This recording of LA TRAVIATA is the third one in my collection (the other two being the Cotrubas/Kleiber and the Callas/Giulini recordings), and am I glad I bought it! As superb as those other two recordings are, I actually LIKE this one the most. It is an all-around excellent performance. Bergonzi's is possibly the finest Alfredo on any complete recording; Merrill is perfectly suited to Germont; Pritchard paces the opera beautifully; the recorded sound is spacious, with lots of atmosphere in the party scenes. But the real surprise of the recording is Sutherland. She brings all of her distinctive gifts to the role of Violetta: a ripe, beautiful voice; supreme coloratura ability; a talent for conveying pathos…
This new Traviata belongs near the top of the fine recorded versions of the opera despite a serious vocal problem in the middle. The great news is in the casting of the two lovers: Rolando Villazon's Alfredo is just about perfect. He sings with handsome, shaded tone, great attention to the text–his anger feels as real as his grief and passion–and absolute freedom throughout the range.
Carlos Kleiber's 1977 La Traviata is a rare gestalt among studio opera recordings, and it is one of the conductor's finer achievements. Kleiber knits the score together with unwavering rhythmic and dramatic intensity, never allowing any single moment to eclipse the larger scene or musical structure. The singers are kept on a tight leash – given enough room to shape phrases and cadences, but not to indulge in sheer vocal display. The orchestra is similarly focused on realizing every detail of rhythm, melody, and articulation with vivid intensity. As a result, favorite arias, duets, and ensembles melt into the surrounding scenes in a way that invites curiosity about the drama at large while propelling it relentlessly forward. The general pace may strike some as a bit fast, but it's never boring, and frequently brilliant.
In this live 1973 performance from Japan, Scotto is parthnered by one of the great tenors of our time, José Carreras, then at the start of his international career. The distinguished baritone Sesto Bruscantini is a formidable Germont who sings an exceptionally moving rendition of the famous aria "Di Provenza il mar".