Subtle it ain't but for all its faults this recording I find thrilling!Tucci would not be my choice of Leonora but she does it all creditably-Corelli is a his best,which means thrilling in many places and lacrymose in others,but never dull-Simionato dramatic,tho' the voice is separating noticeably and Merrill as ever the baritone with the voice to die for.It may not be the best Trovatore but it is never dull or merely correct.
There has, over the years, been a fair amount of hoo-hah concerning two aspects of this recording which fail to satisfy: one is the element of distortion inherent in the master tapes as a result of miking too close by the original recording engineer and the other is that Mehta drives the music too hard. Otherwise, there can be little doubt that we are hearing some of the best singing of its era which harkens back to a previous Golden Age in its scope and amplitude; there is no way any contemporary opera house could field voices like these in a modern production.
It helps that we have a very fine orchestra, the regular go-to chorus of the day in the Ambrosian singers and Mehta in his youthful Wunderkind stage; he was at the helm for several recordings dating from the 70's which have stood the test of time, especially three Puccini operas, his "Turandot", "La fanciulla del West" and "Tosca", and this "Il trovatore". The peaking problem notwithstanding, the venue of the Walthmastow Town Hall contributes to a big, warm, spacious ambiance which suggests the theatre. I also find that the remastering, without being able to eliminate entirely the crackle on the loudest, highest notes, in combination with listening on headphones, have resulted in a much less troubling listening experience.
As for Mehta's conducting, it seems to me that he allows his artists ample time in the more lyrical passages but simply goes for broke just as this opera demands in the most dramatic scenes. Price has all the time in the world to float her long, arcing phrases in her opening aria and "D'amor sull'ali"; the results are ravishing. As for the odd suggestion that she is past her peak in 1970, the proponents of such an outlandish proposal need new ears; the voice is supreme: velvety, ample, warm and vibrant, filling Verdi's music with passion and pathos.
Indeed all the voices are here are in stellar form. Giaiotti opens the opera with what remains the best Ferrando on record; he is sonorous, saturnine and biting of tone, enunciating the text beautifully and providing exactly the start we need if this opera is grab us by the scruff of the neck and never let go until its absurdly melodramatic climax. Milnes is as good as you will ever hear him; if you don't like him here you don't like his voice in any case. I remember first hearing his "Il balen" in the early 70's and trying to emulate his gorgeous tone and broad, long-breathed phrasing. Cossotto is the power-house I recall her as live in the theatre; she is simply a force of nature, mad as a box of frogs and riveting in her obsession. OK; Domingo lacks the last ounce of glamour at the top of his voice, straining a little with his top C but he is otherwise every inch the hero, combining emotional pathos with vocal allure.
While I am attached to other recordings, especially the live Salzburg one under Karajan with Price, the same conductor's studio recording with Callas, Serafin's later recording for DG and Domingo's second recording under Giulini, none offers the glamour of this vocal quartet or the same propulsive élan - indeed Giulini and Karajan can seem too sedate alongside Mehta's urgency.
I still own a number of prime arias in 78 form from this set. I believe that this was a good recording for its time and was not difficult to play on the equipment then available. The sound quality achieved in the recording offered here is quite pleasing and seamless in the linking of the discs, and the subdued muffled sound often produced in dubbings of 78's is thankfully not evident. I think that Pertile was close to his best in this recording, and he is well supported by Granforte, Carena and Minghini-Cattaneo. This is an old recording (1930) and should not be compared with the sounds and performances enjoyed today but well worth hearing if only to have an insight into the styles and quality of pre-war opera performances. A bit of surface sound here and there, but play Pertile singing "Di quella pira!"and perhaps you will find that you hardly notice it after all! I have been familiar with this for 60 years but wonder whether a little more information concerning the performers might be a selling point whatever the price, and encourage current opera lovers to explore the past.