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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Verdi Heroines
Nel di della vittoria... Vieni! t'affretta...
Or tutti sorgete [7:50]
La luce langue [4:10]
Una macchia è qui tuttora [11:18]
Ernani (1844)
Surta è la notte ... Ernani, Ernani, involami [6:16]
Don Carlo (1867)
Tu che la vanità [10:46]
Otello (1887)
Mi parea. M'ingiunse di coricarmi...
Mia madre aveva una povera ancella... [5:19]
Piangea cantando... [7:14]
Ave Maria, piena di grazia [4:36]
Aroldo (1857)
O Cielo! Dove son io? [9:46]
Don Carlo
O don fatale [4:44]
Aida (1871)
Ritorna vincitor! [7:08]
Maria Callas (soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicolo Rescigno (Macbeth, Ernani, Don Carlo - Tu che la vanità)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Nicola Rescigno
rec. 19-21, 24 September 1958, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (Macbeth, Ernani, Don Carlo - Tu che la vanità); 17-27 December 1963, 20-21 February 1964, Salle Wagram, Paris except (Aida) April 1964, Salle Wagram, Paris.

This new issue in EMI’s ‘Great Recordings of the Century’ line will be essential to fans and collectors of recordings by Maria Callas. Paired with her recordings of mad scenes, also with Nicolo Rescigno and the Philharmonia Orchestra, this recital of Verdi Heroines stems from the time at which Callas had split from both La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The 1958 September sessions were the only dates on which she worked in Abbey Road.
Having already triumphed with Lady Macbeth during the 1952-53 season at La Scala, Callas fills the role with convincing drama, acting as well as singing with that enormous power and range which made her such a compelling stage performer. Una macchia è qui tuttora, that famous ‘out, damned spot!’ scene has a richness and vibrancy the equivalent of which I can’t say I’ve heard elsewhere, and while this selection won’t entirely replace that live recording of the complete opera (EMI 566447-2) with Victor de Sabata, at least there are the considerable benefits of good stereo sound, and you no longer have to wade through the somewhat mixed level of contributions from the rest of the cast.
Callas’s Elvira has all of the imploring pathos that you could wish for in Surta è la notte, in which Verdi’s beguilingly light accompaniments deceive the ear, and give the impression of life carrying on almost as normal while the heroine’s situation is as desperate as can become. The coloratura ending is truly spectacular, even if Callas doesn’t have the lightness of voice to make it sound genuinely easy. The dark opening of Tu che la vanità contrasts nicely with the previous aria, and Callas’s voice soars over the orchestra as she invites us to weep over her sorrow. Where Ernani was not part of Callas’ stage repertoire, Don Carlo most certainly was, and the extended solo which at times falls almost into kind of romantic recitative is delivered with great presence.        
With the sequence from Otello opens the ‘side 2’ section of this CD, with the slightly less secure intonation and more reedy sound of the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire winds. The acoustic of the Salle Wagram, at the time a run-down former dance hall, is flattering for the voice but less so for the orchestra, at least in the way it seems to have been recorded at longer distance. The ‘willow song’ or Mia madre aveva una povera ancella however has great plaintive character, and with those dramatic contrasts the beauty of the deceptively simple Ave Maria are definitive Callas.
The recordings Maria Callas made in early 1964 and 1965 - in between stage performances of Tosca and Norma - were not up to the singer’s exacting standards, and remained unreleased until being partially published in 1972, the rest in 1978 shortly after her death. While the clarity in her voice is less brilliant than in the earlier sessions, the inner drama of the roles comes through, and the inclusion of O Cielo! Dove son io? from the less well-known Aroldo has its own intrinsic interest. The anecdote about how the recording of Ritorna vincitor! from Aida came about is recounted in the booklet notes, and Callas’s passionate point-proving makes for a stunning finale.
This CD is well presented, with all texts and booklet notes in Italian, German, French and English. While a compilation like this might be acceptable as a ‘warts and all’ collection, there are in fact very few warts in evidence, and for the most part absolutely superb singing from the great heroine Maria Callas. Taste may be divided about her vocal colour in some places, but the dramatic and emotional power which she could bring to operatic parts is undeniable and very much in evidence on these recordings. To fans this is an inevitable ‘must have’, but the same should go for Verdi connoisseurs who will find a huge amount to enjoy on this most emphatic of recitals.
Dominy Clements       
EMI Great Recordings of the Century page


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