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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
La Traviata (1853) [122:20]
Violetta Valery – Maria Callas (soprano)
Flora Bervoix – Ede Marietti Gandolfo (mezzo)
Annina – Ines Marietti (mezzo)
Alfredo Germont – Francesco Albanese (tenor)
Giorgio Germont – Ugo Savarese (baritone)
Gastone – Mariano Caruso (tenor)
Il Barone Douphol – Alberto Albertini (baritone)
Il Marchese D’Obigny – Mario Zorgniotti (baritone)
Il Dottor Grenvil – Mario Zorgniotti (bass)
Giuseppe – Tommaso Soley (tenor)
Coro Cetra
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Gabriele Santini
Recorded September 1953, Turin
WARNER FONIT 5050467-3377-5-6 [67.69 + 54.21]

This is Callas’s only studio recording of La Traviata, made in 1953 for Cetra. Unfortunately its existence prevented Callas from singing on the proposed 1955 EMI studio recording; having made the Cetra recording, Callas was not allowed to record the role again for five years. The years between 1953 and 1955 were the ones where Callas fully developed as an artist, so that if she had recorded the work in 1955 we would have had a complete artistic view of the role. As it is, we must content ourselves with this studio picture of Callas’s still partially embryonic Violetta, along with the later live recordings from Lisbon and La Scala.

These later live recordings have the advantage of Callas the mature artist caught live. When she was on form, she was always more thrilling, more vivid live and luckily on the two live Traviata recordings she is on form. The drawback, of course, is the sound quality. So, in theory, we should welcome this reissue of the Cetra studio recording.

Unfortunately the sound quality is adequate rather than superb and the cast adequate rather than exciting. As with other Cetra recordings of the period, this Traviata provides an interesting historical picture of an Italian performance. But it is hard to be too enthusiastic. Francesco Albanese is a run-of-the-mill Alfredo. Whilst his performance is not quite of the stand and deliver type, his subtlety is very limited. Ugo Savarese is a not unsympathetic Germont, but he hardly lifts the set into higher artistic realms. The smaller roles are barely adequately cast.

It is only with Callas that we get glimpses of something magical. As ever with this singer, there is a trade-off between her artistic development and her voice; here we have her in superb voice but without all the heart-breaking depth of later recordings. But even in 1953, Callas could give many sopranos a run for their money in this role. Her shaping of phrase is truly notable and in Act 3 becomes quite moving. If only she were supported by a good conductor, then this set would be interesting and distinguished. As it is, Gabriele Santini’s conducting is on the disappointingly floppy side.

The set comes with a complete libretto (complete as set by Verdi, with the cuts rather usefully marked). The booklet has a number of interesting illustrations. It must be pointed out that this recording has already been issued by Regis Records and they added two bonus tracks: Callas in arias from ‘Nabucco’ and ‘ Macbeth’.

So if you want Callas in La Traviata, I would advise you to try and listen to the live recordings. If you can live with their aural defects then you get Callas supported by fine cast and conductor, unlike on these discs.

Robert Hugill




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