While I agree with much that the Santa Fe listener says in his review, I think his verdict a little harsh. This set has a lot going for it: an all Italian cast; a superlative Di Luna, Azucena and Ferrando in Bastianini, Cossotto and Vinco respectively; probably the greatest Italian conductor of his generation, and a chance for Bergonzi fans to hear him tackle a role at the limit of his capability.
It is true that Serafin is sometimes a little too relaxed; his "Squilli, echeggi la tromba" at the start of Part III is simply too slow and lacking in martial bravura but elsewhere he displays his mastery of the score and is always considerate of his singers. There is a problem with Stella's Leonora; it is most noticeable in her placid, careful opening aria, "Tacea la notte". She is "correct" in everything she does but hardly ever makes your pulse rush (as she can and does in her 1964 recording of "Andrea Chenier" with Corelli, for example). However, if you do not lose patience with her, she warms up considerably and by Part IV uses a combination of her gutsy lower register and floating top notes to make an excellent job of the "D'amor sull'ali rose" and the "Miserere".
I do not think that Bergonzi sounds as if he is stretched beyond his limits in the "Di quella pira" - although I agree that he probably is stretched TO his limits. He manages plenty of squillo in his sound and of course phrases wonderfully. Corelli he ain't - but his is a successful way of doing Manrico, I think.
Bastianini is wonderful, even if he could occasionally temper that big brazen sound and show a little more tenderness in phrases such as "O Leonora" in the "In braccio al mio rival". His "Il balen" is truly beautiful; not a hint of the hoarseness which presaged the throat cancer which ended his career a mere three years later and his life two years after that at 44. His breath control and top G are astounding; the latter attacked cleanly and held effortlessly.
Cossotto is in slightly fresher voice as Azucena than in the later celebrated Mehta recording; powerful and affecting; a wholly successful assumption of that demanding role from an artist at the top of her form.
Finally, Vinco gives us the most vividly characterised and beautifully vocalised Ferrando on record.
So a "near miss" is too unkind a verdict; Stella is by no means a disaster and there is much pleasure to be had from listening to this set. I would not say that the Callas or Bjorling sets are superior, as although Bjorling, like Bergonzi, sang Manrico frequently on stage to great acclaim, some might prefer a heftier tenor with more steel in his voice and a more assertive top C. The Mehta or the later Karajan probably still hold sway for most listeners - and then there is the live Karajan performance with Corelli, Price and Bastianini - or what about the old EMI studio recording with Corelli and Merrill, great Verdi singers both? We have an "embarras de richesses", thank goodness, to choose from - but I am still happy to make room on my shelves for this 1962 Serafin set.
What's worth a 6 (at least) is the performance of Ettore Bastianini as di Luna -- as great an Italian baritone voice as I've ever heard, and here fully engaged dramatically at every point in the opera in which he appears. It's worth getting this recording if only to hear him sing.
But there's a lot more very good stuff. Santa Fe Listener (on American Amazon.com) complains about Antonietta Stella, and I agree that her arias sound a bit recital-ish and stiff, but in the final prison scene, she's fully engaged, as are Bergonzi and Cossotto, and it's as fine a rendering of that scene as any on record. Serafin conducts it with a sure hand, and, unlike Giulini's, it comes across as a single piece of musical dramatic action. As far as Manrico is concerned, Bergonzi doesn't have the huge voice of Corelli, but he sings better. You won't hear the prison scene better sung (nor "Ah si, ben mio"), and there is nothing at all wrong with his "Di quella pira." In fact, it flows better than Domingo's with Giulini. Cossotto is maybe the best Azucena on records -- she has the voice for the part that the otherwise estimable Fassbaender (for Giulini) doesn't, and she sings with great power and beauty. It's up there with Bastianini's performance here. Vinco is as good a Ferrando as I've heard (there are a number of very good ones), and the sound is good, though I do have some quibbles about the balances in places. Sometimes in the solos, the voices are too close, and in the ensembles you get a better impression of the vocal qualities. The prison scene, for example, gets it right. "D'Amor sull' ali rosee" is too close. The close miking at times doesn't make the voices sound bad, just a little unnatural. But that's not a huge deal.
I came back to this recording as a way of testing my judgment of Giulini's recording with Plowright and Domingo, and this one (like the Schippers/Corelli/Tucci on EMI) is much better. Heard right after Plowright, Stella sounds like a world-beater -- though in fact, I think Tucci sings better and is more consistently dramatically engaged. And Serafin, though he has his relaxed moments, is strong where it counts -- in Act 4, for example, where Giulini goes off the boil. What's better than this? Mehta has the young Domingo, Milnes, and Cossotto -- AND Leontyne Price, the greatest exponent on record of the role of Leonora. And he conducts with fire. In the prison scene, there's Bjoerling and Barbieri in 1952, but only the particular distinctive plangency of Bjoerling's voice gives the edge here. Bergonzi sings the role just as superbly. So -- get it for Bastianini, and get all the other bonuses!
Note: Stella and Tucci were both born in 1929 and both attended the Santa Cecilia academy in Rome. Were they classmates, one wonders? It's too bad they came into the fullness of their powers at the same time that three slightly older sopranos -- Callas, Tebaldi, and Price -- were the darlings of the big record companies. And it's maybe a bit ironic too that Tebaldi and Callas were having vocal problems by the early 1960's, but by then the record companies had their performances in the can and perhaps weren't about to re-record standard repertory so soon with untested talent.
Bergonzi is the subtlest Manrico you'll hear. He's graceful, eloquent and you believe Leonora will go for him over Di Luna. His "Ah si ben mio" is almost a serenade, not a shouted love song. This is an underrated Trovatore: you have the clear, penetrating bass of Vinco, an outstanding Azucena in Cossotto (Vinco's wife - if you're remotely interested); a fiery Di Luna with one of Bastianini's last recordings; Stella's attractively sung Leonora; the great Serafin mastering a powerful La Scala orchestra, and finally a good sound recording (though in part IV Bastianini sounds like he's in his own booth). If you like testosterone in your Manrico then Corelli, Del Monaco or Bonisolli will do the job, if not this is the one to get (unless you don't mind mono then go for Bjorling's earlier recording).