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More Details for CD2305-06

Reviews for CD 2305-06 La Traviata


Giuseppe VERDI La Traviata, Melodrama in three acts.
Text by Francesco Maria Piave. (Sung in Russian)
First Performed 6 March 1858. Teatro La Fenice, Venice

Yelizaveta Shumskaya (Violetta Valery) (sop)
Ivan Kozlovsky (Alfredo Germont) (ten)
Pavel Lisitsian (Giorgio Germont) (bar)
Yelena Gribova (Flora Bervoix) (mezzo)
Y Filin (Gastone) (ten)
Anatoli Yakhontov (Barone Douphol) (bar)

USSR State Symphony Orcestra/Alexander Orlov.
Recorded 1947

Appendix: Pavel Lisitsian (bar)

Il Trovatore - Il balen
Un ballo in maschera - Alla vita che t’arride
Un ballo in Maschera - Eri tu?
Aida - Ciel! Mio padre (with Natalia Sokolova, sop)


After World War II, the state-owned Soviet recording industry launched an ambitious, longterm project to capture on disk as many of the Bolshoi's standard repertoire operas as possible.  This was serendipitous, for the Bolshoi was still experiencing a Golden Age of singing that would continue for another couple of decades.  "Golden Age" is not a phrase I lightly toss around, but the Bolshoi's tenor and bass contingents during that period justify the label, with an over-abundant wealth of top-flight talent that recalls the major opera houses of Western and Central Europe and the US back at the turn-of-the-20th century.  

Although home-grown composers received pride of place, this Melodiya effort also included a selection of popular operas, primarily from France and Italy: Delibes' Lakme, Gounod's Faust and Romeo et Juliette , Puccini's La Boheme , etc.  Everything was recorded in Russian, following a Bolshoi performing tradition of many years.  (Native language performances of foreign operas remain an established tradition in at least a few major European opera houses to this day.)  Linguistic purists will therefore want to avoid the 1947 La Traviata under review.  For everybody else, however, it should comprise a singular treat.

Or rather, four treats.  The first is the conducting.  Alexander Orlov was one of those rare instances of White Russian royalty thriving long into the history of the new Red regime.  A prince under the old regime, Orlov pursued his love of music and became a conductor with the Moscow RSO from 1930 onwards.  Among the active Soviet conductors of his period he was the most old-fashioned, indulging in frequent string portamenti and highly elastic tempos that were already old of style back then.  But Orlov knew how to make it all work, and his musical indulgence somehow seems fitting in this, Verdi's most intimate of operas.

The tenor lead is Ivan Kozlovsky, arguably the greatest Soviet lyric tenor of the last century.  His white voice strikes some people as unpleasant, much as Heddle Nash's once did; but for poetic interpretation, he remains untouched.  At a time when any of a dozen rivals among his countrymen sang this repertoire with convincing beauty and ease, Kozlovsky stood above them all by virtue of his clear enunciation of text, and in-depth study of each role he assumed.

At times, this last led him astray: his performance of Vladimir's Song in the complete Prince Igor recorded by Melodiya is a case of simple material dissected slowly under a microscope.  But in roles such as Werther, Lensky, Lohengrin or Count Almaviva, Kozlovsky reigned supreme.  Each came to life not merely in the music, but as a character.  His Alfredo is a poet of great sensitivity, as a rapt but passionate 'De' miei bollenti spiriti' illustrates: no bearish thug of a lyrico spinto, this.  His fluent coloratura also gets a rare and spectacular outing in the sometimes cut cabaletta, 'Oh mio rimorso!'.

Yelizaveta Shumskaya was another example of a great artist whose voice evokes mixed reactions.  Like Kozlovsky, she had all the requisite vocal gifts, and subordinated them to a profound analysis of character and music.  Her Violetta comes alive in a way that many merely pretty renditions by vocally blessed sopranos don't.  'Ah, fors'è lui' is delicate and musing, etched in numerous introspective tints; while her voice in 'Addio del passato' shifts perfectly from a bleak foreknowledge of death to the rich desperation of love, and back again.

Like Kozlovsky, too, there's no sense in her of holding anything back at inappropriate moments.  Shumskaya's 'Sempre libera' isn't a careful rendition, but one that properly mirrors a spirit recklessly tossing responsibility to the winds; and she has the voice and training to make it work.  It's true that she lacks a trill, and the figurations in thirds slur; and at times elsewhere in this opera, the voice under pressure sounds hard and unyielding.  But it is unquestionably a major assumption of Violetta, by a performer with a unique, well-conceived interpretation.

Giorgio Germont is sung here by Pavel Lisitsian, who died just a few months ago at the age of 92.  Lisitsian wasn't a detailed interpreter of text such as Kozlovsky and Shumskaya.  Nor was he a complete slouch in this department, as the extended Act I Germont-Violetta duet reveals; but Lisitsian is primarily remembered for his musical (as opposed to theatrical) imagination, and for having one of the most beautiful and distinctive baritone voices ever put on disk.  It was a bright, warm instrument with a faster than average vibrato, supported by phenomenal breath control.  (I used to feature his recital recording of 'Ombra mai fu' on my radio holidays special, years ago.  Its first syllable seems to swell and diminish over a period measured in timeless hours, not seconds.)  His 'Di provenza' is a wonderful study in dynamics, and an example of just how affecting this warhorse can be when sung by a performer of this caliber.  Adding value to this release, the producers have included three other arias of Lisitsian in Verdi, and an Act III excerpt from the 1953 Aida accompanied by the somewhat tremulous Natalia Sokolova.

The recording is in generally good shape, though from the occasional ticks it's clear that LPs supplied the original transfer.  The original surfaces were very clean in any case, with good, forward vocals and slightly tinny sound.  (The Soviets almost certainly used tape recorders "liberated" from German studios at the end of the War.)  One odd glitch occurs in 'Sempre libera', jumping forward a couple of seconds in the music; and a second CD set I acquired showed the same flaw.  It is not in the originals, since my own LP copy has no such problem.

Larry Friedman supplies impassioned liner notes about the cast, and a synopsis of the action.  There are no texts, but if you know La Traviata , that won't bother you.  And if you know La Traviata , and already have an Italian version at hand, you really owe it to yourself to get this recording, as well.

Barry Brenasal

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