EMI's 1976 release of Il Trittico consisted of separate recording projects of the three operas made in the late '50s. The common element in the set is the Orchestra of the Rome Opera, even though each opera is led by a different conductor. All of the conductors, Vincenzo Bellezza, Tullio Serafin, and Gabriele Santini, were seasoned veterans in the Italian repertoire (with Serafin having far broader expertise, leading operas as diverse as Wozzeck and Peter Grimes), and their performances document an unbroken performance tradition that reaches back to the operas' premiere less than 40 years earlier, so these recordings have the ring of verismo authenticity. The set also features the luminaries baritone Tito Gobbi and Victoria de los Angeles, each of them in two of the operas.
Gobbi's performance as Michele in Il Tabarro stands out among the other prinicipals. Margaret Mas as Giorgetta and Giacinto Prandelli as Luigi are not in his league vocally, but they are never less than adequate. Mas sounds mature for the role, and her vibrato is occasionally extreme, but she's a compelling singing actress. Prandelli doesn't have the vocal weight and youthful impetuosity to make a fully satisfying Luigi. Gobbi's tortured Michele is vocally splendid and dramatically wrenching, and it's his performance that makes this recording a real contender. Bellezza's reading brings out the grittiness of the score without stinting on its moments of surging lyricism.
Set between the vivid drama of Il Tabarro and the sly humor of Gianni Schicchi, Suor Angelica, in spite of many lovely passages, seems pale in comparison. Serafin makes the most of the opera's more subtle contrasts and gives fully expression to its poignancy without letting its potential for sentimental religiosity hijack it. He shapes the score beautifully, building to a credible and moving climax. De los Angeles is a model of youthful gentleness and goodness, and the purity of her delivery and her emotional directness keep her from ever being cloying. Fedora Barbieri is icily effective as La Principessa. All the smaller roles are taken, with fine attention to details of characterizations that effectively differentiate the Sisters.
Both Gobbi and de los Angeles are featured in Santini's zippy and genuinely funny reading of Gianni Schicchi. Each of the small roles is sung and filled out with individuality. Gobbi is a natural comedian, delightfully rascally in the title role, and he brings a remarkably colorful range of shadings to his voice. De los Angeles is angelic-sounding as Lauretta, and Carlo del Monte is a full-voiced and heroic Rinuccio. The sound for all the operas is good for studio recordings of the era, clean, and nicely defined. The first two operas are mono, and the third is stereo. The collective strengths of this set make it Trittico that should be of interest to any Puccini fans.