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Maria Callas: Lyric and Coloratura Arias
Francesco CILEA (1866–1950) Adriana Lecouvreur: Io son l’umile nacelle; Poveri fiori; Alfredo CATALANI (1854–1893) La Wally: Ebben? Ne andro lontana; Umberto GIORDANO (1867–1948) Andrea Chenier: La mamma morta; Arrigo BOITO (1842–1918) Mefistofele: L’altra notte in fondo al mare; Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792–1868) Il barbiere di Siviglia: Una voce poco fa; Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791–1864) Dinorah: Ombre légère; Leo DELIBES (1836–1891) Lakmé: Où va la jeune Indoue (Bell Song); Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901) I vespri siciliani: Mercè, dilette amici; Gioacchino ROSSINI Il Turco in Italia: Non si dà follia maggiore; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791) Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Martern aller Arten; Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860–1956) Louise: Depuis le jour; Gioacchino ROSSINI Armida: D’amore al dolce impero
Maria Callas (soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Tullio Serafin (trs 1 – 9), Orchestra La Scala Milan/Gianandrea Gavazzeni (tr. 10), Orchestra RAI, Milan/Alfredo Simonetto
rec. Watford Town Hall, 17–21 September 1954 (tracks 1 – 9); Milan, 31 August–8 September 1954 (tr. 10), live broadcast, San Remo, December 1954 (tracks 11 – 13). ADD
REGIS RRC 1233 [72:57]

Listening to Maria Callas is not always comfortable; her voice hardens under pressure and becomes metallic and shrill. Sometimes her vibrato becomes a wobble and she can also adopt a throaty, almost guttural voice quality. On the other hand her soft intense singing is often breathlessly beautiful and her identification with the role is almost tangible. Callas never played safe and that is, of course, the secret behind her success. For more evenly vocalised but also less penetrating readings Tebaldi, from the same generation and her most obvious rival, is a safer proposition. She was never inexpressive, quite the contrary, but she was more generalized. On this disc we get both the best - most of the time - and the worst - occasionally - of Callas.

The greater part of the disc is a transfer of an LP, recorded concurrently with her Puccini recital in London in September 1954. Most of these roles she never sang on stage but several of the arias appeared on her concert repertoire. The first five arias are from what we generally label Italian verismo, i.e. operas from around the turn of the last century with the pretension to depict real life events. This was also Tebaldi territory. To compare the two divas is illuminating. Tebaldi is simply glorious, regal even, with big, beautiful rounded tone, pouring out streams of 24-carat gold. It’s a vibrant voice but every vibration is perfectly controlled. Callas’s voice was never so supple, so rounded and had a tendency to spread. That said, listening to the two arias from Adriana Lecouvreur, one hears a marvellous inwardness, expressed with a tone so frail that one wonders if it will carry her through the next phrase. But she always does and the same goes for the La Wally, Andrea Chenier and Mefistofele arias. If these five arias had been Callas’s total recorded legacy she would still have been regarded as one of the greatest singers ever. Luckily so much more is preserved. She was also a master of florid singing and the remaining four arias are just as superb, even though they are more superficial emotionally. The Bell Song from Lakmé shows that even in a show-piece like this she tries to invest the roulades with some meaning. Rosina’s cavatina from Il barbiere di Siviglia amply demonstrates her talent for comedy. Ombre légère from Dinorah, another show-piece, is as fine example as any of her technical capacity. Again we note her ability to adjust her timbre to match, in this case, the flute in their duet. The effect is that of two instruments played by the same person. In this piece, incidentally, there is some distortion in high-lying passages, which I can’t remember from my old LP pressing.

Of the four bonus tracks the aria from Il Turco in Italia comes from the complete recording she made, also in 1954. That recording has recently been reissued by Naxos and that set also has the four coloratura arias from this recital as fillers, so readers who don’t want too many duplicates should be warned. This role was one of Callas’s greatest successes on stage and her charming singing of the aria shows why.

The remaining items are all from a live broadcast in San Remo and are a mixed blessing. At least the big aria from Die Entführung aus dem Serail shows that she was no Mozart singer. The sound quality may be partly to blame, since there is an unattractive edge to both the orchestra and to Callas’s voice that makes it sound harder than ever. But it is not just the sound; the whole interpretation is hard-driven and forceful and she seems out of sympathy with Konstanze. This is a tragic aria and the heroine is in deep distress and of course she has to express anger; more than that she is a warm and loving person and warmth is a thing that is in very short supply in this reading. That she was capable of such feelings is shown in the Louise aria, altogether warmer, with more rounded tone and an inwardness that is truly affecting. This seems to be one of only two occasions when Callas sang this aria, the other being when she recorded it in a studio in Paris in 1961. By then her voice had lost some of its warmth and her vibrato had loosened considerably. That one is still a version to admire but this live effort is something to love. The last item, an aria from the little known Armida, is again a display piece, littered with trills and roulades superbly executed. The applause comes even before the piece is finished.

Any recording with Callas is worth hearing, worth owning, and this one is no exception. Especially the five verismo arias and the one from Louise (French verismo if you like) show Callas at her very best. Not the last word in sonics but enjoyable anyway.

Göran Forsling

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