly dark lower register. Then there is the essential quality of her tone: a plangent, sometimes piercing note which goes straight to the heart.

I have not even mentioned the other major attraction of this recording, which is the sensitivity and flexibility of Kleiber's conducting. He is unafraid to take risks with quite extreme application of rubato and some daringly slow tempi, but it works.

Cotrubas' cast-mates are somewhat more generic: both Domingo and Milnes sing out with their robust, healthy voices without suggesting any special involvement and of course Milnes sounds too young and virile but I enjoy both, even if I prefer Bergonzi and Merrill respectively. No; for me, the soprano and conductor are the stars here, with all due respect to the two other great artists. The sound remains exemplary, especially for a recording now forty years old.
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on 13 January 2012
Recorded when the cast were at the height of their combined talents, this is a wonderful, heartbreaking recording that will bowl over anyone who enjoys good singing and sincere interpretation. Although the score is not absolutely complete, many traditional cuts are reinstated (the cabalettas for the two Germonts, for example) and it is conducted with a Toscanini - like feverishness by Kleiber. There is more ebb and flow to his reading than in the old recording by the great Italian conductor, and he is more sympathetic to his singers, but he sweeps the listener along with the sheer passion and drama of his conception of the opera: it's like a race against time, and a thrilling ride.

Amidst this hectic adrenalin rush, Domingo and Milnes still shine with both giving sensitive, warm singing. But of course it is Ileana Cotrubas' Violetta that makes this recording irresistable. Hers is a young, vulnerable almost pathetic heroine, crushed by the weight of the double standard that allows men to condemn her for having "a past". Her highly sensitive and deeply intelligent singing, her unusual and often breathtakingly beautiful timbre haunts the listener like no other.

Few Violetta's can look deep inside the soul of the part and communicate that to their audience. The party scenes are dazzlingly sung; "sempre libera" hold no fears even though it pushes her to her limits. It becomes a scene of defiant desperation, a decision to cling to life, a wonderful expression of the character and never a show piece. She caps it with a high E flat in alt. Elsewhere the big key scenes - "Amami Alfredo" and the final aria "addio del Passato" are all done superbly. Hers is not a big round voice like Sutherland, nor a spinto like Scotto. But no other singer since Callas has sounded so ill, so frantic, so tragic, or so RIGHT.

Fabulous sound, and some reissues are a mid-price. It's a traviata to die for, and a recording to live with.
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on 16 December 2014
There is great refinement in this recording. It's in evidence from the opening bars of the prelude. The highlight of the whole recording for me is the Violetta/Germont duet in Act 2. Milnes reins back his powerful voice to blend better with sweet sound of Cotrubas. She sings and acts beautifully, throughout - one of the best interpreters.

Domingo is just right for Alfredo, but I cannot understand why he or Kleiber or the producer, allowed the God-awful, nasal, squawk he produces at the end of the cabaletta "O mio rimorso" to remain in this recording. It ruins a great Verdi set-piece which doesn't even ask for a top C, and I think it's spliced into the recording, which only makes the decision worse.

That aside, this is a top contender for this opera, alongside any Callas recording, the Caballe/Pretre on RCA, the De Los Angeles/Serafin on EMI, or, a recent find, the Gruberova/Rizzi on Teldec.
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on 14 December 2017
A fabulous recording of one of Italy's greatest operatic composer's works.
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on 27 May 2016
Good quality
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on 4 January 2009
Carlos Kleiber once joked that he only worked when he was hungry. After this recording, it would have been no surprise (but a terrible tragedy for music lovers) had he never worked again. He directs the Bavarian musicians and his outstanding soloists in a wholly convincing reading with beautifully judged tempi, always brisk but never breathless. Cotrubas is as close to perfection as Violetta as I have ever heard and she is perfectly counterbalanced by a comparitively young Domingo as Alfredo. Milnes's Germont is much as would be expected from a baritone of his calibre - impeccably judged and totally committed.

Some Verdi fans swear by Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta, others prefer Anna Netrebko in the role and of course, we can never forget Callas's several recordings. I have seen both the younger sopranos onstage in this part, a privilege I never had with Cotrubas. Nonetheless, for me she puts both her younger competitors in the shade.

Kleiber, sadly, is no longer with us. But we are indeed fortunate to have his rich legacy of recordings, of which this is among the greatest.
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on 7 March 2014
This is an intensely heartbreaking version and Cotrubas's voice seems to carry within it the pain, hope, despair and love that Violetta feels. Listening to the recording I simply believe she is Violetta. Domingo and Milnes are memorable. the orchestra and chorus are very fine. Kleiber's interpretative genius shapes one of the most moving Verdi opera readings on record.
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on 3 April 2011
Couldn't agree more with the other reviewers, this is just absolutely top-notch in all aspects. The best I've ever heard live or recorded. Emotion too comes across authentic, from the heart.
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on 26 July 2001
Ileana Cotrubas was one of the leading Violettas of the seventies and eighties, and this recording captures her vulnerable courtesan well. Cotrubas' portrayal of this huge role is all-encompassing, strongly feminine but alive to every nuance of the score and drama. Finer voices and greater actresses have assumed the role, but Cotrubas makes for arguably the most affecting Violetta on disc. She is well partnered by Placido Domingo's ardent Alfredo - a touch heavy for the role at this stage of his career - is a major player none the less. Sherril Milnes is an implacable and robustly voiced Germont (given the cabaletta to "Di provenza" for a change). Minor roles are well taken. One of the stars of the recording is the reclusive Carlos Kleiber, who galvanises the Munich forces into an ensemble from heaven: tempi are brisk but exciting, clarity and texture extraordinary. Certainly the best played Traviata available, and among the best sung. A "must have" recording.
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on 21 September 2001
Simply the best recording ever made of this opera. Kleiber beautifully conducts this opera. Find a quiet couple of hours, a good Chateauneuf du Pape, close your eyes, listen and your there. Superb.
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