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Maria Callas – The One and Only
Arias from Gianni Schicchi, La Boheme, Tosca, La Wally, Adriana Lecouvreur, Andrea Chenier, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, I Vespri Siciliani,  Ernani, Aida, La Sonnambula, Norma, Lucia di Lammermoor, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Orpheo ed Eurydice, Carmen, Romeo et Juliette, Werther, Samson et Dalila, Massenet, Louise & Faust - see end of review for details
EMI CLASSICS 3963412  [78.35 + 78.34]



With any new compilation of arias sung by an artist as famous as Callas, we must ask ourselves what the point of the compilation is; what are its aims? This new one from EMI is called Maria Callas, the one and only. The selection of arias casts its net quite wide but there are some curiosities about the selection.
 
First some statistics, the disc contains the following: arias from Gianni Schicchi (one), La Boheme (two), Tosca (two), La Wally (one), Adriana Lecouvreur (two), Andrea Chenier (one), Madama Butterfly (one), Turandot (three), Rigoletto (one), La Traviata (one), Il Trovatore (one), I Vespri Siciliani (one),  Ernani (one), Aida (one), La Sonnambula (one), Norma (one), Lucia di Lammermoor (one),  Il barbiere di Siviglia (one), Orpheo ed Eurydice (one), Carmen (three), Romeo et Juliette (one), Werther (one), Samson et Dalila (one), Massenet (one), Louise (one), Faust (one)
 
Anyone with any knowledge of Callas's stage career will realise that this list contains a heavy preponderance of roles which she either did not sing on stage or abandoned quite early in her career. It misses out some roles which had great significance in her career: La Gioconda in which she made her Italian debut. Nor does it include I Puritani which was the first bel canto opera she sang in Italy and which led to her re-aligning her career into bel canto. In fact, one has the suspicion that the selection was made on the basis of what EMI had available to re-cycle. Another feature is that the first disc in particular has a strong emphasis on ‘little girl’ roles; the extracts from Turandot even include two of Liu's arias … plus one of Turandot's.
 
Though she made some very fine recordings of complete operas or arias, from Madama Butterfly and La Boheme, no-one would have said that as a stage creature the roles Madam Butterfly or Mimi displayed Callas at her very best. For the opening arias on this disc we have slightly too many where you are conscious of Callas the artist creating the required little girl role, adjusting the sound of her voice and providing a superbly crafted aural picture. But I was also aware that this led to a degree of constraint and constriction in the voice. In many places on these CDs you can hear Callas singing the music on a thread of sound, something that may only have been possible in the recording studio. This enables her to give us the lovely semplice effects which go so much towards the musical characterisation that makes these performances special.
 
But once she opens up we get the other Callas. The one with the big dramatic voice appears; the voice which develops a strong vibrato - or wobbles - when put under pressure. Those of us who love her artistry can forgive her this, but for someone coming new - or relatively new - to her artistry it is likely to be off-putting to hear the items on CD 1 where the voice develops a strong beat in a way that does not happen with an artist like Mirella Freni in similar repertoire.
 
This is something that we must face: that to appreciate Callas's artistry you have to forgive her the sometimes raw and uncontrolled quality of her voice, the distinct veiled sound which could become curdled and the sheer unpleasantness of some of the high notes. This is remarkable because in many ways she had such astounding control. She is notable for the sheer degree of colour which she brings to a vocal line; not for Callas the singing of a line in beautiful but uniform voice. She also had the wonderful ability to vary her tone depending on the opera. This is most noticeable in the French items where she sounds far more French than many of her Italian contemporaries in the same repertoire.
 
For me, Callas is at her best in the live recordings where she takes a role and expresses it, come what may. We don't get much of that here, only the Traviata extract is live - taken from the Lisbon La Traviata. Some of the extracts are from complete recordings, and that helps.
 
The French operas on CD 2 are distinctive not only for the sound quality which Callas brings to her voice and her diction but also for the sheer beauty of some of the singing. Ah, Je veux vivre from Romeo et Juliette opens with some simply lovely singing. Callas really captures the idea of Juliette even though the piece was recorded quite late in her career. This shows, of course, when she starts to open up. The same can be said of Depuis le jour from Louise.
 
Where these French pieces also gain is in the roles for mezzo-soprano. The Carmen extracts come from the complete recording and are accompanied by Dalila and Charlotte. In all of these Callas can bring her artistry to bear without having to strain the ears with raw top notes … or is that heresy.
 
I have not said much about the origins of the various arias on this disc. That is because the CD booklet gives virtually no information about which recording or recital record the various arias come from. This is a great omission and also a strong indication that the disc is intended for first-time listeners rather than Callas enthusiasts.
 
There are no words included in the booklet, though the article by Tony Locantro gives a very brief indication of what is going on. If you have a PC then you can put disc 1 in your CD drive and go to the EMI Classics Club site. This gives access to additional audio and video content though it is mainly devoted to recent or new EMI releases rather than giving additional information about the contents of this particular set.
 
This disc is not an ideal survey of Callas's career, but at under £12 for 2 well filled CDs you do get a lot of Callas for your money. However, if it is aimed at newcomers, then there is too much emphasis on roles which were not central to Callas's stage career. If it is aimed at enthusiasts then the documentation which accompanies the disc is under par.
 
Robert Hugill

Full track details
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro  [2:35]
La Bohème: Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì  [4:48], Donde lieta uscì [3:20]
Turandot: Signore, ascolta!  [2:29] Tu, che di gel sei cinta  [2:48]
Alfredo CATALANI (1854–1893)
La Wally: Ebben?...Ne andrò lontana  [4:51]
Francesco CILEA (1866–1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur: Ecco: respiro appena...Io son l'umile ancella  [3:46], Poveri fiori  [3:13]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867–1948)
Andrea Chenier: La mamma morta  [4:52]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
I vespri Siciliani: Mercè, dilette amiche   [4:10]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Tullio Serafin

Giacomo PUCCINI

Tosca: Vissi d'arte  [3:16]
Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Victor de Sabata

Giacomo PUCCINI

Madama Butterfly: Un bel di vedremo  [4:41]
Turandot: In questa Reggia  [6:25]
Giuseppe VERDI
Il Trovatore: D'amor sull'ali rosee
   [4:30]
Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Herbert von Karajan

Giuseppe VERDI

Rigoletto:
Gualtier Maldè ...Caro nome   [7:31]
Renato Ercolani (tenor), William Dickie (baritone), Carlo Forti (bass)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
La Sonnambula:
Compagne, temiri amici ....Come per me sereno  [3:16]
Norma: Casta Diva  [5:33]
Coro e Orchestra del Teatro all Scala di Milano/Tullio Serafin (4)

Giuseppe VERDI
La Traviata:
Ah, fors'è lui  [3:17]
Orquestra Sinfonica do Teatro Nacional de Sao Carlos, Lisbon/Franco Ghione

Gaetano DONIZETTI
(1797–1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor:
Regnava nel silenzio...Quando rapito in estasi   [8:20] (9,10)
Anna Maria Canali (mezzo)
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Tullio Serafin

Gioachino ROSSINI
(1792–1868)
Il Barbiere di Siviglia:
Una voce poco fa  [6:20]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Alceo Galliera

Giuseppe VERDI

Ernani:
Surta è la notte .... Ernani! Ernani, involami  [6:10]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicola Rescigno

Giuseppe VERDI

Aida:
Ritorna vincitor   [7:70]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714–1787)
Orphée et Eurydice:
J'ai perdu mon Eurydice  [4:24]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835–1921)
Samson et Dalila:
Printemps qui commence  [5:16] Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix  [5:17]
Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860–1956)
Louise:
Depuis le jour où je me suis donnée  [4:42]
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
Roméo et Juliette :
Je veux vivre   [3:40]
Orchestra National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise/Georges Pretre

Georges BIZET
(1838–1875)
Carmen: L'amour est un oiseau rebelle [4:19] Séguidille: Près des ramparts de Séville  [4:32] Chanson bohème: les tringles des sistres tintaient  [4:18]
Nicolai Gedda (tenor), Nadine Sautereau (soprano), Jane Berbié (mezzo) Choeurs René Duclos
Orchestra du Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris/Georges Pretre

Jules MASSENET
(1842–1912)
Werther:
Werther! Qui m'aurait dit la place... Des cris joyeux   [7:20]
Manon: Je ne suis que faiblesse....Adieu, notre petite table  [3:20]
Charles GOUNOD
Faust: Un bouquet!...Ah! je ris (Jewel song) [5:30] (19)
Orchestre de la Société de Concerts du Conservatoire/Georges Prêtre
Maria Callas (soprano)


 


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