Another classic performance - but in trying sound
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 11/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of two classic live performances from the 50's which make the best possible case for this uneven opera, the other being the 1957 La Scala production with Corelli, Gobbi and Frazzoni, ably conducted by Votto (see my review). The sound here in this 1954 performance is marginally better, but you should be warned that neither of these is suitable as your sole recording or to introduce a novice to what Puccini thought of (inexplicably) as his masterpiece. It's in dim, fizzy mono, I'm afraid, so if you want decent sound, go for the Decca 1958 Rome studio recording with Tebaldi and Del Monaco still both in blazing form.
Having said that, no Minnie touches Steber for her pathos, security and conviction. She has seemingly no difficulty with this fiendish role; hers was never a huge voice yet there is never any sense of her being under-powered or under-dramatised. She sings tirelessly and thrillingly with that peculiarly vibrant timbre which is so individual. Needless to say, Del Monaco matches her and by no means just belts his way through his part. Guelfi - solid and reliable, as in so many recordings of this period - is, in his characterisation, more ordinary than Gobbi, but the voice is more intrinsically beautiful, with a more secure top, and he by no means underplays Jack Rance. His "Minnie dalla mia casa" is touching and passionate; you really believe that he loves Minnie - and the audience responds appreciatively.
This performance has been in and out of the catalogue in many guises for many years, the latest editions being from Walhall and Regis at bargain prices. As long as you are tolerant of the sound and are fond of this opera, you need it as a supplement to one in better sound - and it is especially recommendable to fans of Eleanor Steber who, in my opinion, is one of the two greatest post-war American sopranos - the other being Eileen Farrell. This is a fitting tribute to her."