Review of Robert Jacobson in Opera News:

James Levine is, of course, one of our leading Verdi conductors, but one felt he still had a good distance to go in encompassing all the facets of this magnificent score. His tempos tended to be on the fast side, particularly in the auto-da-fe, but one can sense he will settle down and mature, finding more grandeur, breadth, spaciousness and humanity beyond this technical panache. In the title role, Giuseppe Giacomini began nervously with a good deal of off-pitch singing, later coming into focus, but tending to bleat the high notes with his strongly produced, unsubtle tenor; as this complex, passive character, he was monochrome.

Sherrill Milnes dominated the stage with his vibrantly sung Rodrigo, producing some of his most distinguished singing to date, acting with simplicity and dignity. Nicolai Ghiaurov, returning after seven years, brought to Philip II his presence and a bass voice that now seems in severe decline. His tone often filled the theater but also seemed hollow, struggling valiantly to weather uneven moments. James Morris appeared miscast as the youthful-sounding Grand Inquisitor, especially as pitted against Ghiaurov, for he lacked real low tones and acted indifferently.

As Elisabetta, Renata Scotto convinced one more through artistry than by vocal means, looking magnificent in her series of costumes. She brings rare authority to whatever she touches and wrought sympathy as the young queen, dwarfed by the crushing events around her. But she is not a true Verdi soprano, lacking sheer amplitude and breadth for long, expanded phrases; she fared best in intimate moments, failing to provide the cathartic sensations of her sweeping final-act aria and duet.

Marilyn Horne’s Eboli opened a whole can of worms, for she chose a different set of Verdi cadenzas for her veil song (avoiding the tricky octave leaps) and took “O don fatale” down a minor third, claiming it was in this key that Verdi conceived the scene, raising it for the first Eboli, Mme. Gueymard. Even with this, it cannot be said Miss Horne emerged triumphant in the role, for she is unable to carry vocal weight up to the top. While the veil song was stylishly sung, it avoided the intended Moorish quality, and her garden trio and big aria missed the cannon impact others have lent it. Leona Mitchell sounded appropriately honey-toned in the auto-da-fé as the Celestial Voice.

Born on this day in 1922 soprano Renata Tebaldi. Premiere of Puccini’s La bohème on this day in 1896 in Turin, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

Premiere of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in 1893 in Turin.

Birthday anniversaries of composer Victor Herbert (1859), librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874), sopranos Germaine Lubin (1890) and Carol Neblett (1946), basses Alexander Kipnis (1891) and Aage Haugland (1944) and tenor Flaviano Labò (1927).