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LA TRAVIATA

--Standard Repertory--

By Giuseppe Verdi

In this work, every great interpreter of Violetta, the "Traviata" of the title, can illuminate the work in a special way; as with a small handful of other great works, it's well worthwhile to have two or three different versions on hand.



VIDEO: A) Edita Gruberova, Neil Shicoff; Rizzi; Teatro La Fenice (maybe the last memento of this jewel of a theatre before it burned down); 1992; Teldec 92409

B) Teresa Stratas/Placido Domingo film dir. Franco Zefirelli; good visuals but spotty singing; 1982; MCA 80048

[Dimly transferred Act II, Scene II extract of Callas in her legendary Lisbon performance (1958) made famous by Terence McNally; on LYRIC DIST. omnibus] [G.R.]


AUDIO: A) DG: (1962) Renata Scotto, Gianni Raimondi, Ettore Bastianini, Votto conducting; a highly committed interpretation from the young Scotto; the tone sounds occasionally glary in places despite her youth, but one suspects faulty sonics, because the phrasing is so effortless and the voice is at its loveliest elsewhere; a heartfelt interpretation in strong healthy voice, John Steane has written "Scotto's recorded Violetta is very probably the most generally satisfying of all"; this is a dramatically riveting presentation from everyone -- even Votto is on fire; Stereo [G.R.]

B) RCA: (1967) Monserrat Caballé, Carlo Bergonzi, Sherrill Milnes, Prêtre conducting; literally complete with top-notch musicians in every role, all possessed of fine voices; this recording balances energy, genuine feeling and beautiful singing; Stereo [G.R]

C-1) EMI: (1959) Victoria De Los Angeles, Carlo Dal Monte, Mario Sereni, Serafin conducting; Serafin's elegant baton heads a sensitive performance long on musicality and warmth, but lacking the full dramatic thrust of other recordings; Stereo [G.R.]

C-2) DG: (1977) Ileana Cotrubas, Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, C. Kleiber conducting; Cotrubas' accomplished, alert interpretation supported by proficient, but not dazzling, colleagues and Kleiber's galvanizing baton; Stereo [G.R.]

D-1) ARTURO TOSCANINI RECORDINGS ASSOC'N: Licia Albanese, Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill, Toscanini conducting; a recording culled from the Dress Rehearsal for a 1946 NBC Radio Broadcast, showcasing Albanese's vivid, highly individual interpretation in more relaxed form than on the commercially issued RCA; as an added bonus you get to hear Toscanini's fine tenor?!; Mono [G.R.]

D-2) EMI: (1958) Lisbon w/Maria Callas, Alfredo Kraus, Mario Sereni, Ghione conducting; of the many different extant performances of Callas's supreme postwar Violetta interpretation, this "live" Lisbon broadcast, made famous by Terence McNally in his play Lisbon Traviata, is the only one combining adequate vocal condition, adequate colleagues and adequate sound quality -- its problem, in fact, is its mere adequacy: (a) the Lisbon performance does not present as strong an overall ensemble as the Covent Garden production later the same year, where Callas is in uncertain voice, and (b) Callas is not in as good voice and not as vocally healthy here in Lisbon as she was in her two Visconti broadcasts (from '55 (G, below) and '56) available only in poor sound; Mono [G.R.]

E-1) NAXOS: Rosa Ponselle, Frederick Jagel, Lawrence Tibbett, Panizza conducting; ("live," 1935 Met Broadcast); the most fabulous vocal feast of all, enthralling in every way including interpretively, now available in better sound than previously (and Naxos pitches it correctly!) -- available only outside the United States (because it is a Met broadcast); fair Mono [G.R.]

E-2) MELODRAM: Beverly Sills, Alfredo Kraus, Mario Zanasi, Ceccato conducting; ("live" from Naples, 1970); thrilling memento of Sills's Italian debut, at her absolute zenith in somewhat distant sound; presents a supreme dramatic interpretation in excellent vocal form, and it also boasts audience participation that is almost as exciting as the performance itself (Viva l'Italia!); Mono [G.R.]

E-3) ACANTA: (1973) Mirella Freni, Franco Bonisolli, Sesto Bruscantini, Gardelli conducting; tender, effective portrayal supported by a surprisingly sensitive Bonisolli and a ragged Bruscantini; taken from a filmed version in 1973 with the same cast (nla); superb Stereo [G.R.]

F) EMI (plus several other labels): Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Ettore Bastianini, Giulini conducting ("Live," Visconti production, La Scala, 1955); Though Callas has not internalized certain aspects of the part so completely as in Lisbon (D-2 above), she is in fresher voice here, and the inspiring, if undisciplined, presence of di Stefano is a decided plus; unfortunately, the sound starts to deteriorate badly at the end of Act II, Scene I, and the whole second half of the opera needs the ear of faith to be enjoyed; fair Mono [G.R.]


 

For Further Reading:

The Operas of Verdi : From Il Trovatore to La Forza Del Destino (Vol. 2, Revised), by Julian Budden

Encounters with Verdi, by Marcello Conati, Richard Stokes, Julian Budden

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