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G. Verdi: La Traviata
09 Nov 2008

Muti's La Traviata

EMI owns this recording, so if pride dictates they repackage it in the "Great Recordings of the Century" series, a dissenter shouldn't moralize.

G. Verdi: La Traviata

Roderick Kennedy, Alfredo Kraus, Sarah Walker, Renato Bruson, Renata Scotto, Cynthia Buchan, Suso Mariategui. Ambrosian Opera Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra. Ricardo Muti, conductor.

Angel 5099950969425; EMI Classics 5099950969456 [2CDs]

$23.99  Click to buy

Your reviewer will resist the urge to consider this an attempt to get a few more sales out of a La Traviata that may not stand up so well in comparison to the many other versions of the opera on the market.

Unless one is a Ricardo Muti fan. That seems to be the selling point of John Osborne’s booklet essay, where due respect is first paid to Arturo Toscanini (“Muti’s distinguished predecessor”) before Muti’s version earns praise for being “tautly, elegantly, and yet at the same time expressively conducted.” Tautly, yes, to the point of a sort of manic rigidity. Elegantly and expressively will be in the ears of the listeners; those qualities escaped your reviewer’s. Muti wanted a “feeling of urgency - even feverishness,” and he got that, from first note to last. Charm, sensuality, pathos make only fleeting impressions. The first act especially loses much of its romantic appeal, an essential element for setting up the tragedy of the ensuing acts. Muti also makes a point - a heavily underlined one - of getting a “banda”-like sound from the orchestra for the party music, and in the crystal clear sound, the effect is mannered.

1980 finds both Renata Scotto and Alfredo Kraus in their maturity as singers. That means they both give professional, technically secure readings. And it also means neither sounds youthful. Scotto’s top never settles, and in legato lines, a wobble interferes. In all likelihood, the credit for any “elegance” this set has goes to Kraus. Beyond that, his instrument isn’t quite lush enough to make the most of Alfredo’s best music. That being said, the final duet for Alfredo and Violetta goes very well. Renato Bruson is in prime voice, if anyone wants a Traviata where the best singing comes from Papa Germont. That character’s cabaletta at the end of act two, scene one, is included, as Muti delivers the score uncut. Your reviewer could have done without the second verse of “Addio del passato,” where other sopranos have made him regret its omission.

Fans of the conductor and/or singers have the right to disagree and heartily endorse EMI’s decision to deem this one of the “Great Recordings of the Century.” There are certainly plenty of alternatives for those of us who want some more flexibility and beauty in Verdi’s masterpiece.

Chris Mullins

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