Magazine article Gramophone

Verdi: Rigoletto

Magazine article Gramophone

Verdi: Rigoletto

Article excerpt

Verdi Rigoletto

Tito Gobbi bar Rigoletto Maria Callas sop Gilda Giuseppe Di Stefano ten Duke of Mantua et al Chor and Orch of La Scala, Milan / Tullio Seraf in Warner Classics (S)(2) 2564 634095 From Columbia [LP] 33CXS1324-26

The excitement comes more from the singers than from Serafin, who is stately and 'classical'. The three soloists on which all finally depends seem bent on extracting the last drop from the famous score. Yet the result is not in some ways quite what is wanted. Callas and Gobbi make rather heavy weather of that marvellous second scene. She misses the virginal, blithe insouciance of the girl, he breaks up, as for critical examination, music which is nothing if not spontaneous. When Di Stefano bounces in, the temperature goes up sharply. He would get very high marks save that when he does bring off a fine drawn decrescendo his tone clouds right over. Team Callas-Di Stefano are well up to form in their first duet, and the 'Addio, addio' is highly exciting, if less naively charming than some versions. Callas's 'Caro nome' is all the same a much more elaborate and prima donna-ish affair than Ema Berger's. Not that she ever sounds bored or perfunctory; quite the contrary. But where Berger opted for simplicity, Callas embroiders with extra trills and also that cadenza with the 'bird tweetings' at the top which always seems to me to hold up the dreamy flow of the aria The total effect of Gobbi's performance, I must make plain, is very noble. Perhaps with a subtler conductor, the cardinal 'flow' which is so important an element in a really great Rigoletto would have come forth more strongly. But these are hypercriticisms! Philip Hope-Wallace (2/56)

Mike Ashman Returning to this 61-year-old set currently hailed by Gramophone as the leading recording of the piece, I find I (still) am not quite with it! Yes, there are the five figures (Callas, Di Stefano, Gobbi, Serafin and producer Walter Legge) who separately or together took part in some 17 recordings of Italian opera for Columbia. Yes, there is wonderful vocal acting by Callas, who takes Gilda from young daddy's girl to distracted, fatally enamoured teenage Duke's mistress. Yes, Gobbi is a master of different voices: oily jokes at court, dangerously soppy affection for his daughter, a genuinely frightening unhinged roughness for 'Cortigiani ...' and when he's upset. But what about the recording quality, the ensemble, Di Stefano's Duke and (I can almost hear the gasps of horror) Serafin's conducting?

David Patrick Stearns Whoa! I give the recording more slack because of its time-capsule status--on several levels. The opera itself has fail-safe dramaturgy with its superb pacing and theatrical events that vividly project three kinds of love: blood ties between father and daughter; idealised love between Gilda and the Duke; and selfish, sex-driven love between the Duke and any female in his immediate sphere. It lends itself well to updating, as in the Met's rat-pack Rigoletto, but is so rooted to its origins that it doesn't withstand high-concept productions that comment on it from an ironic distance.

The recording is also a capsule of its time, when EMI was setting up shop at La Scala each summer in the mid-1950s, recording three operas in succession mostly with Callas, who had sung Gilda in Mexico. But by 1955, La divina perhaps wasn't going to sing any role that had her being stuffed into a bag. As modern as she was, she still had vestiges of the previous generation's extravagant vocal gestures, which may explain Di Stefano's vocal choices. He always begins an aria with spot-on pitch and then goes his own way. Some of his pianissimos have jaw-dropping control. And then he slacks off. He reminds me of Giovanni Martinelli, who at first sounded like he was yelling rather than singing, but on further listening delivered a highly visceral characterisation. In this recording, Di Stefano's charisma versus musicianship ratio isn't weighted towards the latter--particularly next to today's slimmer voices who deliver theatrical excitement on a good night plus a clearer idea of what Verdi wrote. …

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