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26 June, 2013

Giuseppe Verdi
Recommended Recordings



Aida
(Montserrat Caballé, Piero Cappuccilli, et al; New Philharmonia Orchestra; Riccardo Muti, conductor)
Behind the pyramids and the elephants, the long lines of prisoners of war and of slaves carrying booty, the choral shouts of "Glory to Egypt," and the splendid brass sounding the Triumphal March, Aida is the story of a love triangle: Aida, an Ethiopian princess who has become a slave in Egypt; Amneris, an Egyptian princess; and Radamès, the Egyptian general they both love (Aida secretly). There are ironies and conflicts: How can she love a man who is the enemy of her country but who says he has fought and conquered for the sake of her love? It is suitable only for the biggest opera houses and therefore demands voices capable of great power as well as emotional expressiveness. Montserrat Caballé, Placido Domingo and Fiorenza Cossotto provide such voices, and Ricardo Muti conducts with a sense of both drama and dynastic glory. (review by Joe McLellan)

Andrea Bocelli: Verdi
(Andrea Bocelli; Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; Zubin Mehta, conductor)
Bocelli's divine voice successfully takes on Verdi's classic operatic arias.

Great Recordings Of The Century - Falstaff
(Tito Gobbi, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, et al; Ensemble: Philharmonia Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, conductor)
This Karajan Falstaff has much to recommend it: Fedora Barbieri's Mistress Quickly is a force of nature, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, only slightly affected, is a liquid, appealing Alice Ford, and Luigi Alva and the young Anna Moffo are ideal as the young lovers, Fenton and Nanetta. But the star--as it should be--is Tito Gobbi in the title role. As is usual with this great singing actor, his characterization comes from within--his is a Falstaff born to be deflated, arrogant and self-deluding on a level that is actually funny. And the nice surprise is what good voice Gobbi's in--he's in charge of all of his vocal colors here and he uses all of them well. Karajan's touch is light and, yes, funny, and he treats the opera as the divine ensemble work it is, all leading up to a superb final scene. A good time is had by all--listeners included. (review by Robert Levine)

La Traviata
(Ileana Cotrubas, Placido Domingo, et al; Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Bavarian State Opera Orchestra; Carlos Kleiber, conductor)
The best Traviata on disc? If not, it's within hailing distance. No true Verdian would want to be without Callas's 1955 live recording, and it's hard not to love those starring Moffo, Caballe, Scotto, Sutherland, and de los Angeles among others. But this set offers the best all-round combination of excellent sound, fine singing, and dynamic conducting. Ileana Cotrubas is a wonderfully spontaneous Violetta, conveying the passion and vulnerability of the character. Only Callas among her starry rivals on disc can match Cotrubas's emotional and vocal mastery here. Domingo sings with ardor, and Milnes uses his beautiful voice to good effect as Germont. But it's Carlos Kleiber's show, and that enigmatic conductor leads the most energetic Traviata since Toscanini. Tempos are fast, but his sense of theatricality is unerring--this is one of those studio recordings that captures the sense of being at the opera house listening to one of those rare performances when everything clicks. (review by Dan Davis)

Rigoletto
(Ricardo Cassinelli, Josephte Clément, et al; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra; Richard Bonynge. conductor)
This Rigoletto has been around for so long it might be easy to take it for granted or skip it for a newer set. Don't! It features all three principals in superb voice, as well as pacing from Maestro Bonynge that is much heavier on drama than most of us expect from him. Sutherland may sound a bit mature (and mush-mouthed) for Gilda, but not only is she sympathetic, she sings gorgeously. And speaking of gorgeous, those familiar only with the Pavarotti of the last 10 years would be wise to hear him here--this is stylish, full-blooded, Golden Age singing. The beautifully round tone, the easy high notes, the impeccable diction, and the pointed characterization are unique. Milnes, in the title role, is also in splendid voice, offering smooth legato, brilliant, Verdian ring and real attention to the text. The ADD sound is excellent. No other modern recording offers the visceral thrill of this Rigoletto--go for it. (review by Robert Levine)

Verdi Arias
(Jose Cura, tenor and conductor; Philharmonia Orchestra)
Cura's glorious voice encompasses a rainbow palette of colors, all at the service of Verdi's intense drama--from "Macbeth" to "Forza," "Otello," and more. Thrilling vocal confidence combined with a passionate vocal acting style and an engaging musicality make this a standout in the current crop of Verdi tribute recitals.

Verdi Heroines
(Angela Gheorghiu, soprano; Verdi Grand Symphonic Orchestra Milan; Riccardo Chailly, conductor)
Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu won stardom virtually overnight in 1994 with her still-discussed Violetta in "La Traviata" at Covent Garden. And it is to Verdi she returns in her first solo recital album in more than two years. As in her previous work with conductor Riccardo Chailly, Gheorghiu interprets familiar music--in this case, arias from "Otello," "Rigoletto," "Aida," and many more--with a remarkably fresh sensibility and emotional rapport.

Verdi: Don Carlo
(Montserrat Caballé, Ryland Davies, et al.; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra; Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor )
Nearly three decades later, this is still the preferred recording of the later, four-act Italian version of Verdi's "Don Carlo," and EMI is right to include it in its Great Recordings of the Century series. Every one of the musicians involved is in peak form, none more so than the conductor, Italian master Carlo Maria Giulini. The sweep of his reading of this late masterpiece doesn't preclude careful attention to the most minute details of this powerful score. There's still no better Elisabetta on record than Montserrat Caballe, whose singing here is at its most natural--and transporting. The same is true of Shirley Verrett's Eboli, and the pair's duet provides one of the truly great moments of opera on record. Placido Domingo's Carlo, Sherrill Milnes's Rodrigo, and Ruggero Raimondi's Philip complete a dream cast. EMI's exemplary remastering fully justifies a second CD release.

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