OP2176. LA TRAVIATA, Live Performance, 20 June, 1958, w.Rescigno Cond. Royal Opera House Ensemble; Maria Callas, Cesare Valletti, Mario Zanasi, etc. Transfers by Paul Baily. (Germany) 2-ICA ICAC 5006. - 5060244550063
“…the truth is that the finest of [Callas’] TRAVIATA performances to survive in recorded form has always been this Covent Garden version. The balance between strong vocalism and astonishing dramatic insight is as perfectly struck here as it ever was. And despite the starry names of the Scala performance, the younger and elder Germont pair are far more strongly portrayed here. Di Stefano’s gorgeous voice is, to be sure, a unique attribute of the Scala performance, but he never bought into the overall unity of that production (he left it early on) and his singing is an isolated thing of beauty, rather than part of any ongoing drama. That is even more true of Bastianini’s performance, which is unfortunate given the strength of Callas’ portrayal in the big scene between Violetta and the elder Germont. Callas tears your heart out, while Bastianini tickles your ear.
In London in 1958, Callas had the perfect partners. Mario Zanasi may not have as uniquely beautiful an instrument as Bastianini, and it is a bit lighter in sound than we are used to in this role, but he is fully in tune with Callas and the scene between them has never, in my forty-five years of listening experience, been more convincingly done. He knows how to use dynamics, color and phrasing to make his points.
As for Callas, she is a miracle beyond description. As is often the case with her, her best moments are not the famous arias, but in other scenes. Perhaps the finest is that confrontation with Alfredo’s father. The thread of voice, the holding back of the pulse, at ‘Dite alla giovine’ is sheer musical and dramatic genius. The crescendo when she sings ‘Ah! Gran Dio! Morir si giovane’ (‘Ah, to die so young’) near the end of the opera is an absolute explosion of passion, an outcry of grief that comes from somewhere so deep in her soul that it shatters the listener. From the carefree Violetta of the opening ‘Brindisi’ to that tragic ending, Callas takes us on a journey that is more complex, more complete, and more engrossing than any Violetta in my experience. And if her ‘Amami, Alfredo’ doesn’t break your heart, I would suggest a visit to your cardiologist.
Nicola Rescigno may not be Giulini, but in fact he is far more than a routinier in this performance. He was one of Callas’ favorite conductors, and they knew each other’s musical habits well. This is a superbly conducted reading.
For those who are not familiar with this performance, all I can say is that despite its 1958 monaural sound (apparently not from a broadcast, probably recorded live in the house), and despite what were traditional cuts in that era, this is a necessity for anyone who cares about Verdi and/or LA TRAVIATA. For those who already have this performance on Myto, the question will be about the quality of this transfer. I spent a lot of time doing direct A-B comparisons, and then also listened to each one through from beginning to end. For me, ICA’s is distinctly preferable. It is true that ICA seems to have cut the high frequencies a bit, but I think that is to the benefit of the recording, as the Myto sounds to me a bit hard-edged, and it wears on you over the length of the opera. On the other hand, the warmer and richer sound of the ICA is a positive both for Callas’ voice and the orchestral sonority. This is a serious ‘wantlist’ candidate....As is normal for specialty recordings like this, no libretto is included, but there are fine notes about the performance.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“John Ardoin in his book THE CALLAS LEGACY was very enthusiastic about this performance, not only about Callas but also the Germont of Mario Zanasi for example, ‘Zanasi’s intrinsic musicality combined with Callas’ wealth of insights to bring the lengthy second act scene between Germont and Violetta to a living realisation. This duet is a study in contrasts, tensions and releases on the highest expressive level’.
Of Callas herself, Ardoin went on to say ‘it is in the final Act that Callas makes the tragedy of Violetta most immediate. The opening recitatives and ‘Addio del passato’ are from another world…Callas’ Violetta is summed up in the strain ‘Se una pudica vergine’ sung in a half-lit legato of breathtaking eloquence’. Ardoin praised the conductor Nicola Rescigno who ‘brings sanity and song to the performance and was remarkably at one with Callas in the ends she sought’.
This recording drawn from private tapes has been remastered by Paul Baily using ICA’s Ambient Mastering process which has enhanced and widened the sound considerably. Here is his description: ‘Our Ambient Remastering process creates a sense of space and width to a mono, or very narrow stereo, recording. No artificial reverberation is added in this process, so that it remains faithful to the natural acoustic of the original’.”