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La traviata (1853)
(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
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
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.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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