This legendary performance of Ernani featuring Montserrat Caballé has had at least six incarnations on CD. The recording comes from a 1969 broadcast performance by the RAI Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Milan. Since it was taken from a radio broadcast rather than a theater performance, it has the advantage of no audience noise, but it's a disadvantage that these pressings, taken from the radio, represent less than the highest fidelity and are far inferior to studio recordings of the era. The soloists are well-miked and their sound is good, but the orchestra, particularly in its lower register, sounds muffled and woofy, and the chorus is generally distant. The overall sound is flattened and lacks much liveliness. The performance includes cuts, which will make this version less attractive for some listeners; complete performances of the opera generally last between 120 and 130 minutes, and this one clocks in at 97. Some cuts appear to be inadvertent (most of the first measure of the opera is missing) and there are brief sections eliminated from a number of arias and ensembles. Conductor Gianandrea Gavazzeni keeps the action moving at a snappy pace, but his reading is also wonderfully flexible. Caballé's performance is spectacular, both vocally and in the dramatic urgency she brings to Elvira; she is compellingly limpid in "Ernani! Ernani, involami," (which, unfortunately, is one of the numbers with cuts). Bruno Prevedi is a heroic and resonant Ernani and easily holds his own with Caballé. Boris Christoff was rarely at his best when singing in Italian, and he sounds somewhat stiff as Silva. Peter Glossop is uneven as Carlo; he's effective in his early scenes, but his voice doesn't match the character's growth in stature as the opera progresses. The recording should be of interest to Verdi fans because of Caballé's and Prevedi's outstanding performances, but listeners coming to the opera for the first time would probably be better served by a complete performance with the benefits of modern engineering.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2