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Thread: Bellini on cd.......................

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fritz Kobus View Post
    My rankings of La Sonnambula recordings is biased by my unconventional way of ranking which lies more heavily on certain voices and sound quality, which generally leaves Callas out of the top running because of sound quality alone.
    All reviews of opera recordings are biased based on what the listener's priorities are. That's why I try to describe the recordings in an objective way as well as pick favourites. For Sonnambula my priorities are as follows:

    1) Emotional commitment to the role of Amina
    2) Singers in the roles of Elvino and the Conte
    3) Conducting that stops the work from becoming too staid and prosaic, however beautiful the lyrical sweep of the music might be
    4) Singer in the role of Lisa
    5) Sound quality

    So if I put the eight recordings I reviewed in order they come out as:

    Top Tier (In order of preference)
    Callas 1955
    Callas Studio 1957
    Sutherland 1980

    Next Favourite (again in order of preference)
    Callas live versions 1957
    Bartoli
    Pagliughi
    Sutherland 1962

    Lowest Tier
    Dessay

    So we agree that we both don't like the Dessay recording! But then again when you consider that your main criteria is sound quality and it is my least important then we agree on the nature of the recordings even though we have completely different favourites.

    N.

    P.S. I will see if I can listen to the Orgonasova and Gruberova sets.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte View Post
    So we agree that we both don't like the Dessay recording! But then again when you consider that your main criteria is sound quality and it is my least important then we agree on the nature of the recordings even though we have completely different favourites.

    N.

    P.S. I will see if I can listen to the Orgonasova and Gruberova sets.
    I do like a good Elvino and I rather like a Lisa with a not so beautiful voice so it more matches her character.

    Of course my rankings may change some over time, but I do think Orgonasova will remain at the top for Sonnambula, and to a large degree because I see Durlovsky when I listen. There is a characteristic in both their voices that makes the connection for me, and strongly. Others may not see it or have it very strongly.
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    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fritz Kobus View Post
    I do like a good Elvino and I rather like a Lisa with a not so beautiful voice so it more matches her character.

    Of course my rankings may change some over time, but I do think Orgonasova will remain at the top for Sonnambula, and to a large degree because I see Durlovsky when I listen. There is a characteristic in both their voices that makes the connection for me, and strongly. Others may not see it or have it very strongly.
    I always see Callas when I listen to her, and yet I never saw her live. It's as if I can see every fleeting change of facial expression.
    Last edited by Tsaraslondon; May-12-2019 at 17:16.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Since I reviewed recordings of La Sonnambula I have listened to the Naxos one:

    Sonnambula.jpg

    This would seem to be a recording from a concert performance as there is clapping at some points and I guess it was a Netherlands radio broadcast. It would seem to come from one live radio concert without patching sessions being recorded as there are a couple of mistakes here and there. The sound is generally good, as are the perfromances. I've always liked Gimenez's pleasant tone and his sings this part well, despite having less character than Pavarotti or Florez and less style than Valletti who would be my three favourite Elvinos. Bel Canto specialist Zedda conducts and shows that he has a fine feeling for this repertoire, he is a touch placid and lacking in drama (this is Sonnambula as concert piece rather than theatre piece). However he brings out the lyrical beauty of Bellini's writing in this his most elegiac work. I would prefer a more dynamic and animated approach, however.

    The bass Francesco Ellero d'Artegna is completely new to me and his Conte Rodolfo is nicely done if perhaps rather blandly. However, it is the soprano that we are mostly interested in in this opera. Orgonasova has the technique to sing the part and her voice is light, yet has enough steel to make her more than a canary imitator. She is quite expressive in her final aria and it's more engaging than we often hear, however she is far less committed in her act one entrance aria where she sounds far less in the role. Overall this feels like a presentation of Bellini's score (and beautifully done) rather than a performance of a piece of music theatre and that would be my main reason for not putting it amongst my favourites. It reminds me in some respects of the Abbado Capuleti where all is perfection and grace, but without excitement or dramatic punch. You can get away with that to a certain degree in Sonnambula, however there should be some atmosphere of a story unfolding before our eyes rather than just a long musical melos.

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Jun-04-2019 at 21:41.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte View Post
    Since I reviewed recordings of La Sonnambula I have listened to the Naxos one:

    Sonnambula.jpg

    This would seem to be a recording from a concert performance as there is clapping at some points and I guess it was a Netherlands radio broadcast. It would seem to come from one live radio concert without patching sessions being recorded as there are a couple of mistakes here and there. The sound is generally good, as are the perfromances. I've always liked Gimenez's pleasant tone and his sings this part well, despite having less character than Pavarotti or Florez and less style than Valletti who would be my three favourite Elvinos. Bel Canto specialist Zedda conducts and shows that he has a fine feeling for this repertoire, he is a touch placid and lacking in drama (this is Sonnambula as concert piece rather than theatre piece). However he brings out the lyrical beauty of Bellini's writing in this his most elegiac work. I would prefer a more dynamic and animated approach, however.

    The bass Francesco Ellero d'Artegna is completely new to me and his Conte Rodolfo is nicely done if perhaps rather blandly. However, it is the soprano that we are mostly interested in in this opera. Orgonasova has the technique to sing the part and her voice is light, yet has enough steel to make her more than a canary imitator. She is quite expressive in her final aria and it's more engaging than we often hear, however she is far less committed in her act one entrance aria where she sounds far less in the role. Overall this feels like a presentation of Bellini's score (and beautifully done) rather than a performance of a piece of music theatre and that would be my main reason for not putting it amongst my favourites. It reminds me in some respects of the Abbado Capuleti where all is perfection and grace, but without excitement or dramatic punch. You can get away with that to a certain degree in Sonnambula, however there should be some atmosphere of a story unfolding before our eyes rather than just a long musical melos.

    N.
    Thanks for the review. I know that my preference for this one came on after watching the wonderful Sonnambula DVD with Ana Durlovsky and because Luba's voice reminds me of Anna's regardless how much others may or may not see that. Otherwise, if not for this performance, my favorite Sonnambula would be the one with Gruberova.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fritz Kobus View Post
    Thanks for the review. I know that my preference for this one came on after watching the wonderful Sonnambula DVD with Ana Durlovsky and because Luba's voice reminds me of Anna's regardless how much others may or may not see that. Otherwise, if not for this performance, my favorite Sonnambula would be the one with Gruberova.
    So now I have to track down and review the Gruberova???



    I imagine that Gruberova would be excellent as Amina, however there is strong competition as there are now quite a few sets of the opera (possibly more than any other Bellini opera).

    N.

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    This one is pretty good too:


    FRONT IMAGE

    Bigger BACK IMAGE
    Last edited by SixFootScowl; Jun-08-2019 at 16:26.
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    Until recently I'd probably have recommended the 1955 Scala performance as the reference recording for Norma but while that is certainly one of the greatest operatic performances on disc another recording, from half a year earlier in Rome, needs to be taken into consideration.

    The obvious differences are the conductor, Serfin in Rome and Votto at Scala, the different orchestra and chorus, Ebe Stignani as opposed to Simionato as Adalgisa and Modesti instead of Zaccaria as Oroveso. Serafin's conducting of the Rome performance has been criticised for lacking dramatic impact, but I don't find that at all, the only place a slightly faster tempo might have worked better is the finale of act 1 but that is made up for as he opens up one of Votto's more thoughtless cuts. Although Serafin does use a cut score Votto takes it even further and starts cutting away at essential material such as the finale of act 1 and the duet between Norma and Pollione in act 2. Serafin certainly does push on with the tempos when needed however, with a stunning 'Squilla il bronzo'. I also find the orchestra here more responsive, although that may just be a result of the better sound quality. The chorus too is excellent. Stignani is past her prime, but still wonderful, just a little too mature sounding for Adalgisa, Simionato is better but not by a great margin. Between Modesti and Zaccaria I have little preference, both are perfectly suitable.

    Callas's Norma is one of her greatest conceptions and both of these recordings are essential. In Rome she is a little more nuanced than in Milan, you hear more of the vulnerable woman beneath the exterior of the self-sacrificing priestess. The 'casta diva' in Rome is more secure than in Milan, totally beguiling in it's nocturnal mysticism. Callas deals with the cabaletta with stunning virtuosity in both recordings. The first duet with Adalgisa is more affecting too in Rome, with the passionate recollection of 'Oh, cari accenti' more heart-felt than on any other version. The following 'Ah sì, fa core...' sounds a little gentler than on the Scala version, more inkeeping with the sentiments expressed. Both readings of 'Oh, non tremare, o perfido' are miraculous and Callas makes the most of both finales, although the other two singers do not handle the slower tempo in Rome as well as Callas. The high Db at La Scala is more thrilling. The second duet with Adalgisa is done beautifully in Rome but Simionato in Scala is certainly more vocally equipped. The biggest differences come in the final scene. Callas is fiercer in the big duet with Pollione in Milan but in Rome she is more nuanced and has her chest voice ever sounded so dark as in the first phrases of 'In mia man alfin...'? The 'son io', more steady in Rome, is felt with greater impact at La Scala, prompting an immediate reaction from the audience. In the earlier performance Callas is more loving in 'Qual cor tradisti' but the the section with the chorus lacks some of the impact of the later performance. Both prayers ('Deh! Non volerli vittime') are among some of Callas's most poigniant singing on record but, possibly just because of the better audio quality, the elagic final trio is better heard in Rome.

    Del Monaco is possibly in stronger voice in Rome, but his performances are quite similar for the most part. He makes a brilliant Pollione and his lack of deep characterisation matters less in a role like this. The Scala audio quality is better than many of their other broadcasts from around the same time but the sound is harsh and sometimes rather uncomfortable. There is a good remaster by Pristine but it does not completely solve the problems and there is plenty of noise from the audience too. The performance in Rome is captured in remarkably good sound, however, it is not perfect but along with the Berlin Lucia is one of the best preservations of the 'Callas sound' from her short prime.

    If I was asked to choose I'd probably go for the Rome broadcast, for a clearer insight to the complex character of Norma, however since I can have both, I will. Ask me another day and I might prefer the performance from Milan. Both are essential documents to Bellini's art as well as Callas's.
    Last edited by Op.123; Sep-13-2019 at 16:30.

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    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Op.123 View Post
    Until recently I'd probably have recommended the 1955 Scala performance as the reference recording for Norma but while that is certainly one of the greatest operatic performances on disc another recording, from half a year earlier in Rome, needs to be taken into consideration.

    The obvious differences are the conductor, Serfin in Rome and Votto at Scala, the different orchestra and chorus, Ebe Stignani as opposed to Simionato as Adalgisa and Modesti instead of Zaccaria as Oroveso. Serafin's conducting of the Rome performance has been criticised for lacking dramatic impact, but I don't find that at all, the only place a slightly faster tempo might have worked better is the finale of act 1 but that is made up for as he opens up one of Votto's more thoughtless cuts. Although Serafin does use a cut score Votto takes it even further and starts cutting away at essential material such as the finale of act 1 and the duet between Norma and Pollione in act 2. Serafin certainly does push on with the tempos when needed however, with a stunning 'Squilla il bronzo'. I also find the orchestra here more responsive, although that may just be a result of the better sound quality. The chorus too is excellent. Stignani is past her prime, but still wonderful, just a little too mature sounding for Adalgisa, Simionato is better but not by a great margin. Between Modesti and Zaccaria I have little preference, both are perfectly suitable.

    Callas's Norma is one of her greatest conceptions and both of these recordings are essential. In Rome she is a little more nuanced than in Milan, you hear more of the vulnerable woman beneath the exterior of the self-sacrificing priestess. The 'casta diva' in Rome is more secure than in Milan, totally beguiling in it's nocturnal mysticism. Callas deals with the cabaletta with stunning virtuosity in both recordings. The first duet with Adalgisa is more affecting too in Rome, with the passionate recollection of 'Oh, cari accenti' more heart-felt than on any other version. The following 'Ah sì, fa core...' sounds a little gentler than on the Scala version, more inkeeping with the sentiments expressed. Both readings of 'Oh, non tremare, o perfido' are miraculous and Callas makes the most of both finales, although the other two singers do not handle the slower tempo in Rome as well as Callas. The high Db at La Scala is more thrilling. The second duet with Adalgisa is done beautifully in Rome but Simionato in Scala is certainly more vocally equipped. The biggest differences come in the final scene. Callas is fiercer in the big duet with Pollione in Milan but in Rome she is more nuanced and has her chest voice ever sounded so dark as in the first phrases of 'In mia man alfin...'? The 'son io', more steady in Rome, is felt with greater impact at La Scala, prompting an immediate reaction from the audience. In the earlier performance Callas is more loving in 'Qual cor tradisti' but the the section with the chorus lacks some of the impact of the later performance. Both prayers ('Deh! Non volerli vittime') are among some of Callas's most poigniant singing on record but, possibly just because of the better audio quality, the elagic final trio is better heard in Rome.

    Del Monaco is possibly in stronger voice in Rome, but his performances are quite similar for the most part. He makes a brilliant Pollione and his lack of deep characterisation matters less in a role like this. The Scala audio quality is better than many of their other broadcasts from around the same time but the sound is harsh and sometimes rather uncomfortable. There is a good remaster by Pristine but it does not completely solve the problems and there is plenty of noise from the audience too. The performance in Rome is captured in remarkably good sound, however, it is not perfect but along with the Berlin Lucia is one of the best preservations of the 'Callas sound' from her short prime.

    If I was asked to choose I'd probably go for the Rome broadcast, for a clearer insight to the complex character of Norma, however since I can have both, I will. Ask me another day and I might prefer the performance from Milan. Both are essential documents to Bellini's art as well as Callas's.
    It's a long time since I've heard it, but I remember finding Callas less nuanced in Rome than at La Scala. Simionato tips the balance in favour of La Scala for me too, and I prefer Zaccaria to Modesti, though both are fine. Votto is not exactly a strong presence in the pit, but, with a Callas, did he really need to be? You sense, particularly in the last act, that it is Callas who is leading and dictating the tempo, her rubato wonderfully free, though she somehow never loses the natural pulse of the music.

    The conditions of the two performances are different as well of course. Rome was a concert performance for radio, whereas La Scala was of course fully staged, which might account for some of the differences in interpretation.

    I obviously need to hear Rome again to see if my reactions have changed.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tsaraslondon View Post
    It's a long time since I've heard it, but I remember finding Callas less nuanced in Rome than at La Scala. Simionato tips the balance in favour of La Scala for me too, and I prefer Zaccaria to Modesti, though both are fine. Votto is not exactly a strong presence in the pit, but, with a Callas, did he really need to be? You sense, particularly in the last act, that it is Callas who is leading and dictating the tempo, her rubato wonderfully free, though she somehow never loses the natural pulse of the music.

    The conditions of the two performances are different as well of course. Rome was a concert performance for radio, whereas La Scala was of course fully staged, which might account for some of the differences in interpretation.

    I obviously need to hear Rome again to see if my reactions have changed.
    Yes, maybe less nuanced is the wrong term, just a slightly different conception. I feel a certain amount more femininity in the Rome Norma but at Scala she is even more ferocious in some sections, the 'Adalgisa fia punita' for example is possibly the most furious singing I can think of. Indeed the staged production could have had an effect, it was a big production with an unforgiving landscape, this might have inspired some of the primal rage of some of her singing. I'm still more fond of the Rome performance where she is certainly fiery too, Callas always was when called for. Both performances are undoubtedly essential though, I doubt we will see the standard set here, now over 60 years ago, surpassed in our lifetimes.
    Last edited by Op.123; Sep-13-2019 at 22:52.
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    I haven't listened to the Rome performance in a while (although I listened to Rome vs. Milan back to back some years ago. I agree that the main differences (conductor, Adalgisa and sound quality) mean that the Rome recording has much in its favour. I prefer Serafin over Votto and the differences in sound speak for themselves. Whilst I prefer Simionato's more impassioned and convincing Adalgisa over Stignani's, I prefer the soprano/mezzo duets in Rome as the voices blend together better and they are only equaled in that respect by Caballe and Sutherland in their studio recording.

    However, I still prefer the Scala performance as Callas is more in the role than in Rome and that is why it is considered her best Norma. Callas impresses as much in the recitatives and ariosi as she does in arias and ensembles and the opening of act two in the Milan performance - was Callas (or Norma) ever more desperate than this? - has never been equaled let alone surpassed, even by Callas herself.

    N.

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    And so... on to Norma in my survey of all of Bellini's operas on CD.

    The first two recordings of the opera come from 1937 and feature Gina Cigna in the title role. The first is a live recording from the Met conducted by Ettore Panizza and the second is a Cetra studio recording with Gui in charge of the Turin RAI orchestra. Cigna was the Norma of the moment coming after Ponselle and before Milanov. People will no doubt have been comparing her Casta Diva with that of Ponselle (who never recorded the role complete). Cigna is a dramatic soprano whose finest moments were Turandot and Aida and she lacks the subtlety to do justice to Bellini's classical heroine. She is better in the studio recording as her top notes are more secure and her intonation more under control. Gui concentrates on the grandeur of the atmosphere of the setting and the music rolls pleasantly by. The supporting cast is better at the Met, but it's worth hearing Ebe Stignani's Adalgisa in fresher voice than it would be when she recorded the role with Callas and Tancredi Pasero is the type of dependable bass that doesn't seem to exist anymore. The tenor, Breviario is a disappointment.

    The recording studio favoured Cigna as she could record passages a second time, whereas at the Met if she squawked above the stave (and she did) it was tough luck! In both recordings there is a lack of colour and shade and her interpretation is rather beige. She also doesn't have the class or style of a Ponselle to make up for it. She is more expressive in the scena at the start of act two at least and there is more variety in the live recording where Panizza's conducting is more dramatic and less static than Gui's. Adalgisa is the superb Bruna Castagna, every bit as good as Stignani. However, it is the tenor and bass who make this recording worthwhile. If you are familiar with Martinelli and Pinza, then they are just as you would expect here, with Pinza producing his characteristic large, yet warm, rounded sound and Martinelli possibly the most heroic Pollione on disc.

    Recordings of Norma stand or fall depending on who the soprano in the title role is and neither of these two is essential I would say.

    N - Cigna.jpg

    N - Pinza.jpg

    N.

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    How can I review the many recordings of Callas as Norma? Where to begin?

    There are two studio recordings, both of which have their merits, but there are also at least four complete live versions too. Not to mention a number of performances where excerpts exist in sound. I have five Callas Normas and consider all essential and even if I were to consider what I would recommend the average opera fan I think there are two or three that every opera collection can't be without.

    Callas wasn't just the Norma of her generation, but most likely the greatest Norma of all time. It wasn't just the role she performed more than any other, or the role she was most closely associated with, but it seems quite odd if people discuss this opera without mentioning her.

    N - Callas 1960.jpg

    Her stereo studio recording is absolutely essential. Nobody has ever understood this work like Serafin and the cast couldn't be bettered (Corelli and Ludwig was an inspired choice). The only improvement would be to have Callas as she performed the role live at La Scala in 1955. This famous La Scala opening night has as strong a cast as the 1960 studio recording with Del Monaco and Simionato as Pollione and Adalgisa. The downside (apart from vintage live broadcast sound - although quite decent compared with some other recordings from the same time) is Votto who isn't as sympathetic to the score's poetry as Serafin. Still, this is worth having for the depth of characterisation and intensity from Callas where she surpasses even herself on all her other recordings of the title role.

    N - Callas 1955.jpg

    There is also another live recording from the same year with Serafin conducting and Del Monaco, but this time with Stignani in the mezzo role. The chief prize of this radio concert is the way that Callas and Stignani's voices blend miraculously together, even more so than on their 1954 mono studio recording. Callas is in fresher voice in her earlier studio recording than in her latter one, but Fillipeschi's Pollione is weak and whilst I like Stignani, both Simionato at La Scala and Ludwig in the stereo studio recording are better. There are key differences in this set in terms of Callas' interpretation of the role compared to her other recordings. It is her most subtle reading of the part compared with earlier performances (1950 Mexico and 1952 Covent Garden). Therefore it's essential for Callas fans if not for those who don't feel the need for more than one or two recordings of Callas in Bellini's masterpiece.

    N - Callas 1954.jpg

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Nov-17-2019 at 14:59.

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    There is one other Callas Norma that I consider essential for Callas and/or Norma superfans and that is the live 1952 Covent Garden recording. This is less subtle than her later versions and she approaches the part as a kind of bel canto Valkyrie. It's exciting stuff and it's interesting to compare with her first studio recording in 1954 where everything is toned down for the studio microphones (and no doubt posterity).

    Another interesting recording is the one from Mexico in 1950 (available on Myto). Callas takes a larger than large approach here, more dramatico soprano than d'agilita (that's not to say that the coloratura is sloppy or glossed over). This is one for completists as there is very little nuance to Callas' singing here. Can belto rather than what the role would become later on. Callas' wagnerian Norma is best heard on the recording mentioned above from 1952 were she is still robust in terms of style, but not at the expense of Bellini's musical poetry and her interpretative genius.

    At least two of these recordings are essential for every opera collection: the 1960 stereo studio and 1955 live recordings. How many of the others one would want to add is up to each individual.

    N.

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    Once Callas had done the groundwork for the bel canto revival there were a number of sopranos who took on the role of Norma. I'm not sure if there is a recording available commercially with Gencer in, although I'm sure I heard one played on the radio once. I find her a pretty pale version of Callas/Caballe in most recordings in any case. She does have a following, though.

    Souliotis was the first Callas imitator (and quite possibly the greatest). There is a live Norma from La Scala which shows warts and all why her career ended so quickly. Her studio recording with Del Monaco and Cossotto finds her in much more comfortable voice. However, she doesn't find anything in the role which we hadn't already heard from Callas and this is only for avid fans of the principal singers.

    N - Souliotis.jpg

    Much more appealing were Caballe and Sutherland, each of which brought something of their own to the role, even if their assumptions don't quite reach the very high bar set by Callas. Caballe is at her best in a live recording with Vickers, in bad sound unfortunately and I've never quite been convinced by her studio set with Domingo. It all feels a bit too safe from all concerned.

    N - Caballe.jpg

    Most people will suggest Sutherland's first studio recording as the best alternative to the Callas offerings. It takes more of a literally bel canto approach and opens cuts found in Serafin's editions. Horne and Sutherland in fresh voice is an appealing mix, but Norma needs more strength of purpose than I detect in this one.

    N - Sutherland I.jpg

    Sutherland or Caballe? Why not both! On paper Sutherland's second recording with Caballe as a soprano Adalgisa (as the role was written) and Pavarotti as Pollione either looks like heaven or hell (especially if the idea of late Sutherland turns your stomach). However, I think this one of the most underrated opera recordings in the catalogue. Pavarotti is a superb Pollione - he always had an innate understanding of Bellini's lyricism and is convincing in some of the heavier repertoire (such as Calaf, which interestingly he also recorded with Sutherland and Caballe in a similarly surprisingly cast and surprisingly successful account). I would have had Caballe as Norma and Sutherland as Adalgisa (the same goes for Turandot and Liu), but the producers got them round the right way here as in the Puccini. No Norma and Adalgisa blend so beautifully in the duets as here (not even Callas and Stignani in the 1955 RAI set). What of Sutherland's Norma? Most critics prefer the earlier recording because Sutherland is in fresher voice. That's true, but Sutherland throws herself into the dramatic aspect of the role here and shows that she could be a fine vocal actress and there was more to her art than an extremely accomplished warbling canary. This would be my recommendation for a post Callas set as IMO it's the best of complete sets.

    N - Sutherland II.jpg

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Nov-17-2019 at 15:53.

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