Giuseppe Verdi – La Traviata
CAST: Violetta: Renata Tebaldi, Alfredo: Gianni Poggi, Giorgio Germont: Aldo Protti, Flora Bervoix: Angela Vercelli, Gastone: Piero de Palma, Barone Douphol: Antonio Sacchetti, Marchese D’Obigny: Dario Caselli, Grenvil: Ivan Sardi, Annina: Rina Cavalieri, Giuseppe: Mario Bianchi, Servant: Piero Gradiella
Orchestra e coro dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, conductor
Decca, 1954 (1991)
Renata Tebaldi and La Traviata: An Overview
Despite the fact that Renata Tebaldi has sung the role of Violetta Valéry for more than ten years during her career, nowadays she is more commonly associated with Tosca, La forza del destino (studio recording, 1955 and Naples, 1958), La Bohème and La Gioconda. Definitely, La Traviata is not one of the first operas that come to someone’s mind when thinking about Tebaldi’s repertoire and I think there are at least two reasons to explain this fact.
The first reason is that Violetta is not Tebaldi’s ideal role. Even though the great Italian soprano has the right timbre and, in some regards, the right temperament to be an outstanding Violetta, her lirico-spinto voice is too vehement to represent the pathos and tragedy of a woman who is dying of consumption. Moreover, Tebaldi’s strong personality is distant from the submission that the role requires. The listener has to reconcile a singing that is feminine, angelical and even caressing and that, at the same time, reveals a firmness which is incompatible with Violetta’s image.
The second reason is related to the prejudice that Tebaldi was not suitable to sing Traviata after what seemed to be a less than perfect performance in Milan in 1951. She was not in good shape and her voice showed signs of weariness and her indisposition caused a scandal. Despite Tebaldi sang again the role in Naples one month after and was as successful as usual, the previous performance remained indelible in the audience’s minds.
La traviata: the Recording
The present recording of Verdi’s masterpiece proves that Tebaldi was not really unsuitable for the role, though it also highlights that her vocal style was sometimes distant from it and that her character contrasts with the predominant idea of what Violetta should be.
Tebaldi’s musicianship is so good that allows her to sing without any overwhelming difficulty the entire role, with the undeniable exception of Sempre libera. The famous cabaletta at the end of the first act is definitely Tebaldi’s worst moment. Her unease is really painful to hear, especially considering that in the next two acts she sings beautifully, with what can be considered classical proportion. She is deeply moving with her passionate, booming Amami, Alfredo and with the enchanting Addio, del passato, where she admits with grievous lyricism that Violetta’s dreams are shattered and where, in her plea to God, her voice reveals unheard-of abundance. She is definitely a great artist and she is able to prove it, especially in the third act, where she is really able to be enchanting with her sweet Parigi, o cara, with the moving Prendi, questa è l’immagine and with the final, luminous, unforgettable word: “O gioia!”
Overall, Tebaldi is never a second-rate Violetta. Her singing is always warm, human and full of innate tenderness – all features that, despite the flaws mentioned above, make her outstanding.
Gianni Poggi, Aldo Protti and Francesco Molinari-Pradelli’s conduction
Although Violetta is not Tebaldi’s best role, her colleagues Gianni Poggi (Alfredo) and Aldo Protti (Giorgio Germont) are miles away from her. The former whines or shouts and his old-fashioned way of singing makes him even more unbearable. It is incredible that Molinari-Pradelli has allowed him to sing O mio rimorso, o infamia after Lunge da lei, considering that the cabaletta was cut frequently in those years – and this time, the inclusion that is more detrimental than useful. Protti is slightly better, but his performance is poor too as his Giorgio Germont is quite dull and shallow.
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli’s conduction is not much more inspiring. Sometimes he chooses tempos that are definitely too slow, as if he is trying to distract the listener as much as he can. I think in particular of the two parties, where time seems to stop for inexplicable reasons. Moreover, even when the tempos are appropriate, there is no precise direction in his conduction and it is not clear what he tries to achieve with it.
In the end, Renata Tebaldi is the best part of this Traviata. She is the only reason which makes it still valuable nowadays and for which it is worth listening to it.