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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata (1853)
Violetta Valery - Victoria de los Angeles (soprano)
Flora Bervoix - Santa Chissari (soprano)
Annina - Silvia Bertona (soprano)
Alfredo Germont - Carlo Del Monte (tenor)
Giorgio Germont - Mario Sereni (baritone)
Gastone - Sergio Tedesco (baritone)
Dottore Grenvil - Bonaldo Giaiotti (bass)
Barone Douphol - Vico Polotto (baritone)
Marchese d'Obigny - Silvio Maionica (bass)
Chorus of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
Orchestra of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma/Tullio Serafin
rec. June, October 1959, Rome Opera House. Stereo. ADD
EMI CLASSICS DOUBLE FORTE 573824 2 [58.35+ 60.27]

Experience Classicsonline

The story of the courtesan, young and beautiful but dying from consumption, who fell in love and then had to forsake that love at the behest of her lover's family has attracted many of the great sopranos. From the middle period in Verdi's career this opera is one of the jewels among his output - certainly alongside Aida and Rigoletto and a favourite with the public. Victoria de Los Angeles' performance demands attention and at budget-price this set deserves consideration from anyone who is interested La Traviata. This may be the best available introduction to the work and to Verdi's operas in general.

Victoria de Los Ángeles was among the most popular artists of her time and was frequently recorded by EMI in lyrical French roles such as Manon, Charlotte (Werther) Marguerite (Faust) and also heavier fare such as Amelia in Simon Boccanegra (alongside the wonderful Tito Gobbi) and even the title role in Madama Butterfly. An indication of her versatility can be gauged from her live recordings in the first few years of the 1960s. These include Elisabeth in Tannhäuser and Elsa in Lohengrin alongside the lyrical Mélisande from Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande and even the role of Santuzza in a studio recording of Cavalleria Rusticana with Franco Corelli.

All the same, listening to this recording it can be surprising how well this singer can manage the coloratura and drama of the role: 'Morrò! ... la mia memoria' in the second act is electric. All of this with a voice so different from that of the more famous exponents from the 1950s - namely Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. Listening to the first act we can hear that De Los Angeles exudes charm - a characteristic frustratingly absent from much of Tebaldi's studio work and something which Callas had to work hard to achieve. Such a beautiful, womanly voice is rarely found on record with the exception perhaps of Montserrat Caballé (RCA) who intermittently is able to capture the charm de Los Angeles provides in practically every phrase.

In the 'Sempre Libera!" stages of act one de Los Angeles does not capture the manic drive evident in Callas's reading of the part - especially Callas's 1955 set Live from La Scala (EMI and other labels). However the sound is significantly smoother and has fewer 'gear-changes'. In many ways the virtuosity evident here reaches a similar level of achievement as Joan Sutherland (1963 and 1979, both Decca) who manages the demands of the role with a flexibility and ease unmatched on record. De Los Angeles is the brighter, fresher artist where Sutherland can at times be frustratingly 'droopy' as regards phrasing away from the coloratura showpieces. For de Los Angeles at her most moving try 'Dite alla giovine' - just lovely.

Mario Sereni is in some ways just as successful as de Los Angeles. A rich, even voice he was perhaps underrated compared to baritones such as Tito Gobbi, Ettore Bastianini or the Americans Robert Merrill and Leonard Warren. He proves himself more than their equal and far ahead of more recent attempts by Rolando Panerai (EMI), Leo Nucci (Decca) or a host of others. His 'pura siccome un angelo' and 'di provenze il mar' are highlights.

Sereni is just as successful here as he was at Lisbon a year earlier in the much lauded recording alongside Maria Callas and Alfredo Kraus (live, EMI). A stern but human character emerges with 'Un di quando le veneri' phrased wonderfully, the smooth voice characterful without being blunt and the higher notes showing off a rich sound without being nasal or 'hard'. The role is very difficult to get right and Robert Merrill is effective if rather dull on the Pritchard set with Joan Sutherland (Decca, 1963). Sereni is even superior to Matteo Manuguerra (Decca, 1979) who can lack character. The intelligence of de Los Angeles and Sereni make their duets a special pleasure.

If Carlo del Monte does not quite make an impact to rival de Los Angeles and Sereni that is partly down to the role being surprisingly short. He leads the 'Brindisi' with style and the quick vibrations in his voice lend his Alfredo a good deal of warmth and character in ensembles and duets. His manner is bright and fresh - akin to his contemporary recording of Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi also alongside de Los Angeles. He is more successful than many of his more famous colleagues such as Placido Domingo (DG) or Franco Bonisolli (both rather heavy-sounding) as well as practically any of the tenors who have essayed the role in the past twenty years - such as Frank Lopardo (EMI), Roberto Alagna, Jose Cura - who are all too often rather disappointing. These singers highlight that this lyrical role is in fact very demanding.

With Rolando Villazon and Joseph Calleja the situation is somewhat different. They seem to have the vocal goods to be excellent in the part but so far they have not displayed the confidence and experience evident in Del Monte's portrayal which just sounds 'right' a good deal of the time as regards characterisation and phrasing. The reedy quality of the voice is lovely - somewhere between the excitement of Giuseppe Di Stefano and the smoothness of Alfredo Kraus - both live on EMI and studio performances. Luciano Pavarotti proves the most characterful Alfredo in 1979 with Joan Sutherland (Decca) and is hard to better - but Del Monte has his charms.

Tullio Serafin is energised by his excellent cast and gives one of the finest performances from his long Indian Summer. Where his L’Elisir d'amore (Rosanna Carteri and Luigi Alva, c.1959) lacked sparkle and his Medea (1957) was hardly 'red-hot', this performance can stand alongside his Otello (RCA) and Butterfly/Bohème (Decca) as a classic full of charm and drama but without exaggeration.

David Bennett






































































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