I was very impressed with this recording. It's a contender even if you want a stand-alone recording. The Cetra sound is mono and the singers are close-miked but, apart from the echo on Tagliavini in the first act, it's perfectly acceptable.
Tagliavini had a unique voice - it was powerful but he could switch to a Gigli-like dulcet falsetto, which is pleasing and used with discretion. It's a wonder why his voice deteriorated so rapidly by the early sixties. He makes a great Riccardo, evidently enjoying the role ("E scherzo od e follia" - a fine tribute to Bonci's original giggle).
Maria Curtis Verna is slightly hard of tone for my tastes but she covers Amelia's extensive range with ease - she is the quintessential dramatic soprano that Italy churned out in the 40s, 50s and 60s.
Giuseppe Valdengo was towards the end of his career here but you'd never guess it. A full-bodied baritone with all the power and anger that you want for Renato.
Pia Tassinari is wonderful, by this point she had turned to the Mezzo repertoire with amazing results, and one of the best Ulricas I've heard.
Maria Erato had the perfect voice for Oscar. I think I prefer her to the great Reri Grist.
Angelo Questa does a more than fine job with the RAI orchestra. Unfortunately there are two tiny cuts (at the end of the act II trio and in the chorus of the final scene) both adding up to a paltry 20 seconds - I kid you not - so one wonders why.
Nonetheless this is a great recording and at a bargain price you should go for it!
This classic, first complete recording of one of Verdi's most melodious and approachable operas continues to appear very cheaply on a variety of labels, but in whatever incarnation you hear it - and presumably Pristine will eventually get around to remastering it best of all - you must put up with what is inevitably elderly mono sound with some constant background hiss and a limited dynamic range but otherwise a perfectly acceptable quality for its vintage, hardly worse than early 50's mono.
It was made during a time when the Allies were poised to ensure Italian capitulation; it is a fascinating historico-musicological fact that some wonderful recordings were being made contemporaneously in Nazi Germany regardless of the implosion of the Fascist state and its war aims.
For all his vocal splendour, Gigli has never been my favourite tenor but his irritating mannerisms of gulping and over-emoting are hardly in evidence here and he sounds considerably more boyish than his actual 53 years, chuckling winningly in "È scherzo od è follia" and rising magnificently to the desperation of "Forse la soglia attinse". His regular partner Maria Caniglia is already evincing signs of decline despite not yet being forty, yet hers was a grand, passionate spinto soprano which, while never perfect nor always sweet on the ear nor even completely under control, was, to be fair, apparently never recorded as gratefully as the tenor's voice. Her lower register is striking and she is not yet singing too often under the note, a fault which later crept in. She is never less than wholly committed to the emotional import of her music and her "Morró, ma prima in grazia" is moving and an example of singing in the old, grand manner. The thirty-year-old Gino Bechi tears a passion to tatters as Renato,exhibiting one of the most sheerly exciting Italian baritones ever to stride stage -and I include Ruffo, Straciari and Amato in that category. He doesn't attempt much in the way of variety of colour or subtlety of expression but what a sound he makes. An even younger Fedora Barbieri at 23 completely and commandingly inhabits the role of Ulrica, displaying extraordinary vocal maturity and artistic confidence as the prophetess. Elda Ribetti is no more shrill or annoying than most coloratura sopranos as Oscar; in my experience the best has been Reri Grist in the highly recommendable - indeed still my first choice - recording by Leinsdorf with Leontyne Price, Bergonzi and Merrill. It is odd to see the great basso Tancredi Pasero cast in the minor role of Samuel the conspirator but his presence lends vocal glamour.
Tullio Serafin is of course completely at home conducting this archetypal Verdi opera and the Rome Opera forces sound as though they are enjoying their part in proceedings, singing and playing con gusto.