• La Traviata: They were Violetta - First complete Traviatas (1930s)



    Mercedes Capsir

    She was the Violetta of the first La Traviata complete recording, conducted by the enigmatic Lorenzo Molajoli. Capsir's career was mainly based in Italy, though she also sung several times in London and Barcelona. Her coloratura was great, she exhibits a perfect breath control and she was a top 'Act 1 Violetta". Her lyric abandonment, however, can be questioned. As 'instrumental singing' goes, a superb performance, but the real Violetta, the young woman in love, disappears in Acts 2 and 3 (same can be said of many other Violettas, true). In fact, Capsir was a much better Gilda, than Violetta.

    È strano...Ah, fors è lui...Sempre libera - Mercedes Capsir, 1928

    Madamigella Valery - Mercedes Capsir with Carlo Galeffi, 1928

    Addio del Passato - Mercedes Capsir, 1928



    Rosa Ponselle

    One of the greatest singers of all time, Rosa Ponselle's most cherished operatic project was to sing Violetta. She was powerfully attracted by the dramatic weight of the role. From a purely vocal point of view, after having sung Norma's coloratura with great success, she was confident Violetta will not be a problem. Of course, she understood that her voice was larger, darker than Galli-Curci's or Tetrazzini's, but she also thought it was ideal for the second and third act. Maestro Serafin supported Ponselle, and advised her to study the role in Italy, with Gemma Bellincioni.

    Bellincioni as Violetta, in 1903

    Ponselle's first Violetta was sung in London, and was a great triumph for the american soprano, with an outstanding ovation at the end of more than 30 minutes. The Times considered her the best Violetta ever.

    After this, Ponselle was very confident for her Traviata debut in the MET, with Lauri-Volpi and De Luca. However, the reviews were not as good as she was expecting, with the critics on fire about transposing "Sempre Libera" a full tone down. Even her colleague (not friend) Lauri-Volpi, said:

    Rosa's voice is like a human cello, but her B4 and her C5 are not always available, and where they are, she fights to sustain them. In Traviata, neither her first act, not her "Amami, Alfredo" are really top class. It would has been better for her never to sing Violetta, this just ruined her top notes

    Ponselle, to be sure, was always a little bit unsecure about her top notes, true. Even if during her first years, they were a marvel to hear. However, trying to lighten her voice to sing Violetta the 'soprano coloratura' way, did damage her voice. However, she was among the first to give Violetta her true dramatic stature, and provide a fully convincing portrait of the sick and loving woman. This is indeed one of the best Violettas ever.

    Ah, fors' è lui...Sempre libera - Ponselle, 1935

    Duet Giorgio / Violetta - Ponselle with Lawrence Tibbett, 1935

    Addio del passato - Ponselle, 1936



    Hjördis Schymberg

    The Swedish soprano recorded La Traviata in 1939. Her Violetta was not really very interesting, and her Italian was bizarre, but we can take advantage and listen also to Björling's Alfredo (in swedish):

    Sempre Libera - Hjördis Schymberg, 1945

    Act 1 Duet - Jussi Björling & Hjördis Schymberg, 1939




    Maria Caniglia

    Caniglia's Traviata was recorded in 1939, and it's a pure italian opera performance of the times. Here, we find a true idiomatic Violetta, and a perfect legato. The lines are properly told, this is naturalistic drama at his best, though perhaps a little bit more Tosca, than Violetta. Caniglia was already a mature singer, and she is able to sing a great Violetta in her dialogue with Giorgio and as a dying woman.

    Sempre Libera - Caniglia, 1939

    Madamigella Valery - Caniglia with Mario Basiola, 1939

    Parigi, o cara - Caniglia with Gigli, 1939


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