Saturday, March 30, 2013

What to read and hear

Mary Jane Phillips-Matz's life of the composer (Oxford) and Julian Budden's The Operas of Verdi (Oxford) are indispensable. The Dumas fils novel La Dame aux Camélias is available in paperback from Oxford.

Verdi's Violetta is well represented on disc, with many of the twentieth century's greatest sopranos offering compelling performances. The best set for sampling Callas's influential Violetta is the live 1955 recording under Giulini from La Scala (EMI). Anna Moffo's uncommonly persuasive Violetta is probably her best recorded performance, and her costars, Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill, are top-notch (RCA). For brilliant coloratura finish in Act I, try either of Joan Sutherland's Decca performances; the second, under Richard Bonynge, finds the soprano well partnered by Luciano Pavarotti's buoyant Alfredo. Beverly Sills's nobility of utterance (EMI), Victoria de los Angeles's heart-stopping pathos (EMI) and Renata Scotto's nervy, feverish dash (DG) are all worthy of attention. The new star team of Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón catches fire on DG's 2005 Salzburg recording.

On DVD, Carlo Rizzi leads a 2005 Salzburg performance of the Met's current production by Willy Decker, with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón teamed — to electric effect — as Violetta and Alfredo. Villazón repeats his impetuous Alfredo in a 2006 performance from Los Angeles Opera of a lavishly traditional Marta Domingo staging, with James Conlon offering slightly indulgent leadership to Renée Fleming's graceful, sad-eyed Violetta (Decca). Fleming is in trimmer form musically in a 2009 revival of Richard Eyre's Covent Garden production, with Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson (Opus Arte), conducted by Antonio Pappano. An earlier Covent Garden performance of the Eyre staging (Decca) captures the Violetta that made Angela Gheorghiu an international star in 1994; Georg Solti conducts. Robert Carsen's 2004 staging from La Fenice (Arthaus) offers Dmitri Hvorostovsky's aristocratic Germont, conducted by Lorin Maazel. Peter Hall's more modestly cast 1988 production from Glyndebourne (Kultur), led by Bernard Haitink, is also satisfying on its own intimate terms. The 1936 George Cukor film Camille, an MGM adaptation of Dumas Fils's play, can still jerk the requisite tears with great efficiency, thanks to the incomparable Greta Garbo (Warner).

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