OP1827. LA TRAVIATA, recorded 1955, w.Serafin Cond. La Scala Ensemble; Antonietta Stella, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, etc. (E.U.) 2-Naxos 8.111272/73. Transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. - 747313327225
“Seeming from time to time a serious contender for consideration with the great prima donnas of her time - Callas, Tebaldi, and Milanov - Antonietta Stella never quite pulled together all the elements of her lavish gift. An immensely attractive woman with large, deep-set eyes and a figure that would have found favor in Hollywood, she presented an appealing stage presence but was not always able to control her impulsive histrionic inclinations. Although her vocal endowment led her to an early début, her lovely spinto-weight soprano was not sufficiently technically secure and not supported consistently enough to endure.
By her mid-teens, Stella had determined she would become a professional singer and began her vocal training. After studies in her native Perugia, and later in Rome, she won first prize in the 1949 Bologna Concorso. In 1950, she made a pre-professional appearance on-stage at Spoleto's Sperimentale and followed that in 1951 with her official début at the Rome Opera singing Leonora in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. A recording of SIMON BOCCANEGRA shortly thereafter revealed both a promising voice and some ungainly phrasing. Nonetheless, she was entrusted with the rôle of Lavinia in the world premiere of Guido Guerrini's ENEA, mounted by the Rome Opera in 1953. Italy welcomed the young soprano, despite her lack of experience. Engagements took her to many of the country's most prominent theaters, foremost among them La Scala, where she sang Desdemona in 1954 just a year after she had won good reviews in Florence for her performance in Verdi's AROLDO. Several of the lighter Wagner rôles also came her way with such parts as Elsa and Elisabeth and (less suitably) Sieglinde and Senta. The world beyond welcomed her as well: she was introduced as Aïda at Covent Garden in 1955 and at the Teatro Colón in 1956. Stella became a popular presence in several German houses and won appreciative reviews in Spain and Brazil. Stella made her Metropolitan Opera début essaying Aïda. Although she was in good voice, reviews held numerous caveats about her artistry and questions about her willingness to look past the approval of the gallery toward a deeper exploration of text and music. During four seasons, Stella sang more than 50 performances of eight different rôles, including Tosca, Butterfly (a memorable interpretation), Violetta, Elisabeth de Valois, Amelia in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA and the IL TROVATORE Leonora. Several ill-advised cancellations put an effective stop to Stella's American career. First, she exited a series of performances for Lirica Italiana in Japan. In 1957, she canceled her début with the San Francisco Opera. After the soprano presented the Metropolitan Opera with a doctor's certificate in 1960 asking for release (granted) for the company's spring tour and then showed up on the stage of La Scala during the period in question, Rudolf Bing filed breach of contract charges with the American Guild of Musical Artists. The action resulted in her suspension. Stella continued to appear in Europe, but decline was evident before she had reached the age of 40.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“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
“…there is much amazingly gorgeous, heartfelt singing [from di Stefano] and a joy in performing….It can be pure unadulterated joy for a sometimes jaded reviewer to listen to...."
- Michael Mark, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov./Dec., 2009
“Tito Gobbi was an admired operatic baritone. He originally studied at Padua University for a career in law, but he eventually gave that up in favor of pursuing voice lessons in Rome with Giulio Crimi. He made his operatic début in the town of Gubbio in 1935, as Count Rodolfo in Bellini's LA SONNAMBULA. He was hired at La Scala for the 1935-1936 season as an understudy; his first appearance there was as the Herald in Ildebrando Pizzetti's ORESEOLO.
He won the international singing competition in Vienna in 1936, and as a result he began getting improved billing; he sang the rôle of Germont in LA TRAVIATA at the Teatro Reale in Rome in 1937. In the same year he sang Lelio in Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's LE DONNE CURIOSE, and continued singing secondary rôles there through 1939. He was promoted to primary rôles and in 1941 sang Ford in Verdi's FALSTAFF during a visit by the company to Berlin in 1941. Meanwhile, in a guest appearance at Rieti he first sang the rôle of Scarpia in Puccini's TOSCA in 1940. This was to become his best-known part.
Gobbi made his La Scala début in a major rôle in 1942 as Belcore in L'ELISIR D'AMORE The performance that made him famous, however, was as Wozzeck in the first Italian performance of Alban Berg's opera in Rome in November, 1942. Fighting raged throughout Italy following the Allied invasions there in 1943, interrupting his career. After the war he began to include international appearances. He first appeared in Stockholm in 1947 as Rigoletto; in 1948 he went to Covent Garden in concerts and to San Francisco to début as Figaro in Rossini's BARBER OF SEVILLE. His London operatic début was at Covent Garden as Belcore when the La Scala Company toured there. He appeared in Chicago in 1954 as Rossini's Figaro, and débuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Scarpia, 13 January, 1956. He sang Don Giovanni in Salzburg in 1952 under von Karajan's direction.
He took up producing as well, often at Chicago, where he made regular appearances, and producing opera became an ever more important part of his career after 1965, which is when he produced a performance starring himself in the title rôle of Verdi's SIMON BOCCANEGRA in London.
Gobbi was an excellent actor, had a high degree of musicianship and intelligence, had a flexible, rich, but not large baritone voice, and was at home in a wide variety of parts. He also appeared in 26 movies. He was the brother-in-law of another eminent singer, Boris Christoff. Gobbi retired from the operatic stage in 1979. He published an autobiography (TITO GOBBI: MY LIFE, 1979) and TITO GOBBI AND HIS WORLD OF ITALIAN OPERA (1984). He left a significant legacy of recorded performances, mainly made in the 1950s and 1960s.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com