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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino (1869 revised version)
Maria Callas (soprano) – Leonora; Richard Tucker (tenor) – Don Alvaro; Carlo Tagliabue (baritone) – Don Carlo di Vargas; Elena Nicolai (mezzo) – Preziosilla; Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bass) – Padre Guardiano; Renato Capecchi (baritone) – Fra Melitone; Plinio Clabassi (bass) – Marchese di Calatrava; Rina Cavallari (mezzo) – Curra; Gino Del Signore (tenor) – Trabuco; Dario Caselli (bass) – Mayor of Hornachuelos/Surgeon; Giulio Scarinci (tenor) – Soldier/Gambler; Ottorino Bagalli (tenor) – Soldier/Gambler
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tullio Serafin
rec. 17-21, 23-25, 27 August 1954, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
XR ambient stereo remastering- Andrew Rose
Reviewed as 44.1 khz FLAC digital download
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO172 [3 CDs: 165:00]

One of the best features of Pristine’s new ambient sound transfer of the 1954 Serafin recording of Verdi’s opera about destiny is the corrected pitches throughout the recording. When you compare Pristine’s version with the EMI or Naxos releases the first CD runs a full 30 seconds longer than the others. While this is a small amount of actual time it has a big impact on how unerringly natural the performers sound in their music. This is something which affects everyone, including the orchestra and chorus. It seems that after 64 years, we are finally getting to hear the real event for the first time since they laid down the recording.  This alone makes investing in Pristine’s new version a must, especially for the Maria Callas fans of which there are still many out there.

Callas is the chief reason for the existence of this recording and she certainly doesn’t disappoint. There is no other singer on any recording who even comes close to her ability to reveal the inner character of Leonora. She is desperation personified; even in her very first aria her voice is coloured with the forebodings of what is about to occur. She has a unique facility of tone painting each word, even when she sings the name of her brother “Don Alvaro”, there is an ocean of dark trouble in her sound. Leontyne Price, Renata Tebaldi, Martina Arroyo, and Mirella Freni are all exemplary singers on their respective recordings but they all must yield to Callas in her ability to illuminate Verdi’s music, notwithstanding one or two strained top notes. It is truly amazing that she could achieve this much in a role she didn’t sing onstage.

None of the rest of the cast is quite on the same level as Callas. Richard Tucker brings a warm and firm tenor to his role. His voice certainly has a certain ring to the sound but he is unwilling to observe dynamics in any significant way and he mostly bellows through the role. It is a pity he didn’t take the opportunity to be influenced by his soprano in his portrayal of the distressed Peruvian nobleman. I do not like the regular scoops and sobs that he inserts into his phrasing. This kind of untidy technique is passable when playing to upper balconies but is put under a very harsh spotlight on a commercial recording. His best singing is during Act Three when he is wounded and entrusts the key for his letters to Alvaro before his surgery.  Both Placido Domingo and Carlo Bergonzi give far more nuanced readings of Don Alvaro on their respective recordings and are preferable to Richard Tucker.

Carlo Tagliabue as Don Alvaro was only 56 when this recording was made but his tone has acquired a pinched nasal quality about it that makes him sound elderly. He sounds distinctly older than the excellent Plinio Clabassi who sings the role of his father.  Even so sings his music expressively and with a reasonably solid tone but his sound rather skews the drama for me in a way that I find hard to overlook.

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, who sang often on stage with Callas, is an appropriately grave Padre Guardiano but his rather bottled up tone is not to my taste and his pitch has a tendency to sag even in the middle range; a troubling sign for a singer. Elena Nicolai is a very good Preziosilla who emphasizes the comedic rather than the alluring aspects of her role. Her rataplan is accomplished enough to stand alongside her starrier rivals on other recordings, Giulietta Simionato and Shirley Verrett to name two of them. Renato Capecchi as Fra Melitone is quite simply the best I have ever encountered. He is characterful but not over-the-top and he really sings the role with a deliciously meaty tone.

Tulio Serafin directs a strong and urgent reading of Verdi’s darkest score that is filled with nuance. The La Scala forces respond excellently to his baton and they truly shine anew in Andrew Rose’s remastering of this old recording. The Ambient sound process is well-nigh perfect here in what seems to me to be the best sounding release of all that I have heard from Pristine audio. I find myself looking forward to each new release from this company.

Mike Parr

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