OP3023. LA TRAVIATA, Live Performance, 12 Nov., 1966, w.Prêtre Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Virginia Zeani (début), Bruno Prevedi, Robert Merrill, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-267. [Certainly not to be confused with the 'pirate' versions available online, this recording was made from a most advantageous in-house location.] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Dame Joan Sutherland wrote that both she and her husband, the conductor Richard Bonynge, regarded Zeani’s voice as the finest natural instrument they heard during their storied careers in opera. Aside from a few indifferently-engineered titles recorded in her native Romania and recordings of widely-varying quality of live performances, in many of which she partnered her husband, bass Nicola Rossi Lemeni, Zeani’s is a voice scarcely documented on recordings. For this reason alone, the release of St-Laurent Studio’s edition of a 1966 Metropolitan Opera performance of Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA [is] invaluable, but the greater reason for jubilation is the quality of the singing enshrined on these discs.
It was as Violetta in this performance of LA TRAVIATA preserved on St-Laurent Studio’s discs that Zeani made her début with the Metropolitan Opera, for which she would ultimately sing only three performances. Her Electrocord studio recording of LA TRAVIATA, made in Romania in 1968, is a worthy memento of her Violetta, but this MET performance is a still more compelling document of the bewitching artistry of which she was capable in Verdi’s music. Zeani was, to a great extent, one of the most ‘complete’ Violettas in memory. As dashingly lovely as Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor, she possessed the extraordinary physical beauty for Violetta that must often be taken on faith, but hearing this MET performance, it is the absolute suitability of the voice for the rôle that is immediately and consistently enthralling. In Act One, there are occasional signs of the inevitable nervousness that is part of a début in a house like the MET, but from her first lines in the Brindisi, the voice gains markedly in security and easily-projected resonance. Few Violettas manage to portray as sympathetic a character in the context of Act One, however, and by any standard except her own best work Zeani’s vocalism is remarkable. Her cry [in Act III] of 'È tardi!' after reading Germont's words is piercing, however, the whole weight of Violetta's suffering is borne by those two words. Zeani’s voicing of 'Addio, del passato’ rivals the most rapturous accounts of the aria on disc, her top As utterly solid and supported with tonal placement and breath control that should be models for all aspiring Violettas. Comparing this Metropolitan Opera performance, recorded from the audience [none of Zeani’s MET appearances were broadcast performances] in generally good if occasionally distant sound that Yves St-Laurent has restored with admirable attention to faithfully preserving the timbres of the voices….
Having débuted at the MET in 1965 as Puccini’s Cavaradossi, Prevedi was largely dismissed by the New York press for failing to be Bergonzi, Corelli, or Tucker, but his portrayal in this performance with Zeani is not unworthy of comparison with Bergonzi’s Alfredo, one of his best rôles. In Act Two, the legitimately Italianate fervor of Prevedi’s singing of ‘De’ miei bollenti’ is wonderful….his Alfredo in this performance is a sonorous-voiced Latin lover…who exudes affection for his Violetta and for Verdi’s music.
Merrill’s performances were often more memorable for the quality of the vocalism than for psychological insights, but his Germont in this 1966 LA TRAVIATA is an elegant, emotionally vital presence. In Act Two, Merrill and Zeani communicate more of Germont’s and Violetta’s feelings solely through thoughtful execution of Verdi’s score than many singers manage to do with more overtly dramatic effects….Unlike many Germonts, even those who sing well, Merrill seems to actually listen to Zeani’s enunciation of Violetta’s counterarguments. The aria ‘Di Provenza il mar’ defeats many otherwise capable Germonts, but this performance preserves one of Merrill’s most effective recorded accounts of it, the tone steady and attractive throughout the wide range of the music….With many beloved studio recordings and broadcast performances in circulation, it is possible to take for granted what an important singer Merrill was. This performance reminds the listener of the wonders of which he was capable when in his prime.
This indispensable St-Laurent Studio release supplies a marvelous glimpse into a brief chapter in the history of the Metropolitan Opera now inexcusably at risk of being forgotten.”
- Joseph Newsome, Voix des Arts
“This Romanian opera star was just one of a group of outstanding sopranos condemned to pursue their careers in the shadow of Callas, Tebaldi and Sutherland….Zeani is revealed as a totally dependable singer. The voice is lovely, of slightly of occluded quality, and the scale even and well balanced through a wide range. Her interpretations are finely judged and often quite individual….”
- Vivian A. Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2009
“Bruno Prevedi was an Italian tenor, particularly associated with the Italian repertory. Prevedi studied in Mantua with Alberto Sorenisa, and in Milan with Vladimiro Badiali. He made his début as a baritone in 1958, as Tonio, but quickly retrained himself as a tenor, and made a second début in 1959, as Turiddu, again at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan.
He sang widely in Italy, and made his début at La Scala in 1962, in Pizzetti's DEBORA E JAELE. He also appeared in Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, London and Buenos Aires. He sang the role of Pollione in NORMA in the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona during the winter season 1962-1963, then made his Metropolitan Opera début on 6 March, 1965 as Cavaradossi in TOSCA. During the following five seasons his roles included Alfredo, Manrico, Riccardo, Alvaro, Don Carlo, and Radamès.
Bruno Prevedi possessed an attractive spinto tenor voice with superb roundness at the top. He can be heard on a number of recordings for Decca, notably in complete performances of Verdi's NABUCCO, opposite Tito Gobbi and Elena Suliotis, in MACBETH, opposite Giuseppe Taddei and Birgit Nilsson, and MEDEA, opposite Gwyneth Jones, as well as a recital of tenor arias.”
- Ned Ludd
“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
“Georges Prêtre left his mark on the history of the Paris Opéra, namely by conducting great works of the French and Italian repertoires at the Palais Garnier up until the end of the 1980s.”
- Stéphane Lissner, (Director of the Paris Opéra), THE NEW YORK TIMES, 5 Jan., 2017