David's Review Corner
, November 2007
Maria Callas had already recording La Traviata for Cetra, and the label was unwilling to release her from contract to record the work for her new label, Columbia, until 1959. But market pressures to have a version of the opera available in the new LP format and the label had to look elsewhere to complete their established team of Di Stefano, Gobbi and Serefin. That they would not wait until Callas was available created much bad feeling between her and Columbia, and in the event record collectors only looked upon this release as a stopgap. The choice eventually fell on Antonietta Stella who already had a fast growing career including debut appearances at Milan’s La Scala and London’s Covent Garden, and was booked to appear at New York’s Metropolitan Opera at the time that the recording would be released. In any other circumstances we would be remarking on a vivacious Violetta well suited to the opening act, the vocal acrobatics generally handled with accuracy, while the letter reading in the final act would never have greater poignancy. Indeed if there were weaknesses it came from those around her, Di Stefano’s Alfredo needing a more self-opinionated characterisation, his singing almost predicting the sad end in the opening act. Tito Gobbi sounded too young for Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, and was not in good voice. So it was left to Tullio Serafin, an old hand at the score, to bring distinction to the disc through the beauty of the orchestral backdrop. The minor characters were rather patchy in quality but workable, while the chorus sang with appropriate gusto. As the transfer engineer explains in the booklet, there was some overloading distortion that was not uncommon in Columbia releases of the period, though the CD transfer is a much improved sound on the original LPs.