Giuseppe di Stefano / Fernando Previtali

Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino

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This 1958 recording of La forza del destino features a cast of some of the brightest stars of the mid-'50s: Zinka Milanov, Giuseppe di Stefano, Leonard Warren, and Rosalind Elias. The performance does not capture Milanov at the top of her form and gives an uneven performance that fluctuates in its effectiveness. At the start, she sounds covered and mature, particularly in contrast to the freshness of relative unknown Luisa Gioia as Curra, and although she somewhat recovers in "Me pellegrina ed orfano," but by the second act, her voice seems tired and strained. Her delivery of "Pace, pace, mio Dio" is expressive and demonstrates admirable control, and her singing overall is most effective in the fourth act. Di Stefano sings and acts Don Alvaro with tremendous flair and hot-blooded intensity. The strength of his presence and the warmth and focus of his tone make this an unforgettable performance. Warren is equally riveting as Don Carlo. His voice is dark and weighty, but also exceptionally limber, and he brings a menacing ferocity to the role. Di Stefano and Warren have real chemistry, and their scenes together are the highlights of the recording, particularly "Solenne in quest'ora." Rosalind Elias makes a spirited and vocally sparkling Preziosilla. Fernando Previtali leads Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia in a reading of searing intensity that beautifully shapes the score and emphasizes its high drama. The sound is unusually fine for a recording of the era. The exceptional performances by di Stefano and Warren make this a version that should be of interest to any fans of the opera and of old-fashioned bel canto singing.

The album is filled out with nine tracks featuring di Stefano, sometimes joined by Renata Tebaldi, in excerpts from Manon Lescaut, La bohème (in a wonderfully limpid and romantic performance of the end of the first scene), and Tosca. Di Stefano's and Tebaldi's performances are potent testimony to what many opera lovers nostalgically refer to as the Golden Age. The sound quality on these tracks is variable, but always acceptable.

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