> DVD: Maria Callas at Covent Garden 1962 and 1964 [IL]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Maria CALLAS at Covent Garden 1962 and 1964
Giuseppe VERDI * (1813-1901)
Don Carlo (Act IV) Tu che le vanità
Georges BIZET * (1838-1875)
Carmen: Prelude; Habanera (Act I); Entracte (Act III); Séguedille (Act I)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca * (Act II)
Maria Callas (Tosca); Renata Cioni (Cavaradossi); Tito Gobbi (Scarpia)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Conducted by Georges Prêtre* and Carlo Felice Cillario
Stage Designer and Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Recorded at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London 4th November 1962
and *9th February 1964
EMI 7243 4 92851 9 4 [70:00]

This film is now available on DVD with enhanced audio. The black and white film is very grainy and frankly poor quality. The DVD presents two historically important gala performances by the celebrated diva. At the time she was towards the end of her career and her voice was past its best. There are difficulties, for example, with some high notes in the Don Carlo aria but her singing is nonetheless still very worthy of the prolonged applause of the Covent Garden audience.

The first, filmed in 1962 comprised the extended aria, ‘Tu che le Vanità’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo and two arias from Bizet’s Carmen. The taxing Verdi aria is delivered most expressively notwithstanding my remarks above. The Carmen arias – the Habanera and Séguedille are sung with verve and a great joie de vivre yet the audience is left in no doubt that this Carmen is a dangerous man-eating spitfire. These brief tantalising glimpses of the Callas Carmen were to be the only ones left to us for she never sang the role in any opera house although she recorded the work in July 1964. It is also a delight to see Georges Prêtre conducting the Royal Opera House Orchestra in colourful performances of the Carmen Prelude and Entr’acte from Act III.

The 1964 Gala Concert excerpt is devoted to the Second Act of Puccini’s Tosca. Again one misses the voice that Callas brought to her famous 1953 EMI recording (with Tito Gobbi again as Scarpia and Giuseppe di Stefano as Cavaradossi now available on EMI Great Recordings of the Century EMI CMS 5 67756 2). Yet Zeffirelli’s inspired direction persuades Callas to bring an infinitely more persuasive dimension to her role as the tormented diva at the mercy of her passions and jealousies. Instead of the imperious operatic diva one normally had met, this Tosca was presented much more effectively as a vulnerable young girl at the mercy of her emotions and the cruel manipulations of the sadistic Scarpia – wonderfully portrayed by Gobbi, imperious, salacious, and utterly ruthless. The bespectacled, slightly limping Spoletta of Robert Bowman adds yet another dimension of horror to this chilling Tosca.

Classic Callas that despite, a few practically negligible carps, should be in every Callas fan’s collection despite the grainy monochrome film.

Ian Lace

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