Verdi: La Traviata / Rescigno, Callas, Valletti, Zanasi, Collier

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My count may be slightly off, but there are approximately seven separate recorded performances of La traviata starring Maria Callas, all but one taken from live performances from 1951 to 1958. Almost every one has its value (I'd rather not hear the first three again--two live from Mexico City, one recorded commercially for Cetra), but the one under consideration here, from London in 1958, strikes me as the finest.

Take away three or four unfortunate high notes and you've got an ideal Violetta: we can always sense the fragility of the character beneath its veneer in the first act; the second act introduces us to a woman whose nobility was clearly being concealed by her station in life; and the third act is tragic from start to finish. Callas is secure enough to scale her voice back to a whisper that can nonetheless be heard perfectly and appreciated for the key to the character, and her coloratura is in fine shape in "Sempre libera".

This is to be all the more treasured when we hear her passion at full throttle in "Amami Alfredo", and near the close of the opera, when she attacks the high-G that begins the phrase "Gran Dio, morir si giovane" with a combination of such unbridled fear and fierce defiance that it leaves the listener shaking.

Cesare Valletti is her classiest recorded Alfredo (yes, even more-so than Alfredo Kraus), singing with great ardor, impeccable diction, and even an occasional sob in his voice; and baritone Mario Zanasi, always a fine-voiced, under-recorded singer, breathes and feels with her flawlessly in their second-act confrontation and duet. The other singers are good (Marie Collier is Flora!), and Nicola Rescigno, one of Callas' favorite conductors, does a beautiful job. This set has been available on different labels for a long time, but the remastering here is definitely an improvement in the sound. Don't miss this one: sonics aside, it's the only Traviata you'll ever need.

--Robert Levine,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ICAC 5006

  • UPC: 5060244550063

  • Label: ICA Classics

  • Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

  • Conductor: Nicola Rescigno

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra

  • Performer: Cesare Valletti, David Kelly, Maria Callas, Marie Collier, Mario Zanasi, Ronald Lewis