This recording was taped at a performance in Munich in March 1965. It was a new production by August Everding, and, judging by the audience reaction, it was a tremendous success.
Teresa Stratas’s shattering Violetta is of course well known from the Zeffirelli film, brilliantly acted, if vocally stressed. Here she is just a few months short of her twenty-seventh birthday and making her debut in the role, and, if the photos in the booklet are anything to go by, she looked absolutely stunning. Vocally though, and divorced from her powerful stage presence, she has her problems, especially in the first act. She has to transpose down Sempre libera and, even then, it taxes her to the limit. There are other places too where her voice doesn’t quite do what she wants it to, though, in intention at least, it has the seeds of a great performance. For instance the moments leading up to Violetta’s outpouring of love at Amami, Alfredo are urgently and sincerely felt, though she can’t quite swell the tone at Amami, Alfredo itself. In the last act she delivers a telling letter reading and a moving Addio del passato, but the performance doesn’t yet add up to a complete whole.
No challenge then for Callas, whose Violetta is hors councours, and whose 1958 Covent Garden performance remains my all time favourite. In Zeffirelli’s film, though vocally not much more comfortable, Stratas surpasses what she does here, where we are also able to see her touchingly vulnerable acting.
Hermann Prey, 36 at the time and only a year older than Wunderlich, sounds too young and tends to oversing, possibly in an attempt to sound more Italianate. Though there is pleasure to be derived from the voice itself, I don’t get any sense of a real character.
No, the chief reason for hearing this set is the chance to hear Wunderlich sing a complete role in Italian. The language suits him well and he is an ardently lyrical Alfredo, singing with honeyed tone, but with plenty of heft in the outburst at Flora’s party. Very very occasionally he overplays his hand (mostly in recitative) but there is much that is treasurable; Dei miei bollenti spiriti has a lovely lilt and he and Stratas make a wonderfully touching moment out of their brief moment of happiness in the last act, Parigi, o cara. Later perhaps he would have played down slightly the histrionics in his contribution to Gran Dio, morir si giovane, but it is already a treasurable performance and reason enough to hear this live recording.