thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded
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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) La traviata (1853) [112:13]
Violetta Valéry: Pilar Lorengar (soprano) Alfredo Germont: Giacomo (Jaime) Aragall (tenor) Giorgio Germont: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) Annina: Mirella Florentina (soprano) Flora Bervoix: Stefania Malagù (mezzosoprano) Gastone: Pier Francesco Poli (tenor) Dottore Grenvil: Giovanni Foiani (bass) Barone Douphol: Virgilio Carbonari (baritone) Marchese d'Obigny: Silvio Maionica (bass)
Chor und Orchester der Deutsche Oper Berlin /Lorin Maazel
rec. 1968, Deutscher Oper, Berlin. ADD DECCA4430002 [65:37 + 46:45]
There are two possible caveats regarding appreciation of this set, so let’s address those first. One is the nature of Pilar Lorengar’s soprano, which has not so much a flap in the vibrato as a fast shimmer in the tone which some find disturbing and others attractive, adding to the vulnerability of her sound, ideal for the depiction of the fragile heroine. I like it, especially as otherwise her tone
is naturally beautiful and her intonation unerring. The second issue is the suitability of Fischer-Dieskau’s baritone to portraying Italian “paternalistic” roles, as per Giorgio Germont here. Even some of his fans balk at his venturing here; in his thirties he got away with some Wagnerian bass-baritone roles such as his early Dutchman for Konwitschny and others can tolerate his Rodrigo in Solti’s “Don Carlo” while conceding that for his sensitivity and intelligence his was never the right, vibrant timbre to do justice to Verdi’s long, cantilena line; as such, it is, for example, probably best to pass over his ill-advised Macbeth for Gardelli. Within the limitations of his voice he is predictably nuanced and sympathetic here, even if the gravitas associated with a rounder, truly resonant baritone of the Merrill-Milnes-Manuguerra type
is missing; his windy top notes are far less satisfying than the pathos
and delicacy of his first confrontation with Violetta, where Lorengar, too, is as touching as Cotrubas.
Concerning the other principal, the under-recorded tenor Giacomo Aragall, there is surely less debate. He has a lovely voice, a ringing top B and an easy, youthful manner, even if he tends to lack subtleties that Bergonzi brings to the role of Alfredo. Maazel’s conducting is very fine, too: flexible, impassioned and extraordinarily attuned to, and supportive of his singers. The analogue sound is excellent, and the score only slightly cut; the tenor and baritone each get a verse of their usually cut cabalettas.
I advise sampling before you buy to discover if either of the potential drawbacks mentioned above bothers you; otherwise I recommend this a wholly viable account of one of Verdi’s most popular operas which has, paradoxically, proved more elusive on record. My personal favourites remain either of Callas’ live 1958 recordings in Lisbon and London and Caballé’s studio recording conducted by a rather hard-pressing Prêtre, but this one deserves an honourable place on the shelves, too.
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