NB: while this recording is a winner in any form, the following review is for the superior Pristine Audio issue in remastered Ambient Stereo, unavailable on Amazon. I note that some reviewers do not like what EMI have done in their more recent remastered issues, whereas Pristine have done their usual impeccable job.
My MusicWeb colleague Göran Forsling has provided a fine comparative survey of the four mono recordings from the 50’s and concluded that this EMI issue always had the best recorded sound, the quality of performance notwithstanding. However, this Pristine remastering into Ambient Stereo gives it even more of an sonic edge and the opportunity to appreciate afresh just how good the singers here are; its warmth and depth confer renewed presence and immediacy on proceedings, while minor irritations and blemishes have been minimalised by Andrew Rose.
Fortunately they are accompanied by a conductor, chorus and orchestra entirely immersed in the Verdian idiom, providing ideal support. Serafin does nothing eccentric or flashy but simply knows how this music should go and does it, giving his singers plenty of time to make their points without undue self-consciousness.
Little more can be said about the principals which has not already been observed in the sixty or so years since its issue after the miraculously busy recording year of 1955. For some Di Stefano for all his élan, is a touch crude and shouty and the too open vowels presage troubles to come, but his is a highly energised, winning assumption with many splendid moments. Gobbi’s voice might have been a little lean in tone for the ideal Verdi baritone but his range of colour and expression is miraculous; no singer since has so completely embodied this most complex of characters. Even Taddei, Warren or Milnes, all of whom are evidently deeply immersed in their portrayals and had more conventionally apt voices with stronger upper extensions, could not rival Gobbi for involvement. It might be true that Callas was not naturally suited to the role of Gilda but she was such a consummate vocal actress and technician that she entirely convinces as the waif whose obsessive love imbues her with a will of iron – enough to defy her father and sacrifice her life for a rake. Her downward portamento remains a thing of ineffable beauty. All three singes live their parts, providing a thoroughly satisfying synthesis of music and drama.
The supporting cast is splendid, especially Zaccaria’s saturnine Sparafucile. Lazzarini is not the most compelling or individual of mezzo-sopranos to record Maddalena but she is much more than adequate.
This restoration and revitalisation from Pristine ensures that the current generation can hear what remains, despite the cuts standard for the time, artistically the most complete “Rigoletto” on record. The only drawback is that a libretto must be accessed elsewhere.
For a more modern recording, and if you prefer their voices, I recommend the Bonynge on Decca, with Sutherland, Pavarotti and Milnes in finest form; see my review.
It is, perhaps, unworthy of EMI to issue this under the "Callas Edition", as the star of this Opera is clearly the principle baritone, and the baritone here is no less than the great Tito Gobbi. Still, for some perverse reason, it is Callas that sells these days, and EMI seems determined to make the most out of one of their top selling artists. For the Callasites out there, her performance as Gilda should not disappoint. Callas is in much happier voice than can be found elswhere amongst her discography and she does give a thoughtful and attentive reading of the role- though many will feel that a younger sounding and fresher voice is really needed. As the libertine Duke, Guiseppe di Stefano is in his element. There may be more eloquent accounts of the role on record, but few have captured the spirit of the role so well. The real tour de force on this disc is the incomparable assumption of the title role by Tito Gobbi. I have heard many fine Rigolettos, but never one so memorable as Gobbi's. Here he sets a standard by which other interpretors must be measured, and ultimately fall short. Along with Iago and Scarpia, Gobbi's portrayal has yet to be bettered. The vengence, humanity and nobility he brings to the role is unique. The conducting is exemplary and the whole performance is electrifying. The sound fares less well by today's standards but is soon forgotten as the drama, in such masterly hands, begins to bite. Those who insist on modern recordings should abandon their principles and buy this set. This will not be bettered, and is a Gobbi performance to cherish.
This is a full-blooded Rigoletto recording! Callas is at her very best here, her voice really portraying the young and innocent Gilda. Gobbi is probably THE Rigoletto with his acting vocal skills. Di Stefano might not be the ideal Duke, but his voice is absolutely marvellous.
Verdi: Rigoletto short but sweet, there is only one maria callas, for clarity of voice and range, there is no other. promoters and unfornutate circumstances cut short her time on stage and performances, she will long be rembered by opera lovers of the best there was and maybe will for some time if ever love maria