Let me get technical matters out of the way first. This Traviata, a revival of the 1990 production by Liliana Cavani and set designer Dante Ferretti, is also available in Blu-ray format for those preferring that recent advancement (Arthaus Musik 101344). It is, I'm told, the first disc ever offered in both formats upon release.
Now to the bottom-line matters. Both these Verdi opera performances are very much worth purchase for operaphiles. The Luisa Miller, the lesser of the two in popularity, is not to be overlooked. There haven't been many recordings of this opera over the years, at least not nearly as many as Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Aida and several other Verdi operas. I first became familiar with the work from a 1975 Decca recording featuring Pavarotti, Caballe and Milnes in the leads, with Peter Maag leading the National Philharmonic, an orchestra that only recorded and never concertized. I liked it immediately and wondered why the opera wasn't more popular. Luisa Miller, musically at least, is quite a memorable work. Maybe the libretto's static third act reins it in. In any event, in a good production, the opera works splendidly. And this is a fine production.
This Luisa Miller features Bulgarian soprano Darina Takova in the title role and a cast of singers generally near her excellent level. The production is rather modest, especially alongside the rather colorful Traviata here, which rivals most Franco Zeffirelli productions for sheer spectacle. Nevertheless, the singing and smaller scope of the stage direction are appropriate for the somewhat less ambitious Luisa Miller. In fact, some viewers may find the relatively barren sets and bleaker atmosphere a plus in this still-underrated tragic opera. Darina Takova is clearly the star. From her opening aria, Lo vidi e'l primo palpito, you know you're listening to a great talent. As mentioned above, the rest of the cast is quite fine too, and the conducting of Maurizio Benini and work by the Orchestra & Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice are superb. The sound is excellent and the camera work intelligently managed.
This La Traviata is also dominated by its female lead, in this case, the celebrated Angela Gheorghiu. And she has Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas as Alfredo, and, of course, Lorin Maazel in the pit leading the orchestra. Talk about star power in an opera production! And speaking about the production, it is just the opposite of the Luisa Miller effort: it is colorful, splashy, with a fabulous Brindisi (Libiamo ne' lieti calici), splendid costumes, and a progressive sense you're moving from joy and celebration to passion and tragedy.
The first three big numbers, Violetta's Ah, fors' è lui…Sempre libera and Addio del passato, and the Brindisi are so wonderfully sung and dramatically convincing, you know you're witnessing a spectacular event. And nothing that follows lets you down. The sound and camera work here too, are excellent. Again, both these Verdi recordings are special.
Copyright © 2008 by Robert Cummings