Maria Callas's Violetta was one of the wonders of our age: scarily elemental, supernaturally brilliant. After many unofficial releases, the tape of her 20 June 1958 London performance has now been finely remastered as part of ICA Classics' initial releases. (An odd mistake in the booklet suggests this was a private tape, but it was actually a live BBC Home Service broadcast.) Callas sounds less full-voiced, more restrained, than in her 1958 Lisbon performance, but the combination of vocal depth and fragile, eloquent virtuosity is unbeatable and the emotional collapse across the three acts is heartbreaking. Cesare Valletti's Alfredo can't match Alfredo Kraus in Lisbon, but Nicola Rescigno's conducting lifts the performance to the highest level. A classic indeed.
Verdi: La traviata, Maria Callas – review
Nicholas Kenyon is managing director of the Barbican Centre and was director of the BBC Proms from 1996 to 2007. He wrote the Faber Pocket Guide to Mozart