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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La traviata (1853)
sung in German
Clara Ebers (soprano) ... Violetta Valé ry; Richard Holm (tenor) ... Alfredo Germont; Josef Metternich (baritone) ... Georgio Germont; Maria Madlen-Madsen (mezzo) ... Flora Bervois; Kä the Lindloff (soprano) ... Annina; Rudolf Kraft (tenor) ... Gastone; Georg Stern (baritone) ... Barone Douphol; Aage Poulsen (bass) ... Dottore Grenvil
Chor und Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks/Francesco Molinari-Pradelli.
Rec. Frankfurt, June 11th, 1952. ADD

Opera in the vernacular can be a turn-off for many, even if fluent in the 'receiving' language. So how many English-speakers, I wonder, might not even give this a second glance? Traviata in German from Frankfurt in the early fifties?

Look a bit closer and the experienced hand of Molinari-Pradelli might give a clue that there will be plenty to admire. The difficult Prelude to Act 1 shows what calibre of orchestra trainer he is. The sound here, as throughout the set, is good-ish but slightly glassy. Listen to the violins around 1'40 for how Molinari-Pradelli gets them to mould the phrases to give a sense of Italianate expansion. Molinari-Pradelli's interpretation follows the contours of Verdi's music perfectly; energetic when required, but free to give plenty of space also.

The recording is stretched sometimes. Try the violin ascending scales in track 2, punctuating - perhaps a little literally - the party-fizz and try not to be too fazed by the initial shock of the sound of the German language.

So to the soloists, first of whom is of course the Violetta, Clara Ebers. Her diction is excellent, her voice open and free, capable of Verdi's tricky fast writing. Gastone (Robert Kraft) cannot claim the same, being acceptable but somewhat constricted. This first scene is an excellent example of Molinari-Pradelli's verve when required. It is aptly paced to convey the necessary sense of atmosphere. He is the perfect accompanist, too, in Violetta's 'È strano' ('s ist seltsam!'). Interestingly in German this struck me as not too far away from early Wagner (!), up until 1'06, when the tripping flutes enter. Anyway, Ebers' 'Sempre libera' is almost beyond criticism. So, no applause after Act 1 - is this a radio broadcast?

Ebers is at her best towards the end of the opera - as is of course appropriate. Her reading of the letter is spot-on and her delivery of the 'Addio del passato' flawless. It is a pity that there is a touch of distortion around the 1'35-1’40 mark. Occasionally the sound comes and goes somewhat.

The orchestra is, perhaps, overly robust, in the German style, for the introduction to 'Libiano' (here 'O Freunde ...'), but Holm as Alfredo is superb. His Act 1 'Un dì felice' - 'So hold. so reizend' - is exquisite. Perhaps predictably from the above, the Alfredo and Violetta work excellently together - between the two Holm takes the musical honours, however, until the very end of Act 3, where both are at their peaks. Perhaps he is too narcissistic in his Act 2 'Lunga da lei' ('Ferne von ihr'), but there is no denying that he can shade a line nicely. Again, Molinari-Pradelli sticks to him like glue.

Of the principals, possibly the most familiar name will be that of Josef Metternich, who from a rather superficial beginning quickly establishes a close rapport with his difficult role. In his interactions with Violetta, he can do ‘placatory yet firm’ excellently. This first meeting is a highlight - hear how the orchestra blazes at Violetta's 'No gioammai'. His 'Un dì , quando le veneri' ('Wenn einst die Zeit ...') is positively heart-breaking. His 'Di Provenza il mar', too ('Hat ein heimatliches Land') is a real outpouring; Metternich in ultra-resonant form! This is special singing.

Not all soloists are first rate, but none are less than second. Enter Annina, Kä the Lindloff, clearly in a different league from the principals but nevertheless not unpleasant to listen to. Presumably chosen for the way her voice is both immediately distinguishable yet blends well with Ebers', her passages with Violetta are a delight.

Maria Madlen-Madsen's Flora Bervoix is very attractive. Weakest of the soloists is Aage Poulsen's Doctor.

The chorus is fairly well trained, occasionally lagging somewhat. Nevertheless, this is thoroughly recommendable. Never for a first choice, of course; not on the linguistics but on the various shortcomings listed above. But still worthy of the small amount of shelf-space it uses up.

Colin Clarke

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