Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Rigoletto (1851) [1:57:57]
Maria Callas (soprano) – Gilda; Tito Gobbi (baritone) – Rigoletto; Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor) – Il Duca di Mantua; Nicola Zaccaria (bass) – Sparafucile; Adriana Lazzarini (mezzo) – Maddalena; Giuse Gerbino (mezzo) – Giovanna; Plinio Clabassi (bass) – Il Conte di Monterone; William Dickie (baritone) – Marullo; Renato Ercolani (tenor) – Borsa; Carlo Forti (bass) – Il Conte di Ceprano; Elvira Galassi (mezzo) – La Contessa di Ceprano; Vittorio Tatozzi (bass) – Un Usciere; Luisa Mandelli (soprano) – Un Paggio
Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Milano; Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Milano/Tullio Serafin
rec. 3-16 September 1955, Teatro all Scala, Milan
No libretto PRISTINE AUDIO PACO131 [56:15 + 61:23]
My MusicWeb International colleague Göran Forsling has provided a fine comparative survey of the four mono recordings from the 50’s and concluded that this EMI issue always had the best recorded sound, the quality of performance notwithstanding. However, this Pristine remastering into Ambient Stereo gives it even more of an sonic edge and the opportunity to appreciate afresh just how good the singers here are; its warmth and depth confer renewed presence and immediacy on proceedings, while minor irritations and blemishes have been minimised by Andrew Rose.
Fortunately they are accompanied by a conductor, chorus and orchestra entirely immersed in the Verdian idiom, providing ideal support. Serafin does nothing eccentric or flashy but simply knows how this music should go and does it, giving his singers plenty of time to make their points without undue self-consciousness.
Little more can be said about the principals which has not already been observed in the sixty or so years since its issue after the miraculously busy recording year of 1955. For some Di Stefano for all his élan, is a touch crude and shouty and the too open vowels presage troubles to come, but his is a highly energised, winning assumption with many splendid moments. Gobbi’s voice might have been a little lean in tone for the ideal Verdi baritone but his range of colour and expression is miraculous; no singer since has so completely embodied this most complex of characters. Even Taddei, Warren or Milnes, all of whom are evidently deeply immersed in their portrayals and had more conventionally apt voices with stronger upper extensions, could not rival Gobbi for involvement. It might be true that Callas was not naturally suited to the role of Gilda but she was such a consummate vocal actress and technician that she entirely convinces as the waif whose obsessive love imbues her with a will of iron – enough to defy her father and sacrifice her life for a rake. Her downward portamento remains a thing of ineffable beauty. All three singers live their parts, providing a thoroughly satisfying synthesis of music and drama.
The supporting cast is splendid, especially Zaccaria’s saturnine Sparafucile. Lazzarini is not the most compelling or individual of mezzo-sopranos to record Maddalena but she is much more than adequate.
This restoration and revitalisation from Pristine ensures that the current generation can hear what remains,
despite the cuts standard for the time, artistically the most complete Rigoletto on record. The only drawback is that a libretto must be accessed elsewhere.