OP0007. LA TRAVIATA, Live Performance, 17 July, 1951, México City, w.de Fabritiis Cond. Palacio de las Bellas Artes;
Maria Callas, Cesare Valletti, Giuseppe Taddei, etc. (Germany) 2-Archipel 0018. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 7640104000181
“This performance of TRAVIATA was the first (of 7) starring Maria Callas that has been documented. Since the 1955 performance under Giulini is spectacular and readily available, and the so-called Lisbon TRAVIATA is still on listeners’ top 10 lists–and both are in better sound - this one might seem superfluous, but it is a very compelling performance.
In addition to the warm-toned, in-his-prime, sensitive Germont of Giuseppe Taddei and the close-to-peerless, intense Alfredo of Cesare Valletti, whose lyric voice also had the power for the denunciation scene, we have Callas at her absolute vocal peak. Here her Violetta may not be as nuanced as a few years later, but it is fascinating nonetheless - and for sheer sound, she’s at her best. She reads the character here as doomed, depressed, and sickly from the start; she begins to live when she meets Alfredo.
The voice actually lightens when she realizes there’s hope near the end of the first act, and the double aria is spectacularly read and sung. She caps the act with a high E-flat that is as solid as anything Joan Sutherland ever sang. Her second act begins similarly extroverted - she’s truly indignant when she first meets Germont, but then turns tender in a most startling way. Her ‘Amami, Alfredo’, always a highlight, is a bit over the top, but enormously felt. She leads the ensemble in the second scene of the act with a bit too much power (in later performances she sounds more shattered). After an awkward reading of the letter in Act 3 (she puts emphases on the wrong words, as if she didn’t understand them), she sings ‘Addio del passato’ as if she’s almost unconscious. The ‘Parigi o cara’ duet with Valletti is a perfect frozen moment of lyricism before the character becomes manic, then rails against the heavens and dies. As I said, later in her career Callas began to understate certain things she underlines a bit too much here - but still, this will make a worthwhile addition to your TRAVIATA collection, and it has not had the circulation that many others have enjoyed.”
- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com