The mono 1955 sound takes only a few seconds to get used to and then one starts to forget technical imperfections and one starts to hear the performance, as one should. There are a few vocal and orchestral blemishes but it is live theatre, truly visceral, truly exciting. The singers are all so vivid one can 'see' their facial expressions and understand what they are singing about in a way that has nothing to do with whether one understand Italian or not. This performance is absolutely the opposite of some technically perfect but bland studio performances and is all the more authentic for that. Even the applause is so much more discerning and therefore more real than the rather automatic ovations we get on Met broadcasts nowadays.
Jan Peerce and Marian Anderson both take a few minutes to warm up but are both true Verdians. Robert Merrill is totally reliable and his 'Eri tu' is a thing of wonder. He may not characterise as well as some but he vocalises fabulously. Roberta Peters is wonderfully fresh voiced as Oscar - real luxury casting. It is no wonder that she went on to have such a stellar career and for so long. Milanov is the real reason for acquiring this set though - she had the authentic spinto soprano we so lack in the world today, the voice is full, creamy and beautiful and the pianissimo top absolutely ravishing. Mitropoulos leads a performance which is full-blooded and full of Italianita.
I have the excerpts that these same artists recorded later in the studio-the latter fact notwithstanding, I was taken aback at how consistently Milanov (who I have always enjoyed greatly),sings out of tune, particularly sharp on many occasions.Perhaps I have become too accustomed to her studio recordings with their ability to correct such imperfections-nevertheless it bears out some other reviewers' comments re her singing,live in particular.Marion Anderson blazed a trail for Afro-American singers in singing at the Met, but in this role she too shows a less than flattering voice live.The men sing rather better so perhaps treat this as the momentous occasion it was for all concerned and look past the vocal frailties and ill tuned singing from the female protagonists.The sound is more than adequate though obviously hardly HiFi.In may ways this was a disappointment.