OP1797. LA TRAVIATA, Live Performance, 20 June, 1958, w.Rescigno Cond. Royal Opera House Ensemble; Maria Callas, Cesare Valletti, Mario Zanasi, etc. (E.U.) 2–Myto 00145. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! – 8014399501453
“…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.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“ 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....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.... Rescigno brings sanity and song to the performance and was remarkably at one with Callas in the ends she sought".
- John Ardoin, THE CALLAS LEGACY