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Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, April 2009

The first thing to note about this recording is the excellent sound. It is mono, unfortunately, which lessens the impact of the crowd scenes but the sound picture is clear, orchestral details are well reproduced and there is considerable dynamic width. I gather that the original recording must have been splendid and Mark Obert-Thorn has done the restoration job with his usual care. Some over-load distortion and a number of extraneous noises that obviously emanate from the original masters seem to have been impossible to edit out.

The chorus, trained by legendary Norberto Mola, and the orchestra are on splendid form. Tullio Serafin conducts the lavishly orchestrated score with his customary sense of drama. There is infectious rhythmic impetus in some of the crowd scenes. Tempi are generally sensible and lenient to the singers’ needs…In questa reggia (CD1 tr. 25) finds Callas in admirably steady and secure voice in the opening phrases. She invests the aria with a great deal of warmth. Later though, when she has to sing mostly in the uppermost register she is sorely strained. It is however a deep-probing reading with lots of nuances and even though she can’t compare with Birgit Nilsson or Alessandra Marc vocally, her account is musically and dramatically fascinating. The scene with the three riddles puts her further to the test but she passes it with flying colours and only occasionally does the voice disfigure. In the final act she is again impressive and even my wife, who normally tries to avoid Callas, applauded her. The hardness in tone, that is almost ever-present in Callas’s singing, seems extra appropriate in this role. Still, in the final duet with Calaf, Principessa di morte, she sounds exceptionally human—the ice has already started to melt.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sings Liù with Lieder-like care for detail and nuance. Hers is not an Italianate voice but her approach to the role, closer to Mozart than Puccini, makes this a truly touching reading, crowned by a superb Tu che di gel sei cinta. Eugenio Fernandi, who as far as I know recorded nothing else, is also one of the best Calafs on record. His is a clean beautiful lirico-spinto voice with easy top and romantic glow; what’s more, he sings with taste. In the scene with the riddles he also has the steel to stand up against Callas and I have heard few more beautiful Nessun dormas. The final note is slightly pinched but it is a glorious reading even so.

Nicola Zaccaria, who also sang the role on the Decca set, recorded two years earlier, has the warmth for Timur and Mario Borriello is a good Ping. All three ministers are splendid and also less clowny than is often the case. The Emperor, distantly balanced, is certainly elderly-sounding.

All in all I liked this recording a lot and it should be a worthy addition to any collection, provided one isn’t allergic to the Callas sound.

Ralph Moore
MusicWeb International, February 2009

Having just reviewed the Callas “Bohème” from the previous year [8.111332-33], I found myself pre-disposed to re-discover another classic performance in this “Turandot”; as it turned out, that was not quite the case…The recording is in clean, clear, slightly boxy mono, expertly restored, as ever, by Mark Obert-Thorn…The casting of Schwarzkopf as Liù was controversial. Reactions to her voice are always very personal. I find her somewhat shrill, breathy and tremulous and miss the floating line of Caballé; for me, she is guilty of her besetting fault of mauling the text and injecting too many little gulps and swells for emotive effect. She produces a lovely pianissimo B-flat on “m’hai sorriso”; less so for the same note in “Ah pieta”. Ultimately, I find her too inclined to apply or manufacture intensity; I just want the part beautifully sung by Tebaldi or Caballé, who both have the right vocal personality and thus move me much more readily.

Eugenio Fernandi, while not a star name, is more than adequate. He sings a forthright, virile Calf but I miss the clarion heft of Corelli or the squillo of Björling, and his top C only just passes. He certainly holds his own in the “anything you can sing, I can sing louder” match with Callas during the riddles.

The rest of the cast is very fine. The Ministers are perfect, displaying expert comic timing and vocal acting; the chorus—albeit rather distanced from the microphone—is responsive and energised; the orchestral playing is skilfully paced by the veteran Serafin, who conducted performances of “Turandot” in the year of its première. Another pleasing link with 1926 is that Giuseppe Nessi, who sings the Emperor here, sang the first Pong. The sheer barbarism of this rather nasty opera and the exotic innovation of Puccini’s chinoiserie emerge triumphant.

So for me this “Turandot” does not take its place in the Pantheon of indispensable Callas recordings, though fans of La Divina will want it whatever I say.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2009

With engagements hard to find, the young Maria Callas had often sung the taxing role of Turandot , but had long dropped it from her repertoire by the time she made this 1957 recording. She brought all her skill and artistry to prevent it “wrecking my voice”, and sought the help of the conductor, Tullio Serafin, who used urgent tempos that released her from the high notes as soon as possible. Unlike the great Turandots, such as Eva Turner and Birgit Nilsson, she could  never power her way through the music with that imperious disdain Puccini must have imagined. Instead she laced her voice with the chill of this cold and calculating Princess, yet unable to hide the stress she was under in the high passages. If Callas was looking to protect her voice, the young tenor, Eugenio Fernandi, gave his all as the Calaf, a fact that many cited as a turning point in what could have been a promising career. It was certainly a performance full of passion, the top end sung with an heroic timbre Wagnerian tenors would have envied. Adding to the releases’s commercial potential came another of the label’s stars, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, singing the role of the young Liu, her fast vibrato making the character sound pathetic rather than loving. The three Ministers, which  featured the most recorded tenor of his time, Piero de Palma, are excellent, the long scene at the opening of the second act never surpassed on disc. The Greek-born bass, Nicola Zaccaria, makes a most imposing Timur, and the minor roles fare well. The La Scala orchestra seem taken aback by some of Serefin’s fast tempos, the percussion and timpani rather untidy.The release enjoyed tremendous success when it was first released, but it came towards the end of the mono era, and though the performance remained admired, the splendours of the score were soon to be fully revealed in stereo sound. For its time it still sounds very good in this impressive new transfer which has the added incentive of appearing at super bargain price.

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