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RECORDINGS: ALLA BREVE

August 31, 1986|ALLAN ULRICH

PUCCINI: "MANON LESCAUT." Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Giulio Fioravanti, singers; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, conducted by Tullio Serafin. EMI CDS-47392 (two compact discs). This adequate digital remastering of the 1957 monaural recording restores to the catalogue one of the late diva's most indelible characterizations. Callas was rumored to dislike the performance (possibly because of a handful of curdled top notes); 30 years later, however, her Manon (a role she never performed on stage) impresses both with its histrionic legerdemain and vocal discrimination. From ardent innocent to eager hedonist to tragic heroine, this is an utterly complete portrayal. Even at this date, Di Stefano's tenor retained enough of the fervor and pliancy of his prime to create a convincingly impetuous Des Grieux. The supporting performances (including the young Fiorenza Cossotto's superb madrigal singer) testify to the high standards at La Scala in that distant era, and Serafin's conducting, predicated on passion without sentimentality, still sets the standard.

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