Notes and Editorial Reviews
This 16-CD set includes six complete operas, a bonus CD of Verdi choruses plus 120-page booklet and CD-ROM with full libretti.
Reviews from some of the original recordings that make up this set:
"The quality of the RCA Italiana Orchestra's playing and the singing of the chorus are admirable...Geraint Evans has deservedly earned great praise for his splendid characterization and singing of Falstaff. His call for wine, soon after the curtain has risen on the first scene of Act 1, shows him to have the voce grossa denied to Valdengo and Gobbi...One can see his chest swelling with pride as he sings Falstaff's description of his huge girth, well turned leg, and comely figure, without which, as the fat knight says just before (with the piccolo mocking him above—a hint from Handel's Polyphemus aria ?) no man would fear him or woman love him. Mr. Evans does finely in the great "honour" and "vile world" monologues—seeking our sympathy in the latter for what really was scurvy treatment, and he follows Gobbi in an almost tragic treatment of Falstaff's contemplation (after this wash-basket episode) of his waxing portliness and grey hairs. This is the Falstaff of the second part of Henry IV. The singer rises splendidly to the big climaxes and is delightfully libidinous in Falstaff's description of Alice, and in his love scene with her. He touches off "Quand'ero paggio" with charm. In all this is a very good-humoured and well-rounded portrait of the part.
Robert Merrill's Ford can stand up to the fine performances in this part of Frank Guarrera (Toscanini) and Rolando Panerai (Karajan); he has to surmount a louder orchestral sound than they do at the great climax of Ford's fury and comes through splendidly. I was absolutely enchanted with Ilva Ligabue's Alice. Schwarzkopf had characterized the part charmingly in the Columbia issue, but this is the real Italian thing: an Alice, with an edge on her voice which shows the dominating person she should be, able to fool Falstaff, subdue her husband, and secure the happiness of the young lovers.
The many ensembles are exemplary in clarity and the balance between voices and orchestra is rather better than in the Karajan, and of course much better than in the Toscanini. There is little attempt to suggest stage movement other than the usual 'fading' techniques, and this is not sufficiently applied to the voices at the end of the first scene of Act 3. Quickly's last words are marked "distant—dying away"... this new issue is imbued with fun, laughter and excitement,and it is exceedingly well performed as a whole, with fine precision in the orchestral detail and the ensembles."
-- A.R., Gramophone [5/1964]
"...I found this set immensely enjoyable. Solti's Italianate thrust often simulates the excitement of a live performance and, after rather tentative beginnings from all members of his cast, his singers catch the nervous, Toscanini-like intensity of his reading. Price rids herself of an initial huskiness to give of her superb best in the Nile Scene and the final duet. Gorr, after seeming a little unwieldy and strained in the Boudoir Scene, brings the house down—metaphorically speaking—in her great fourth-act encounter, with Radames and is even more thrilling in her denunciation of the accusing high priests. She has the sheer weight of voice that mezzos of the 1970s, for all their subtlety, lack. The Jon Vickers of around 1961, was a more flexible, fresher-voiced singer than he is today, as you can hear by setting his performance here alongside his much more effortful Aeneas. His phrasing is just occasionally clumsy—that ugly break before "sei" in "tu sei regina" from "Celeste Aida"—but the blemishes are few, the artistry and often delicacy notable in a role often bawled out uncomfortably by present-day tenors. He is at his most eloquent at "Morir, si pura e bella" in the finale. Robert Merrill is a routine Amonasro. and neither bass is particularly distinguished. It is good to hear a true operahouse chorus rather than the ad hoc bodies often used these days, and the Rome Opera Orchestra, especially the brass, are galvanised into playing above themselves by Solti."
-- Gramophone [11/1970]
After the hype surrounding Pavarotti’s first and, to date, only complete performances and recording of the demanding title role at concerts to mark Solti’s retirement as music director of the Chicago Symphony, I feared that Solti’s earlier (1977) and infinitely better studio recording would never be transferred to CD. Well here it is, and if anything it sounds even finer than I had remembered.
Although the recording was made in Vienna, Solti had performed Otello at the Paris Opera with the same three principals and the performance has a theatrical atmosphere which I find completely absent from the Chicago version. Carlo Cossutta was, for a time in the Seventies, the only really acceptable alternative to Jon Vickers and Plácido Domingo as Otello, and he has advantages over both: a more authentically ‘Italianate’ timbre – dark and baritonal like Vickers’s, warm and Mediterranean like Domingo’s – and a native delivery of the text. He is also more musical than the other great Italian Otello of the postwar period, Del Monaco.
Bacquier was always a controversial Iago, more notable for his intellect and understanding of character than for his vocal endowments, but as Iago this makes him preferable to all but two of his recorded rivals: Giuseppe Valdengo (RCA/Toscanini) and Tito Gobbi (RCA/Serafin).
The glory of the set is Margaret Price’s Desdemona, the most beautifully sung, the most moving and musical I know. The set is worth buying for her alone. It goes without saying that the small parts are strongly taken (albeit by non-Italians), that the orchestral playing and chorus are superb and the recording is excellent. Not my favourite Otello – that would be Serafin’s version – but it ranks high alongside Toscanini and Levine (also RCA).
-- Hugh Canning, BBC Music Magazine
"I certainly enjoyed my first hearing of the new performance ... the close and true Decca recording seems to suit this dark and taut work very well ... Paolo Coni makes a dark-toned and threatening Paolo (his voice is so firm and pleasing I would like to hear what he would have made of the title part) ... Aragall has done nothing better on record than this bitingly clear, really Italianate Gabriele: he catches very well the impetuous, headstrong nature of the young nobleman, and is also able to fine away his big voice to the needs of his love duet with Amelia ... Aragall's rightly fierce and heroic singing is very much of an asset on the new Decca set".
-- Gramophone, December 1989
Un Ballo In Maschera
"Decca's Ballo in Maschera has the special interest for us of being the first big Solti recording to appear since this eminent conductor took over at Covent Garden, and it amply confirms the wisdom of the Board's choice. Here is Verdi interpreted with a vitality and sweep, a brilliance and rhythmic fidelity, in marked contrast to the kind of routine performance we hear so often. Though the Rome orchestra and chorus are intrinsically weaker than those of La Scala, Sold has drawn from them such fire and precision as are not evident in Votto's Columbia set. And these qualities are emphasized in the fine stereo recording.
The cast is strong, and its happiest feature is the Riccardo of Carlo Bergonzi. Bergonzi is a tenor well known to record enthusiasts and to audiences at the Metropolitan; but he has not yet appeared at Covent Garden, and does not hold quite the place in popular esteem to which his merits entitle him. I cannot think of another contemporary tenor who could approach his sense of style in this set. Riccardo is one of Verdi's most interesting tenor roles, in which ardour and magnanimity are combined with a careless dash and elegance. Tenors who can suggest the lover and patriot seldom manage to convey equally well the gay and sceptical aristocrat; but Bergonzi remains wholly in the picture from beginning to end. His lyrical tone, though without pronounced individual character, is always agreeable; and his phrasing, dynamics and enunciation are those of a polished artist.
As Renato, Cornell MacNeil..shows himself in general a careful and stylish singer. Simionato makes a capital Ulrica, and Sylvia Stahlman a graceful and even sparkling Oscar who lacks only the confident teasing brilliance of the old school."
-- Gramophone [4/1962]