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Bellini Callas sonnambula PACO193

Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)
La sonnambula (1831)
Amina - Maria Callas (soprano)
Il conte Rodolfo - Nicola Zaccaria (bass)
Teresa – Fiorenza Cossotto (mezzo)
Elvino – Nicola Monti (tenor)
Lisa - Eugenia Ratti (soprano)
Alessio – Giuseppe Morresi (bass)
Un notaro - Giuseppe Nessi (tenor)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Antonino Votto
rec. 1957, Basilica di Santa Eufemia, Milan
Ambient Stereo

I reviewed this in its Naxos issue back in 2009 in what must have been one of my first contributions to this website and probably haven’t returned to the music since then, so reacquaintance with it so many years later has been interesting.

The first thing to say is that, as ever, Pristine’s XR Remastering into Ambient Stereo is a great improvement: once again, one curses Walter Legge for persisting with recording in mono long after Decca et al had seen the light, but now in this new issue any hiss has gone, depth and clarity are enhanced and while a degree of shatter or distortion remains when the chorus sings loudly, that is now minimal.

That substantial improvement in the sound apart, much of what I have to say about this recording I have already said in that old review, to which I refer you – except I would say that I find less to object to now in Eugenia Ratti’s Lisa, even if I still find it rather piercing. Relistening confirms that Callas was in especially good – if never perfect - voice, with pearlescent runs, a secure top E flat and that inimitable ability to sear the import of words into the consciousness of the listener. Memorable tune after tune beguiles the ear and Votto’s conducting, while never obtrusive or even especially individual, supports his singers ideally while bringing out both the lyricism and the (mild) drama of proceedings. Such numbers as “Prendi, l'anel ti dono” could not be more graciously and elegantly sung than it is in Monti’s and Callas’ rendition here; the only rivals for style to this recording are the mono version of slightly earlier vintage with Pagliughi and Tagliavini and Callas’ live recording under Bernstein from two years earlier, which I briefly review in my survey of the big “Maria Callas - Live” box set – but that, despite being remastered by Warner as well as can be expected, is in inferior sound.

Zaccaria and a young Fiorenza Cossotto provide admirable support in the secondary roles, even if Zaccaria does not quite have the burnished bass tones Siepi displays in the Capuana recording.

The Naxos issue included four bonus arias from 1955 whereas Pristine provide just the two hours of the opera, a track listing and on the inside cover of the slim cardboard pack the 1957 Gramophone review by Andrew Porter which makes some perceptive observations – nothing more, but that’s all you need.

Ralph Moore

Published: October 14, 2022

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