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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
La traviata (1853)
Antonietta Stella (soprano) – Violetta; Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor) – Alfredo; Tito Gobbi (baritone) – Giorgio Germont; Elvira Galassi (mezzo) – Flora Bervoix; Luisa Mandelli (mezzo) – Annina; Giuseppe Zampieri (tenor) – Gastone; Nicola Zaccaria (bass) – Marquis d’Obigny; William Dickie (baritone) – Baron Douphol; Silvio Maionica (bass) – Doctor Grenvil; Franco Ricciardi (tenor) – Giuseppe; Vittorio Tatozzi (bass) – Servant of Flora; Carlo Forti (bass) – Messenger; Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan/Tullio Serafin
rec. 15-21 September, 1955 in the Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
NAXOS 8.111272-73 [67:10 + 52:20]
Experience Classicsonline

This should have been the Traviata recording to outdo all the competition - with La Scala forces under Tullio Serafin and with EMI’s star trio Callas, Di Stefano and Gobbi. Alas, it didn’t quite work out that way. Callas had recorded the opera for the Italian company Cetra a couple of years earlier – also issued by Naxos – with maestro Santini but with an inferior cast. According to the contract she wouldn’t be allowed to record it again until 1959. But EMI were not prepared to wait another four years so they decided to carry through the recording anyway and hired the rising star Antonietta Stella, only 26 years of age but in great demand, not only in Italy. She was seen at the time as a serious competitor to Tebaldi and Callas but never reached their ranks. Hers was undoubtedly a thrilling voice and especially in Italy she became very popular.
As Violetta she is well into the role and her phrasing is musical, but the whole conception seems a bit small-scale, which seems like a contradiction in terms since she was actually a lirico spinto in the Tebaldi mould. Her tone is slightly fluttery, which is no real drawback since this lends her reading a certain vulnerability. Her big aria that concludes the first act is well executed without being exceptional but she grows in stature during the long scene with Germont père in the second act. There she is obviously inspired by the masterly acting from Tito Gobbi. Stella’s voice seems freer and fuller and her impassioned outbreak before leaving Alfredo in the following scene on that marvellous melody first heard in the prelude to act 1, Amami. Alfredo, quant’io t’amo (Love me, Alfredo, as much as I love you), is sung with such intensity and beauty that she challenges even Tebaldi. Addio del passato in the third act has the requisite inwardness but is marred by excessive vibrato in forte passages.
Tito Gobbi makes, as I have already intimated, a deeply probing Germont in a richly nuanced portrait, singing with warm rounded tone. This may be the weakness of his reading that there is warmth and compassion from the beginning of the meeting with Violetta. As a listener one, reluctantly, feels sympathy with him. Vocally he is superb, apart from a certain hardness and constriction of tone that creeps in when he sings at forte and above.
Giuseppe Di Stefano is in exceptionally fine voice and makes a warm and caring Alfredo, singing the Brindisi with a suitable lilt and caressing Un di felice. His act 2 aria is sensitively phrased and elegant. Generally this is one of the most beautiful readings of the aria I have heard. He begins softly in the scene when he accuses Violetta in front of all the guests in scene two of that act: Ogni suo aver tal femmina and only gradually lets his anger grow to a mighty climax. Cleverly done. Parigi o cara is sung with melting tone. Overall this is one of his best achievements on record.
There is luxurious casting of the minor roles with an exceptionally beautiful sounding Gastone in Giuseppe Zampieri. A few years later Herbert von Karajan chose him for the role of Alfred in his stereo remake of Die Fledermaus. Nicola Zaccaria also stands out as a sonorous Marquis d’Obigny and even Carlo Forti’s Messenger has star quality in his sole phrase. Serafin’s conducting is well paced and idiomatic and at the same time unobtrusive – excellent qualities for mid-period Verdi.
The recorded sound is less of an asset. There is a great deal of overload distortion and some extraneous noises. These were all inherent on the original master tapes as audio restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn points out in a note. The distortion afflicts the voices more than the orchestra and presumably has to do with the positioning of the microphones. I believe a more experienced producer – read Walter Legge – wouldn’t have let this happen.
Even though a Maria Callas in top form would reasonably have made this a recording classic, it is, in spite of the less than attractive sound quality, a far from negligible set. Especially admirers of Giuseppe Di Stefano should definitely add it to their collections. A safer recommendation for a recording of roughly the same vintage is Tullio Serafin’s stereo re-make with Victoria de los Angeles a wonderful Violetta and the rarely recorded Carlo Del Monte an ardent Alfredo.
Göran Forsling


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