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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901): La traviata (highlights)
Preludio; Act I: Libiamo, libiamo ne’ lieti calici (Brindisi); È strano! È strano! ... Ah fors’ è lui ... Follie! ... Sempre libera; Act II: Lunge da lei ... De’ miei bollenti spiriti; Oh mio rimorso!; Pura siccome un angelo … Dite alla giovine; Di Provenza il mar … Noi siamo zingarelle; Preludio; Act III: Teneste la promessa ... Addio, del passato bei sogni; Parigi, o cara, noi lascermo; Se una pudica vergine
Edita Gruberova, sop (Violetta Valery), Neil Shicoff, ten (Alfredo Germont); Giorgio Zancanaro, bar (Giorgio Germont), Alastair Miles, bass (Dottore Grenvil) et al;
The Ambrosian Singers
London Symphony Orchestra/Carlo Rizzi
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, February 1992. DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 61511-2 [71:51]



 

I have a soft spot for La traviata, since it was the very first complete opera recording I bought more than forty years ago. That was a recording issued by Concert Hall, conducted by Gianfranco Rivoli with Elena Todeschi singing Violetta Valery. Does anyone remember this recording today? I played it over and over again for weeks and months and knew it almost by heart. The quality of the singing was variable, to say the least, and when I got other versions that recording fell into oblivion, but returning to it after many years I still appreciated Todeschi’s singing more than that of many famous names. She had a somewhat fluttery tone that could be irritating, but it fitted the role and you can’t expect a consumption-ridden soprano to be perfectly steady. 

I mention this because when hearing Edita Gruberova’s Violetta I recognized this flutter. She also can be a little unsteady and she has some very shrill moments, especially in the big first act aria. But there is also deep involvement and she has this stupendous ability to fine down the voice to the thinnest thread of pianissimo. I know of no other soprano, Caballé excluded of course, who can do this so exquisitely, and she does it time after time. Go to her third act aria, Addio, del passato, and I am sure she will at once win you over. After that, go backwards to the long scene with Giorgio Germont in act two, the most wonderful part not only in this opera but in all opera (well, there are a few other scenes on the same level, I have to admit). There we also meet Giorgio Zancanaro, perhaps the most outstanding Verdi baritone during the 1970s and 1980s. He may not have had the largest or most beautiful voice (Silvano Carroli and Renato Bruson respectively can claim to be superior) and he too has a slight fast flutter, not unlike Pasquale Amato in the distant past, but no-one else has his ability to colour the voice and modulate it, to vary the volume. Every phrase lives. Compared to him Bruson, who recorded this opera with Scotto and Alfredo Kraus back in the early 1980s, is monochrome. I can’t remember hearing this second act scene more involvingly sung and acted with vocal means alone. His Provence aria has the same qualities. 

Compared to thi two singing actors Neil Shicoff sounds anonymous. He has a good voice with an ardent delivery. He has good taste but I get the feeling that he approaches his character from without while the other two do it from within. Shicoff obviously has to be seen as well as heard to give full impact. On-stage he is one of the most intense actors imaginable.  

Carlo Rizzi conducts the LSO with feeling, almost too much so in the first act prelude, which is beautifully played but so slow that you begin to despair if the curtain will ever rise. In fact it doesn’t, for after the prelude we are transported directly to the Drinking song, where we also meet the Ambrosian Singers on good form. We meet them on their own further on in the only excerpt from act two scene two, the party at Flora’s place, where they sing the gipsy chorus with great élan. 

Most of the well-known set pieces are here. For some reason Alfredo and Violetta are not allowed their first act duet Un di felice. On the other hand Alfredo sings his cabaletta in act two, Oh mio rimorso, and that is good for it is often cut in stage performances, just as often is the case with Germont père’s cabaletta in the same act. It is only a couple of minutes long and it would have been good to have it too. After the Provence aria, we get the little dialogue between father and son and then there is a very blunt ending with Alfredo’s No! And then we are at once at Flora’s party. 

The booklet gives a short description of the characters, a synopsis and a few lines about “The career of traviata”. Playing time is generous, almost 72 minutes. If you need a highlights disc from La traviata you can’t do much better than this, especially at the price. Warmly recommended! 

Göran Forsling 

 

 

 



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