I first encountered Levine conducting this work, one he particularly loves, at the Metropolitan in 1971, and was mightily impressed with his Verdian credentials. A youthful tenor called Domingo was the Rodolfo. Here they are, many years later, tackling their parts again, Domingo for the second time on disc: he is the Rodolfo on the Maazel/DG set. Energy and internal combustion were the special features of Levine reading in the theatre; they are again in evidence here—as recorded by Sony, almost to excess. You only have to listen to the second section of the Overture to realize Levine is to give a no-holds-barred reading. Exciting as that can be, too often the fire in the belly degenerates into an unwelcome blatancy, particularly when the recording of the orchestra is so close and aggressive, given a deal more prominence than the voices. In that same prelude one notices, with some surprise, a few moments of untidy string playing, the attack not so neat as it is on the Maag/Decca set. By contrast, Levine is inclined, as is his wont, to indulge in some unduly slow tempos—"Quando Ic sere al placido", the elegiac tenor aria, and the start of the closing trio are cases in point. These suggest a flaccid sense of rhythm that his rivals quite avoid.
Domingo's Rodolfo is more or less as it was for Maazel—generous in tone and phrase, a little short on subtlety. This is the satisfying but generalized performance we are accustomed to from this ever-willing tenor. Many will not complain when the involvement is so obvious even if he Sometimes seems in another acoustic from the orchestra (tracking on?). Maybe it is unkind to say that a tenor of the Schipa variety without Otello overtones is more suitable for Schiller's and Verdi's heart-broken hero. And that's what we have in the Pavarotti of 1975 for Maag, then at his most sweetly and engagingly lyrical.
ably as the work progresses rising finely to the sad, doomed girl of Act 3. "Ah! l'ultima preghiera" is delivered in that plangent, piano tone of which we know she is mistress. A little earlier in the act, she and Vladimir Chernov draw all the tenderness and plaintive beauty Out of "Andro, raminghi e poveri": this is Verdi singing of the highest class in both tone and feeling. But then Caballé (Maag) and Ricciarelli (Maazel) are just as appealing, Caballé more even of tone, Ricciarelli even more affecting than Mille. Choice between the three will very much depend on which prima donna's voice and style you prefer. All are appreciable Luisas.