The front runners for this opera are probably Maag with Caballé and Pavarotti and Cleva with Moffo and Bergonzi, but this one has its attractions too, not least the affecting Luisa of Katia Ricciarelli. Vocally she is a little more fallible than either Caballé or Moffo, but she is very much inside the character and makes a vulneraby moving Luisa, no doubt helped by the fact that this recording was made during a highly successful run of performances at Covent Garden (actually a revival of a production that had been new the previous year). Much as I admire the two aforementioned ladies, I think ultimately I’d prefer Ricciarelli.
For the rest, honours are about even. Of the conductors, Maag is often revelatory and Cleva, whilst less imaginative, in the best Italian lyric tradition, but Maazel can be somehwat brash and vulgar. All three tenors are excellent and in their best form, as are the three baritones, Milnes, MacNeil and Bruson, so choice will depend on personal preference.
Federica was sung by Elizabeth Connell in the Covent Garden performances, but for some reason it was deemed necessary to bring in Obraztsova for the recording, who oversings and overpowers the role. The best Federica is Verrett on the Cleva; Reynolds on the Maag is completelyel anonymous. Richard Van Allan was Wurm in the stage performances but he is replaced by Ganzarolli, presumably because he had already recorded the role for Maag.
Still, for the three principals, this is a recommendable version of the opera and I’d be hard pressed to make a choice between it, Maag and Cleva.