VERDI: La Traviata (complete opera) – Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill/ Rome Opera Orchestra and Chorus/ Fernando Previtali – RCA Red Seal Living Stereo

by | Oct 27, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

VERDI: La Traviata (complete opera) – Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill/ Rome Opera Orchestra and Chorus/ Fernando Previtali – RCA Red Seal Living Stereo Multichannel (3) SACD 82876-82623-2, (2 discs), 64:04 & 48:46 ****:

This incandescent recording of Verdi’s most intimate score was first released on CD in 1997. Though opera lovers were thrilled to have it, I can’t say that digital transformation really improved the sound much. It was a fine sounding LP in its days, but the hidden treasures that so often lurk beneath the shellac remained imprisoned on the CD. I am happy to report that this release, with its three-channel SACD sound (thank you for so much forethought, BMG!) lets the beast out of the cage, and a happy reunion it is indeed.

Anna Moffo was never to sound as radiant as she does here. Well, her Stokowski recording of the Rachmaninoff Vocalise certainly rates up there, but for an extended exposure to some devilishly tricky singing (Violetta is onstage almost constantly in this opera) one cannot but stand in awe of her achievement. Lyric, spinto, coloratura, it is all called for in this role, perhaps the toughest Verdi ever gave to a soprano. Its failure at the premiere is well known—modern costumes, an overly large soprano dying of consumption (a tough sell), and  a close up of very personal dramatic events based on a real life story (Alexander Dumas—the son’s–Lady of the Camillias) were a bit much for the prudish 1852 audience. By the next year all was rectified, and La Traviata became what is now: the composer’s most performed work, and an Everest that any aspiring soprano has to conquer.

In 1960, that soprano was Anna Moffo, and she turned in perhaps the most beautiful recording ever. No one really comes close to the smooth-as-butter, remarkably facile singing that was to be the hallmark of her far-too-short career. Not until Kathleen Battle emerged years later were we to hear such silken singing, and even then not with half the artistry that Moffo brought to her craft.

RCA was wanting to create definitive opera recordings in those days—hence the excitement over the current SACD releases of which this is a part—and felt that authenticity was best reached by going to the source. So we have the Rome Opera Orchestra with the practically unknown Fernando Previtali. It was a stroke of genius to do this, as the conductor is as idiomatically attuned to this work as any on record. Bringing in house favorites Richard Tucker (Alfredo) and Robert Merrill (Giorgio) only added to the attractiveness of the production, as neither has essentially been bettered.

This is the most lyrical Traviata you are going to find, and the criticisms of it lacking in dramatic power are really unsubstantiated. Only when you turn to recordings like the highly evocative Muti on Sony (with an exceptional dramatic portrayal by Tiziana Fabbracini, with a rather crusty voice, but now a cult favorite) or the 1955 EMI Callas with Giulini, do you begin to understand what might be missing. This does not short Moffo, but only brings to light the possibilities of drama inherent in the role, unfortunately realized only by those whose beauty of singing is far below the level of our soprano.

So this could easily be an only Traviata, though those who love it will not stop here, but will want to explore the many facets of this fascinating character and the many vocal interpretations that she inspires. But you won’t find one–even a modern one–that sounds better than this. The libretto is only available online, a practice I deplore, but is still better than nothing. [With all this series, there is no signal on the surround channels, so don’t think your equipment is on the fritz…Ed.]

— Steven Ritter

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