This performance marked the return of Bjorling to the Met after a wartime break of four years spent mostly in his native Sweden. And what a return: at 34 he was at the absolute peak of his powers and sings a Duke of Mantua imbued with supreme confidence and tremendous brio – try the start of the Quartet to hear what I mean. He and the house revel in his display of tenor strength, yet that power is always tempered by innate artistry. If not a subtle interpreter, he is always a thoughtful one, and never indulges himself or his audience.
Similarly, Warren was at the time at the zenith of his career. Vocally he is in total command of the role and the house. His reading, though slightly extroverted, evinces a firm tone, a secure line and many shades of colour. He is at his very best in his two duets with Gilda (sadly and heinously cut about) and no wonder, given the beautiful, plangent singing of Sayao, whose ‘Care nome’ is so delicately phrased, touching and keenly articulated. ‘Tutte le feste’ is still better, prompting Paul Jackson (who in general is unjustifiably hard on the performance in Saturday Afternoons at the old Met, Duckworth: 1992) to comment that Sayao’s ‘lovely, pliant, fully rounded tones are immediately affecting’. Indeed, in spite of the merits of the two male principals, it is her truly memorable interpretation that makes this set essential listening.
All round, there are few recordings that match this one for vocal distinction – perhaps only the Serafin/Callas/Gobbi on EMI (2/56
I have left to last the final virtue of this absorbing experience, and that is the conducting of the little-known Sodero. His moderate – but never sluggish – tempos allow for almost ideal articulation on all sides, and his insistence on letting us hear the score so clearly makes one regret even more all those excisions then common in the opera house and the studios. This is a set worth £10 or so of any Verdian’s money.'