Ponchielli La Gioconda
''Nobody could fail to be caught up in its conviction'' is what I wrote when this set was last reissued on LP, and listening to it again, now with the advantage of excellent CD transfers, I think that can be stated all the more strongly. This was perhaps the most successful of Callas's remakes. She seems to have been in good and fearless voice, and the role's emotions were obviously enhanced by the traumas of her own life at the time. She herself is said to have commented of her part in the last act; ''It's all there for anyone who cares to understand or wishes to know what I was about''. Here her strengths in recitative, her moulding of line her response to text are at their most arresting. Indeed, she turns what can be a maudlin act into real tragedy; that is the alchemy of a great artist. The whole of the beginning of the scene is a magnificent and heart-rending soliloquy in which soul, verbal acting, and tone are bound together into a totally convincing whole. Then, near the close, the final benediction on Laura and Enzo, ''Quest' ultimo bacio'', is movingly and tenderly phrased.
She completely identifies herself with Gioconda's fate throughout, depicting the unhappy ballad-singer's love, hate, jealousy and eventual magnanimity with absolute conviction and without a trace of artifice. She is just as successful earlier in the piece throwing insults at Laura, a part sung here by tie young Cossotto with a true spinto strength not seemingly available to any of her successors, but also with a deal of refinement as in the ''Stella del marinar'' solo in Act 2. Cossotto's husband, Ivo Vinco, hasn't the most pleasing voice but he makes a suitably implacable Alvise.
Ferraro has the kind of Pertile-like tenor that we hear all too seldom today. He has little of the poetry needed for ''Cielo e mar'', but his stentorian ebullience is useful elsewhere. Cappuccilli gives the odious spy and lecher Barnaba a threatening profile whenever he appears. Votto, though he makes a few unnecessary cuts in the score, did nothing better for the gramophone than this set, bringing out the subtlety of the Verdi-inspired orchestration and the charm of the ''Dance of the Hours''.
The Bartoletti/Decca set has the advantage of modern recording, a superbly snarling Barnaba in Milnes, and Pavarotti as an ardent Enzo, better-mannered but not quite so exciting as Ferraro. Baltsa is appealing but not quite so effective as Cossotto. As for Caballe, she is mightily persuasive, very much inside the role like Callas, but she can sound a little mannered and under-powered beside her older rival. As a whole the set hasn't quite the immediacy or excitement of the EMI, which is decidedly my preference unless you must have up-to-date sound.'