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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata - Opera in three acts (1853)
Violetta Valery - Renata Scotto (soprano); Flora Bervoix - Sarah Walker (mezzo); Anina - Cynthia Buchan (soprano); Alfredo Germont - Alfredo Kraus (tenor); Giorgio Germont - Renato Bruson (baritone); Gastone - Suso Mariategui (tenor); Barone Douphol - Henry Newman (baritone); Dottore Grenvil - Roderick Kennedy (bass)
Ambrosian Opera Chorus/John McCarthy
Band of the Royal Marines (Royal Marines School of Music)/Lieut-Col. J. R. Mason
Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
rec. 5-15 July 1980, Kingsway Hall, London.
CD1 contains the full libretto and translations in pdf format
[75:00 + 54:06]  


Experience Classicsonline

In Bruno Tosi’s Italian biography of Renata Scotto, he and colleague Carlo Marinelli list the soprano’s last appearance as Violetta in September 1973, in
Tokyo. In the seven-year interim before Scotto recorded this Traviata with Muti in 1980, the busy diva added a number of new roles to her repertoire: Bellini’s Norma, Verdi’s Luisa Miller, Il Trovatore, and Don Carlo, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Puccini’s Il Trittico and one of her most vocally-challenging roles, La Gioconda by Ponchelli. In order to appreciate the soprano’s sympathetic and at times intense portrayal of Verdi’s emotionally complex heroine, listeners are asked to accept her vocal condition in this studio recording which shows the wear these roles had taken on her lyric soprano. 

Before taking a closer look at what Scotto had to offer her public by taking on this role again, we can look for reasons why EMI chose to re-issue this recording as one of their Great Recordings of the Century. 

The most striking element here is Riccardo Muti’s conducting. Some listeners may feel that at times he drives the music a little too hard, but there is no doubt the conductor gives the tender moments their due. This is particularly evident in his way with Violetta’s introspective arias, Ah, fors’ e lui, marked Andantino in Act One and Addio del passato, marked legato e dolce in Act Three. Muti and Scotto made the choice of recording the opera as Verdi wrote it, so we get to hear both verses of each aria. Also, in the preludes at the beginning of Act One and Act Three, Muti uses the strings to show the depth of Violetta’s melancholy. On the other hand, the conductor drives the music in the party scenes emphasizing the risky, haphazard behavior that permeates the life of a courtesan. One can even hear a sliver of anger in Muti’s emotion-laden interpretation. 

Muti brought Alfredo Kraus on board to sing Alfredo Germont. Kraus and Scotto had been friends and colleagues since the 1960s and two of their collaborations, around the time of this recording, were Manon in Chicago and Werther in Dallas. As in these productions, Kraus brought the same style and vocal grace to this recording. Unfortunately, the studio microphone accentuates the nasal quality his singing sometimes took on at this stage of his career, but his close artistic association with Scotto more than makes up for it. The intimate quality of their duets engenders a welcomed interpretative maturity not found in other recordings. 

Renato Bruson sings with an attractive dark sound as the elder Germont even without the ardent overtones typical of Verdi baritones. Technically, however, he easily fills out each note and gives full expression to every dynamic marking; the baritone offers a complete vocal interpretation that today’s Germonts find challenging. In the Act Two duet, Bruson and Scotto create a touching scene where Violetta’s heart is broken by Germont’s request to sacrifice her love for Alfredo so that his daughter may marry without any social opprobrium. Here Bruson matches Scotto’s sympathetic illumination of the text. 

Scotto’s ingrained artistic sense certainly allows her to express every emotion that Verdi flooded into a character that he evidently loved creating. If at this point in her career, the soprano wasn’t able to command the authority to cover every vocal demand, she is still able to portray the musical essence of the role. Patrick O’Connor, in his 2003 piece in Gramophone titled Dramatic Diva, said of this recording, “There are moments in this latter performance as Violetta where the rawness of her voice betrays her years … yet it is a small price to pay for the sincerity of the interpretation, and in every scene she illuminates the text with subtle insights.” If the listener appreciates the dramatic consequences of the Scotto/Muti collaboration, this recording is for you.

Nick del Vecchio

see also Review by Robert Farr


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