...although the earlier of Leontyne Price's two recordings runs it close.This is one of the three or four most satisfying recordings of this great, sprawling opera - and two of the others also feature Tebaldi. To hear her at her very best, you need to go to the legendary 1953 live set, thrillingly conducted by Mitropoulos - Del Monaco also is stunning here - but the sound is pretty rough and Aldo Protti merely adequate compared with the burnished, nut-brown tones of Bastianini. This 1955 Decca studio recording, in excellent stereo sound, is very good - I cannot believe how snooty some critics (especially my compatriot British ones who rave about weedy, effete voices like those of Pears, Bostridge and their like) are about Del Monaco in this, probably his best role after Otello; to me he is tremendous, but it has to be said that for sheer glamour, Corelli tops him in the 1958 Hardy recording with the same conductor (also available on black & white DVD) which is in good, live sound but obviously not as pleasant a listening experience as this. The cast assembled is without peer even if Molinari-Pradelli's conducting is nothing special and Tebaldi is certainly in fresher voice than in 1958. We are spoilt for choice with recordings of this opera, as, in addition to the earlier Price set, there is also the Callas version with a good, if not quite so spectacular, cast let down by Rossi-Lemeni's woolly Padre Guardiano and a baritone past his best. After over 50 years, this remains the best bet, in many ways.
I agree with RM - this is a great set and fights for top place with the later Price/Schippers set of a virtually all-American cast. Tebaldi is in her prime. I love Del Monaco here - listen to his opening of "Solenne in quest'ora", he sounds like a baritone and with Bastianini alongside... we'll never hear the like again. Siepi is a grand Guardiano, Simionato is wonderful as Preziosilla and Corena as Melitone is as charming as ever. I've nothing inspiring to say about Molinari-Pradelli's conducting but with these singers, who cares?
If you put a gun to my head I'd go for the Price/Schippers RCA set. You only have to listen to the gorgeous honeyed sounds of the male chorus alongside Price's honeyed tones in "La vergine degli angeli" to get the point. However, I don't expect you to pay over a hundred pounds for the set (as I've noticed) it's a ridiculous amount, but, in my opinion, it should be the reissued recording instead of Price's later RCA recording coming in Jan 2012 under the Sony Opera House series.
Oh dear. Forza happened to be the first Verdi opera I saw ( which probably makes a change at least), and in the mid-50s, too. I honestly can't spontaneously remember who the tenor was, but the Glyndebourne archives probably list the Edinburgh cast under John Prichard, and he was at least respectable. (He is indeed listed- he was David Poleri) At least his (cruelly exposed) first entry didn't blow the evening. Del Monaco's is almost enough to put you off the opera for life. The best you can say of it is that it's fearless and at least you know you have a tenor around, but it's going to be a long night. But you do forgive him, though it's not a role for an Otello. Di Stefano in the sadly truncated RCA set which is almost contemporary at least manages it more subtly, When you recover from the tenor entry -it's a rape, not an elopement - the conducting is undistinguished throughout, which matters. What seems to have appealed to Verdi about the idea of Forza is that it's a pretty exact transposition into mid-nineteenth century religious morality of "Don Giovanni" which enabled him to recompose Mozart's opening scene with a willing Donna Anna, and then explore the guilt of the Commendatore's death through Alvaro as an honourable Don. He can also use the Church and civil disorder on stage. If it sprawls then so does "Don Giovanni". Simionato and Corena (Glyndebourne's Edinburgh Falstaff that year, for Giulini, no less) both make things happen, despite Molinari-Pradelli. Tebaldi hopes they will, and sometimes they do. My live Forza fielded Jurinac, who was pretty much in the same position - it's not a grateful role. Though by the time of the RCA LP set Milanov was no longer at her peak, her declamation of her great soliloquies is still as Shakespearian as it had been on her earlier discs of them, and as Verdi had written them. Nothing needs to happen when she is on stage. She is what happens. And there is also Siepi. I'm sorry to disagree with the other reviewers, but I bought this CD transfer not having heard the recording for over forty years, hoping its recording quality ( which is high) would compensate for the stiffnesses and shortcomings I recalled. If Forza is to work- and when it does, it's a masterpiece - it needs a driving, presiding force. This is a recording studio concoction. It was worse than I feared, and after one hearing I've never been back to it - not even for the marvellous Simionato.