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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Though there are classic examples of Callas’s raw tone on top notes, they are insignificant next to the wealth of phrasing which sets a totally new and individual stamp on even the most familiar passages. Apart from his tendency to disturb his phrasing with sobs, Richard Tucker sings superbly; but not even he—and certainly none of the others (including the baritone Carlo Tagliabue, well past his prime)—begin to rival the dominance of Callas. Serafin’s direction is crisp, dramatic and well paced, again drawing the threads together. The 1955 mono sound is less aggressive than many La Scala recordings of this vintage and has been freshened by EMI on CD.

However, Mark Obert-Thorn’s newest transfer is splendid, beautifully smooth and clean, seemingly even fresher than the full-priced original. But what makes this Naxos set indispensable is the coupling, a generous set of highlights from a vintage set of the opera with Zinka Milanov on top form and a splendid supporting cast. Her glorious Madre pietosa Vergie and La Vergie degli angeli with chorus are alone worth the cost of the set!



Philip Borg-Wheeler
MusicWeb International, November 2008

The two essential reasons for owning this performance of La forza del destino—in preference to all rivals, in spite of a few small cuts—are the incomparable artistry of Maria Callas and the incisive, completely authoritative conducting of Tullio Serafin. For one small example of Serafin’s superb direction, listen to the conclusion of the Alvaro/Carlo scene in Act 3—marked Allegro agitato e presto. Here he achieves an electric intensity where the first violins accompany with piano triplets which really bristle. Serafin is never frenetic, yet he creates maximum drama. A further example encapsulating all his finest qualities would be the very final scene of the opera. It must be emphasised that his near-ideal conducting contributes enormously to the desirability of this set.

I can’t pretend to be a great fan of Richard Tucker. He is reliable and technically impressive, but often there is an unlovely, slightly dry, toneless quality to his singing—no ringing, no bloom. In Act 3 especially, his overwrought emotionalism, with sobs and gasps in almost every phrase, I find unattractive and unconvincing. Tagliabue (as Carlo) was fifteen years older, yet I actually prefer his rather more lyrically sustained delivery. Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as Padre Guardiano is a little woolly-toned but nevertheless lyrical. Elena Nicolai’s Preziosilla is frightfully squally. Among the smaller roles, Renato Capecchi’s Melitone undoubtedly gave me most pleasure.

Callas invests everything she sings with genuine human involvement, exposing even more Tucker’s hammier outpourings. In the presence of such great interpretative genius most other singers seem distinctly lesser mortals. Yet her astounding virtues seem lost on those opera buffs who are content with generalised fine singing. What is any kind of singing worth—whether opera or lieder—if the text is not invested with genuine feeling and meaning? In this respect Callas set new standards which, sadly, very few singers have even approached. Leonora is one of Verdi’s more complex heroines, her development encompassing indecision, desperation, terror and grandeur. Only Callas traces this development with artistry, drama and supreme musicianship. Odd notes are raw, unfocused or unattractive, but this is such a small price to pay.

The last fifteen tracks on disc 3 are devoted to nearly an hour of highlights from the same opera, originally issued the year after the Callas set appeared. This is no mere filler, but a valuable addition, with the celebrated Zinka Milanov as Leonora. Milanov has an admirable voice, full, rounded, secure and satisfying, without the deep musicianship and subtlety of Callas.

Michael Scott’s notes include a synopsis (no text), interesting background to the recording (including Walter Legge’s unflattering and unenlightened comments about Callas), and biographies of the principal singers and Serafin. Recorded sound is also fine. However, all this seems irrelevant when one can acquire a great Callas performance in a wonderful Verdi opera for under £20.



Henry Fogel
Fanfare, August 2008

Each of these classic Callas sets from the mid 1950s has been issued by EMI many times. Now that, in Europe at least, EMI's licensing rights have expired and they have fallen into public domain, Naxos has issued them for sale in Europe (but, obviously, available on the Internet for anyone in the United States, thus pointing out the futility of current copyright laws). There are two important aspects of these issues. One is Naxos's low price. The second is the transfer work of Mark Obert-Thorn.

I have compared these extensively with a variety of EMI CD releases—and with original LP releases as well. ...What all of this demonstrates is that the single most important technical component in reissuing old recordings is a good ear! There is a fullness, richness, to the sound here that EMI has missed in virtually all of its attempts. These transfers seem a bit brighter. ...There is no question in my mind, there is a presence and immediacy to the sound on these Naxos issues that simply is lacking in the EMI CDs. (The one sacrifice you'll make is the omission of a libretto.)

Naxos also had to leave out the scene that opens the fourth act of Forza. ...But in its place, Naxos has given us the complete 53-minute RCA highlight album of Forza issued in the mid 1950s by RCA, but compiled from a number of sources between 1950 and 1955. Featuring Milanov, Peerce, Warren, and Moscona, it is yet another reminder of the glory days of Verdi singing that were the 1950s. . .Listening to these three recordings over the past month has been an unalloyed pleasure.

Callas is of course the central reason for these reissues, the one common thread to all three. In 1954-56 she was still in her vocal prime. . .The other singers also represented, for the most part, operatic greatness. I had forgotten just how beautiful Di Stefano's Riccardo was—I've been bathing in his glorious sound. I'm not going to go into details here, because these recordings have stayed in the marketplace for a half century and are very well known to collectors. If you don't know them, now is the time. If you do, the Naxos reissues are worth investing in. If you have an EMI release, you can replace it and keep the libretto. It is recordings like these for which the record industry exists. . .Each of these three recordings stands alongside the best ever made of these operas, and each belongs in any serious opera collection.



Parsons
American Record Guide, May 2008

Grandeur and drama are the prime ingredients in this Naxos reissue of the 1954 EMI recording. There is more sumptuous singing on other recordings (Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Carlo Bergonzi, Sherrill Milnes) and James Levine and Thomas Schippers whip up a storm of energy; but for drama, Callas ignites her colleagues while completely following Verdi's specific instructions. She is in top form, with a seamless legato, endless ease of breath control, a subtlety of rubato, and grandeur of spirit delicately infused with a heart-wrenching pathos.

Tucker sings, as always, with his Italianate charm, rolling Rs and clarity of diction, glorious heroic timbre, and ebullient enthusiasm, here with appropriate anguish and drama. Tagliabue was hardly a young man at the time of the recording, but he takes fire for the drama, using his dryish baritone with stylish elan. The good Padre Guardiano is usually portrayed as quite elderly, but he should not sound that way. At least not on a recording. Rossi-Lemeni is positively decrepit, afflicted with wooly woof. Capecchi makes much of Melitone's comic outburst, a genuinely funny interpretation without resorting to aural gags and musical inanities. Nicolai's robust belting of Preziosilla's war-like effusions are a treat.

Serafin and the La Scala forces are masters of the genre and give the listener a glowing example of their traditions and skill.

A major curiosity is present, or, actually, not present, in this reissue. When the complete recording was first issued, it was without the brief "soup scene" for Melitone, Guardiano, and the beggars that opens Act 4. That six­minute scene was recorded, but omitted from the LP release owing to side limitations. Many years later it was restored to the LP release. But this later publication of the scene makes it not yet in the public domain for CD reissues.

In place of the six-minute scene, Naxos has generously appended 53 minutes of Forza excerpts compiled from 1950, 1953, and 1955 recordings by RCA Victor. Milanov is in resplendent voice, her pianissimo singing as radiantly delicate as ever, but more diva than donna in character. Peerce is rarely associated with such a demanding Verdi role, but what he accomplishes here is virile, noble, and viscerally stunning. Warren was one of the greatest of Verdi baritones, and here he demonstrates just how great he was and what a Verdi baritone needs. His was a hard act to follow. Moscona is a model of Verdian solidity and reserve, his final 'Salut' a Dio' exquisitely beautiful. All the big moments from the opera are here. The practiced leadership of Cellini and Perle a keeps the show on the road.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2008

This must be the first accompanying booklet I have ever read that denigrates the performance I am about to hear. Though fulsome in its praise for Maria Callas in the role of Leonora,  it can find little to say in favour of the other members of the cast. It castigates the legendary producer, Walter Legge, for his commercial exploitation of Callas by casting her only in the popular operas that would bring easy financial rewards, while ignoring her stage successes in operas crying out for a recording. To an extent that was true, as she seems to have had little interest in La Forza del Destino, only singing it in the theatre on six occasions, four of those in her early career. Yet she had the vocal timbre that was well suited to the part, and in the big dramatic moments it had the tingle factor for which she was famous. In lyric passages, such as the aria, Madre, pietosa Vergine, she floats notes with that magical Callas quality, while the sorrow she brings to the opera’s ending is deeply moving. It was true that in his rush to get Callas into the studio, Legge sometimes took a cast that was readily available, and here she was cast opposite the American-born tenor, Richard Tucker, his inherent tightness in the upper register a major drawback, though I have enjoyed his performance more than most critics. Purists may find fault in his big aria in the first scene of the third act, but it is typical of his ‘direct from the heart’ singing with unlimited sobs in his voice. It is the style once relished in provincial Italian opera houses. The fifty-six year old Carlo Tagliabue was a liability, and there is nothing I can say in mitigation of this once splendid singer. His ageing voice sounds more akin to Leonora’s father than her brother, and even at this age he was not in good shape. A last minute replacement when Tito Gobbi pulled out, there had to be someone more suitable than this whom was available. Today’s engineers would have helped Nicola Rossi-Lemeni in the part of Padre Guardiano, the acoustic treats him cruelly, his voice totally dried out. The seventy-six year old conductor, Tullio Serafin, allows the chorus get away with some sloppy singing. Yet all of this matters little to Callas fans and she is as remarkable as ever. Though not a major consideration, the original Columbia release included a short cut in act 4. Here there is sufficient room to add almost an hour of highlights from La Forza recorded over a number of years in the early 1950’s. Zinka Milanov is in the leading role, her voice capturing a vibrant Leonora, but is no match for Callas in the quiet lyric passages. It is the young Leonard Warren as a thrilling Carlo who really shows just how much we miss in the Columbia recording. The tenor is Jan Peerce, more accurate than Tucker but less exciting, while the RCA Orchestra is more than a match for the La Scala musicians.






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