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La Traviata [sound recording] by Giuseppe…

La Traviata [sound recording]

by Giuseppe Verdi

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Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)

La Traviata

Violetta Valéry: Joan Sutherland
Alfredo Germont: Carlo Bergonzi
Giorgio Germont: Robert Merrill

Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
John Pritchard

Recorded: 11/1962, Teatro della Pergola, Florence.

Decca, 2006. 2 CD. TT 61:06+71:71. Libretto (It+Eng).


I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but this recording was made only four months after DG’s own attempt with Renata Scotto, Ettore Bastianini and Gianni Raimondi in Milan. If Decca tried to outdo the competition, apart from purely sonic considerations, they didn’t quite succeed. Mind you, this is a very fine recording, finer than most, and it falls short only in comparison with its immediate predecessor. Comparisons are stupid, of course, but if professional music critics earn their bread with them, surely a perfect amateur in the field can afford them, can he?

Sutherland is in her stupendous prime here. Technical difficulties do not exist for her. But her diction leaves a good deal to be desired. This is the big letdown of her performance and the set on the whole. Technically, she may be superior to Scotto. Artistically, she is not. Bergonzi is obviously a greater voice and a more imaginative artist than Raimondi, but not as much as the vast difference in their popularity may suggest. Anyway, the role suits him to perfection and he delivers the goods far more convincingly than he does in more dramatic roles. Merrill is in glorious voice, booming but under perfect control, and his Italian is perfect for somebody born in Brooklyn. He is almost as good as Bastianini. Almost. The conducting is, again, the weakest part of the bargain. Who the heck was John Pritchard? Was he the only one available for the job? He is more lively, but also more wilful, than Votto. (Did record companies think that every hack can pull off La Traviata?)

This recording does contain the cabalettas omitted in DG’s production, but that’s not such a boon as you might expect. Alfredo’s dramatic outburst (“O mio rimorso”) is a little out of character and holds the action for no good reason. Alfredo tries to be Manrico – and fails. Indeed, the aria bears more than a passing resemblance to “Di quella pira”, Manrico’s famous, or notorious, cabaletta in Il Trovatore. Germont’s “No, non udrai rimproveri” is a pleasant trifle, but it feels repetitious after “Di Provenza in il mar”.

The greatest advantage of this edition is the presence of libretto. It dismays me that so many people, including some self-proclaimed opera lovers, think you can ignore words in opera. You cannot; not even in the vocal extravaganzas of Rossini and Bellini, still less in middle or late Verdi. Granted that no opera has remained in the standard repertoire because of its libretto, the music in every opera makes complete sense only together with the text. Even the famous “Brindisi” from La Traviata, by no means the best part of the score or the libretto, has a certain dramatic significance which is grasped only if the text is known.

If you want but one recording of La Traviata, you could do much worse than this one. I greatly enjoy it myself, even though the 1962 DG version remains my first choice. There is not much else worth hearing on the market. La Traviata, despite its popularity – perhaps because of it! – has proved elusive. Toscanini’s 1946 broadcast is unrivalled for orchestral detail and virtuosity, but the singing is only so-so. Tebaldi made two recordings in the early 1950s, one studio and one radio, but Violetta never was her forte. Giulini’s legendary live account from La Scala (1955) captures Callas, Di Stefano and Bastianini in top form, but the sound is poor. Di Stefano made a fine studio recording on the same year together with the indifferent Stella as Violetta and the miscast Gobbi as Germont. Famous Violettas from later years like Sills and Caballé have tended to regard the part more and more like a technical exercise and less like what in fact it is: a profound and all too human tragedy. The fame of Kleiber’s 1976 account with Cotrubas and Domingo I have never understood. Dullness personified.

Franco Zeffirelli’s 1982 film-opera is definitely worth seeing. It is a typically lavish, no-expense-spared, historically accurate affair. Some cuts and re-arrangements are questionable, but nothing outrageous. The toreador dance in Act 2 is grandly done Russian style (Ekaterina Maximova and Vladimir Vasiliev, no less). Teresa Stratas is a good singer and a great actress. She is a heart-wrenching Violetta not to be missed. Domingo is his usually wooden, mediocre and reliable self, while the past-his-prime Cornel MacNeil is rather a weak Germont. For a live performance from the theatre, the 1994 Covent Garden production with Angela Gheorgiu and Georg Solti is the one to have. Gheorgiu is the only soprano in recent memory to do more or less full justice to Violetta’s awesome vocal and acting demands. She is a wreck nowadays, but in 1994 she was young, pretty and sonorous. Frank Lopardo and Leo Nucci are far from the best Alfredos and Germonts on record, but never mind. La Traviata is almost as much Violetta’s opera as Madama Butterfly is Butterfly’s. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Mar 31, 2016 |
Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)

La Traviata

Violetta Valéry: Renata Scotto
Alfredo Germont: Gianni Raimondi
Giorgio Germont: Ettore Bastianini

Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala
Antonino Votto

Recorded: 7/1962, Teatro alla Scala, Milano.

Deutsche Grammophon, n.d. 2 CD TT 66'40+51'36. Track-by-track synopsis. No libretto.


La Traviata is one of the greatest musical tragedies of all time. Unfortunately, it is (almost) impossible to perform properly. The title role requires a soprano of nearly non-existent versatility. She has to be able to sing everything from the most florid coloratura to the longest vocal lines. She must do a good deal of subtle vocal acting in rapid exchanges with the tenor and the baritone. She must have perfect diction. The young Renata Scotto, just 28 at the time of recording, fulfils all these conditions, and then some. She does more justice to Violetta than any other singer-actress I have heard, certainly more than Callas and Sutherland. The only thing to be said against Scotto is that some of her high notes are a little shrill. This is a minor drawback and it may well be due to the indifferent recorded sound.

Otherwise Scotto’s performance is flawless. The finale of Act 1 must be heard to be believed. It is one of the greatest solo scenes in opera. The form may be old and conventional, just two arias in contrasting tempos linked with recitatives, but Verdi’s profound musical characterisation is another matter. Violetta’s reluctance to admit that Alfredo’s love has touched her deeply, her yearning for a quiet new life, and finally her defiant surrender to the gaiety of the old one are brilliantly conveyed. The scene has become so famous that it’s hard to realise how original it must have been in 1853. Listen to Scotto’s breathtaking legato in “A quell'amor ch'è palpito” and stunning coloratura in “Sempe libera”. Even in the most taxing passages, every word is clearly enunciated – which is very important in an opera that verges on music drama. Incidentally, “Sempra libera” is a perfect example of dramatically expressive coloratura. It is meant to illustrate the superficial frivolity of Violetta’s present life. Few sopranos can manage the fearful technical demands of this cabaletta, and those who do usually overdo it. Not so Scotto.

Ettore Bastianini is the other star of this recording. Some listeners claim to discern signs of decline in his magnificent baritone. All I can say is that such listeners either have very sensitive ears or pay too much attention to biography. Ettore’s tragic story is well known. At the end of 1962, just a few months after this recording, he was diagnosed with cancer. Four years later he was dead, aged only 44. For my part, he is a Germont for the ages. I hear no traces of vocal decline. “Di Provenza il mar” is a tour de force of impeccable melodic line and ringing top notes. Ettore and Renata knew well each other. Two years earlier they had made a complete recording of Rigoletto: those glorious father-daughter duets must have been a wonderful training for La Traviata. Therefore, it is no surprise that their great scene in the second act, another stunning piece of music drama that neither Verdi nor any other composer has ever surpassed, comes off superbly well. The voices blend beautifully, but the point to appreciate is the great artistry behind them. No cheap show off. Music comes first. And what a music it is!

Votto and Raimondi are the weak links. Neither of them is bad, mind you. It is just that both could have been better. Votto’s conducting has been criticised more harshly than it deserves, but there is no reason to heap praise on it. The man is routine and pedestrian. He provides a decent accompaniment and nothing more. Gianni Raimondi is a stylish lyric tenor, quite sensitive to the text and the music, but sometimes I wish he would be more ardent, especially in the first act where he tends to sound a little bland. He does improve in the later acts, though. The sound leaves something to be desired. It is pleasantly clean and with a good dynamic range, but the climaxes, both vocal and orchestral, have a steely edge that’s not so pleasant. It is this, I think, that makes Scotto, and even the other singers, occasionally sound a little shrill at the top. Of course, the cabalettas of Alfredo (“O mio rimorso”) and Germont (“No, non udrai rimproveri”) are omitted, but that was common practice in those times.

This DG edition boasts tacky cover and worthless “track-by-track synopsis”. Forget the latter and follow the libretto. In 1853 Verdi was still fond of somewhat excessive repetition that holds the action and has little dramatic relevance, but he had already progressed well beyond the crude form of opera as a succession of separate musical numbers. Already in Rigoletto (1851) he worked in continuous and fully integrated scenes in which words and music are one. The only moment that seems out of place is the bunch of choruses (gypsies and matadors?!) in the beginning of Act 2, Scene 2 (sometimes given as Act 3). Charles Osborne, in a fine burst of Verdian worship, claims that they serve the “valid dramatic purpose” to offer some “relaxation” before the “next emotional onslaught”.[1] This is not credible. Relaxation at a live performance would have been much better provided by an intermission (for which the place is perfect: the two discs are split at the same point), but the scene was apparently considered too short and some padding was deemed necessary. That aside, La Traviata is one of the most perfect operas ever composed. This recording is not perfect, but it does come closer to perfection than most others.

[1] Charles Osborne, The Complete Operas of Verdi [1969], Gollancz, 1988, p. 275. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Mar 30, 2016 |
This story of true love and family conflict is set to magnificent melodies and waltzes by Verdi. The story is an attack on conventional bourgeois morality, arguing that a good heart is more important than propriety, that the social distinctions which split high society from the world of illicit sex are cruel and hypocritical, and that true love must triumph over all. La Traviata's intent scrutiny of a woman whose sexual employment and cultural identity have been conflated, focuses on the prostitute as a means to interrogate contemporary society's fraught treatment of the commercial. It is also a story of parental control and possessiveness that results in tragedy for the younger generation, a portrait of family enmeshment, and it’s final resolution, through disaster, in some understanding , reconciliation, and repentance.
  antimuzak | Feb 11, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (74 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Verdi, Giuseppeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bonynge, Richardsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manuguerra, Matteosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
National Philharmonic Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pavarotti, Lucianosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, Joansecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Sound recordings of the complete opera in any format may be combined here. Please separate recordings of highlights. Please do not combine with libretto, full score, vocal score, orchestral score or “catch-all” record. Thank you.
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The story of a beautiful courtesan dying of consumption and her love for a poor nobleman.

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