• La Traviata: They were Violetta - First recorded singers

    Violetta is one of the dream roles for a soprano.

    Almost any major Opera star of the fach will sing the courtesan in one moment of her career, or another. Even some sopranos that should have stayed miles away from Violetta.

    As the saying goes, one needs three sopranos to proper sing Violetta. A coloratura for the first act, a lyrical for the second, and a dramatic for the third. There is a little exageration, of course, but not that much. Violetta is fiendishly difficult to sing, and of course the need for some acting (not to mention looks, sometimes) just increases the difficulty to cast the role right.

    Of the literally thousands of available Violettas, this is a small selection from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. Naturally, the selection implies some sopranos made the list, and some not.

    The first Violettas on record

    Nellie Melba.

    She was a darling for the public... though not so much admired by her colleagues. Listening to her Violetta, we can enjoy the beautiful phrasing, the clarity (the 'silvery' tone for she was so praised), the easiness of her top notes, the quality coloratura... but her lack of familiarity with the recording equipment of the time, results in a somewhat detached performance. There are problems to find here the temperamental diva that deeply moved crowds in London, in Paris, in America,... and, of course, the quality of the recording, and the way it forced the 'staccato' singing from Melba is not up to the modern taste.

    Ah, forse è lui, 1907

    Dite Alla Giovine, 1926, with John Brownlee. Melba is already 65 years old

    Claudia Muzio

    Arguably the greatest of all Violettas.

    Frida Leider, in 1959, said:

    In the first act, with her great figure, she was a beautiful and attractavie great lady. then, at the same pace the the tragedy was unfolding, she was changing. I've never hear a third act comparable to hers. It was impossible not to cry.

    Eva Turner, in 1967, said:

    I heard her Traviata at Theatre Colón, Buenos Aires, in 1927. Unforgettable. The best ot them all.

    [U]Rosa Ponselle in 1978, said/U]:

    Claudia's voice was not the best one. Mine, for instance, was much more powerful, and my low tones fuller, but on stage she was not Claudia Muzio singing La Traviata. She was Violetta Valéry falling in love, and dying before our eyes... She was the best actress-singer of all times

    We can listen to three samples of Muzio's Violetta:

    This "Amami, Alfredo", recorded in 1911 with tenor Gaetano Tommasini, in Milan:

    Amami Alfredo-Muzio-1911

    "Addio del Passato", from 1918, recorded in New York.

    Addio del Passato-Muzio-1918

    Both pieces are beautifully sung, in an evanescent mood, words seems to be floating in air. However...

    However, they can't compare to this incredible "Addio del Passato", recorded in Milan, the 6th of June of 1935.

    This is one of the most moving documents in the history of recording. We have never listened to such a desolate, sincere Violetta. With so deep and sober pathos. The illness of Muzio (she will die from a heart failure less than one year after this recording), that was affecting her fiato, and also produced a vibrato difficult to control, is used in an almost supernatural manner by the artist, to melt those problems with the decadence of Violetta herself, while singer and character sink in the abyss of helplessness.

    Claudia Muzio was perfectly aware that she, like Violetta, was going to die soon. Both women, facing the same predicament, are only one, during some magic minutes.


    Luisa Tettrazini

    Unlike Melba or Muzio, Tettrazini was not a beautiful Violetta to behold. However, she enjoyed enormous success in the role. In fact, her breakout act was a Violetta in London, in 1907. A very gifted coloratura soprano, blessed also with a smooth middle register, her first act was marvelous, but she was not so highly praised about her acting, or her last act, though we will hear some very nice notes in her "Addio del Passato", complete with the two stanzas.

    Again, this is not modern singing:

    Ah, forse è lui...follie!...sempre libera - Tetrazzini, 1912

    Addio del Passato - Tetrazzini, 1913

    Lucrezia Bori.

    The Spanish singer, a lyric soprano, was blessed with a beautiful timbre, and was one of the darlings of the MET, especially in the role of Violetta. It is indeed an adorable voice, and a great vocal actress, regrettably her stage skills were not so considerable. We can enjoy however the imaginative phrasing, though not so convincing coloratura, while the "Addio del Passato" shows indeed a delicious phatos.

    È strano!...Ah, forsè lui... Sempre libera - Lucrezia Bori, 1928

    Addio del Passato - Lucrezia Bori, 1915

    Amelita Galli-Curci

    One of the names we always associate with Violetta, Galli-Curci was perhaps the ultimate coloratura soprano, but her top register has not recorded well, the loss of harmonics is perhaps in her case worse than for other artists of the period. Curiously enough, one could prefer her middle register, which was not so praised while she was active.

    Un Di Felice - here with Tito Schipa (fantastic), singing the second voice. Galli-Curci sounds very convincing, recorded in 1924

    Dite alla giovine - here with Giuseppe de Luca, 1927

    Ah, fors'è lui - Galli-Curci, 1919

    Sempre Libera - Galli-Curci, 1919. The laughter is pretty unfortunate

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