OP0794. LA TRAVIATA, Live Performance, 22 Jan., 1949, w.Antonicelli Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Eleanor Steber, Giuseppe di Stefano, Robert Merrill, etc.; ELEANOR STEBER: Arias from Barbiere, Madama Butterfly, La Traviata & Carousel; Duets (w.Jussi Björling) from Il Trovatore & Maytime – Broadcasts 1940-50. (England) 2-Naxos 8.110115/16. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 636943111529
“Steber’s Violetta is a sensitive, idiomatic portrayal, gloriously sung from start to finish, certainly one of the finest Traviatas of broadcast history. For once, the florid flourishes in Violetta’s brief entrance lines are well delineated….Her coloratura in the duet is accurate, fluent, and lovely in tone, and throughout the first act she keeps her voice on a tight rein….Throughout the afternoon Steber’s phrasing and manner are those of the best Violettas….One of her talents is clarity of attack in the upper voice (a skill prevalent among turn-of-the-century singers, but seldom heard today)….At the end of the performance Steber is as fresh vocally as when Violetta first welcomed her party guests. A few years later she would sing a broadcast Desdemona and step in as [that] evening’s Fiodiligi a few hours later. At mid-career Steber seems a vocal Olympian….”
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, pp.454-55
“We are fortunate that, by chance, Eleanor Steber sang this performance, for she replaced a colleague who was indisposed; thus has survived her complete recording of this taxing part. She was not unfamiliar with Violetta which she first sang at the Met in 1943, and despite the circumstances of her unexpected appearance, she brings a freshness that is not evident in all performances of the opera. It is sometimes (cynically) said that the role really needs three sopranos for a great production; a coloratura to cope with the florid brilliance at the close of the first act, a dramatic soprano for the scenes with Germont père and fils in the second, and a great lyrical singer to convey the pathos of Act 3. Steber brings something of all these to her performance. Whilst not usually considered a coloratura, she handles the first act scena with aplomb and brings a real sense of excitement and anticipation. The confrontations of the second act create the tension that is vital for a successful TRAVIATA; no great histrionics but the deeply felt pain of sacrifice and rejection. Her Scene 2 duet with Alfredo brims with urgent pleading, and in Act 3 the reading of the letter and its ensuing aria capture the despair of her loneliness. This is a very full interpretation and Steber triumphs as this most testing of Verdi's heroines.
Giuseppe di Stefano possessed one of the most exciting and 'natural' tenor voices of the twentieth century, and it is his forthright ardour that is on show in this performance. Impetuosity is also around, for he not only pours out passion, but sometimes neglects the niceties of musical accuracy; a 'live' recording this, and no chance of re-takes. But hear him in his duets with Violetta, admire the nuances which only a native Italian speaker can enliven, and it is easy to understand his popularity in this repertoire. This performance was Di Stefano's first at the Met as Alfredo - perhaps nerves affected him - but there cannot have been many tenors there who sang the part with such relish.
In some ways Robert Merrill's performance is the antithesis of Di Stefano's. Ever the stylist, restrained with warm, full tone, he brings a great measure of gravitas to Germont père's deliberations. Technically he is impeccable and handles the extended duet with Violetta with compassion, admonishes his son at Flora's party as a stern patriarch. The second act aria, which can defeat less able baritones, surely brings to Alfredo a pang of nostalgia for his southern home. It is full of regret but without condemnation. Merrill is eminently reliable, in the best sense, for there is never any danger of over-stretch or risk. He knows what he can do vocally, which is much, and it is always beautifully delivered.”
- Zillah D. Akron
“Giuseppe di Stefano possessed an especially beautiful voice. It was impossible not to be moved; he truly had the sound of tears in his voice, without being over sentimental. His wonderful piano – and his stirring voice – moved his audience almost beyond endurance.”
- Birgit Nilsson, LA NILSSON, p.116
“Robert Merrill made his Metropolitan début as Germont on 15 Dec., 1945, and celebrated his 500th performance there on 5 March, 1973. He remained on the Met roster until 1976. During his tenure with the Met, Mr. Merrill sang leading roles in much of the standard repertory, including the title role in RIGOLETTO, Germont in LA TRAVIATA, Figaro in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, Escamillo in CARMEN and Tonio in PAGLIACCI; he appeared in most of these many times. Regarded as one of the greatest Verdi baritones of his generation, he was known for the security and strength of his sound, as well as for the precision and clarity with which he could hit pitches across his two-octave range.
‘Although he occasionally appeared in Europe and South America, he preferred to base his career at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang all the major baritone roles of the Italian and French repertories’, Peter G. Davis wrote of Mr. Merrill in THE NEW GROVE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN MUSIC. ‘In terms of vocal endowment, technical security and longevity, he was unequaled among baritones of his generation at the Metropolitan’. ‘After Leonard Warren's tragic death onstage at the Metropolitan in 1960, Merrill became more or less indisputably America's principal baritone and perhaps the best lyricist since Giuseppe de Luca’, the critic J. B. Steane wrote in his book THE GRAND TRADITION. ‘The easy and even production of a beautifully well-rounded tone is not common, especially when the voice is also a powerful one; yet this is, after all, the basis of operatic singing, and Merrill's records will always commend themselves in these terms. Mr. Merrill made many recordings for RCA. He sang in two complete opera broadcasts on radio under Toscanini - LA TRAVIATA in 1946 and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA in 1953 - both of which were later issued on CD. He wrote two autobiographies, ONCE MORE FROM THE BEGINNING (1965) and BETWEEN ACTS (1976), as well as a novel, THE DIVAS (1978). He received a number of honorary doctorates and awards.”
- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Oct., 2004