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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata (1853) [103:18]
Licia Albanese (soprano) - Violetta Valéry; Jan Peerce (tenor) - Alfredo Germont; Robert Merrill (baritone) - Germont; Maxine Stellman (mezzo) - Flora Bervoix; Johanne Morland (soprano) - Annina; John Garris (baritone) - Gastone; George Cehanovsky (baritone) - Duopol; Paul Dennis (bass) - Marquis d’Obigny; Arthur Newman (bass) - Doctor Grenvil
NBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Arturo Toscanini.
rec 1 December, 1946 (CD1), 8 December, 1946 (CD2), NBC Studio 8-H, New York City
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO098 [57:18 + 46:00]

Selected Comparisons 
Full Dress Rehearsal on Music and Arts CD4271 reviewed by Colin Clarke 
Toscanini Verdi Recordings BMG-RCA Red Seal 82876-67893-2 reviewed by Göran Forsling. Now Vol. 60 in complete Arturo Toscanini Collection RCA 88697916312 (84 CDs) 

Toscanini’s relationship with Verdi was a very strong one. He played cello at the debut of Ottello and was consulted on certain changes to the Requiem. As well as this latter work he left us four operas on record of which this was the first. It was released in 1951 originally by HMV on 78s, as the label was late on LPs. It was reviewed for Gramophone in November 1951 by Alec Robertson. He described it as “The Toscanini Traviata - that is how one thinks of it” and expressed the traditional concern as to the notorious dryness of Studio 8-H. He also felt that “the singers were somewhat intimidated by the occasion”.
Before going on to review this specific release let me clarify the various editions. The HMV recording was re-released on CD in the “Toscanini Edition” in 1990 and later in the “Verdi Recordings” box set. Last year this recording was re-released in the giant “Arturo Toscanini Collection” which I got for about £85 for 84 CDs. The same recording has also been released for download only on Naxos Classical Archives through Classics Online. It is also available for streaming on Naxos Music Library. A recording of the dress rehearsal was released by Music and Arts, reviewed above. I hope all that’s clear, now for the recording. 

La Traviata
commences with a prelude which immediately shows the grip of Toscanini over his - and it was his - orchestra and they play extremely well. It is hard to appreciate that this was recorded 67 years ago - one can easily imagine one is listening live. Toscanini’s traits included grunting, singing along and exhorting the players. This is pretty evident on the Music & Arts’ dress rehearsal but also in the actual performance. On the latter it’s tolerable.The Brindisi has real aplomb and the opera as a whole goes like a steam train. Toscanini was notorious for getting faster as he grew older, unlike Klemperer. Here that tendency definitely suits most of the time although I do agree with Göran Forsling that at times he risks a slightly parodic effect. Colin Clarke’s review goes into some detail about the individual singers and I refer readers to this. My knowledge of the opera is not extensive although most of the arias are recommendable; what I can say is that I was gripped throughout. The sound on both the RCA and the Pristine Audio is very good indeed. There’s not the dramatic improvement that I noted in my review of Sibelius Second Symphony but what can be said is that it’s not like listening to an historical recording. The orchestra and singers can be heard to great effect. As a sample listen to “Avramlieta di maschere le note” at the beginning of Act Two, Scene 2. 

The download comes with a pdf of the full score, which is to be commended. The re-mastering has undoubtedly given some “opera house” ambience to the original recording. The singing, particularly of Licia Albanese and Robert Merrill is first rate and their collaboration throughout is very effective. This will not be the only La Traviata but it is very special and one I’ll be very happy to return to.
The star is the mighty Toscanini who might have been very surprised, though pleased, that 67 years after the event this recording gives the listener another opportunity to hear the performance. Hats off to him and to Andrew Rose for his re-mastering.
David R Dunsmore