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Maria Callas – Opera Highlights
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Norma (1831) [60:03]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen (1875) [61:11]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) [59:49]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème (1896) [53:36]; Madama Butterfly (1904) [55:33]; Tosca (1900) [52:12]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida (1871) [58:18]; La Traviata (1853) [55:50]
Maria Callas (soprano)
Cast and recording details at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 3971042 [8 CDs: 60:03 + 61:11 + 59:49 + 53:36 + 55:33 + 52:12 + 58:18 + 55:50]

Experience Classicsonline


EMI offer here yet another way to sample their large archive of recordings by Maria Callas, this time somewhere between the 70 CD box for those who must have everything - or at least all the studio recordings - and the various 1 or 2 disc anthologies of popular arias. Although I had heard most of these recordings before, I had forgotten just how individually Callas portrays each of the characters she plays. Although three Puccini operas are highlighted, there is never any mistaking which heroine she is portraying. The innocence of Mimì is clearly different to that of Butterfly, and Tosca is clearly worlds apart from either. And this is done largely by musical means, by variation of phrasing, tone colour and articulation, and usually by a careful interpretation of the composer’s instructions in the score. There is no room for blandness in any of Callas’s performances here, and none of the all-purpose beauty of tone at which too many modern sopranos aim at the expense of clarity of diction or articulation. There are certainly a few moments here where her singing can only be described as ugly, and there is one performance – that of Carmen – which I regard as wholly misconceived. A pity to have chosen it in preference to “Turandot” or “Rigoletto”, both much more convincing in every way as performances, but even in “Carmen” I was never bored.

I could easily stop there and simply urge those who do not have these recordings already to buy this set – but I should first explain what is included here. Each of these sets of highlights has been available before, in 1990 or 1998, and only two offer more than an hour of music. In every case I was left feeling somewhat disappointed at the amount of wonderful music and performance that was left out which could easily have been included. Admittedly at the remarkably low prices at which the set has been advertised by some dealers this might seem an unfair comment, but it does seem slightly ungenerous and unnecessary to give such short measure given the age and wide existing circulation of these performances. 

Callas recorded some of these operas more than once, but the choice of version has been made well. Thus we have the later versions of “Norma” and “Lucia di Lammermoor”, in both cases the voice somewhat less fresh but the interpretation even more individual, but the first “Tosca”, in every way superior to its remake. Similarly the live “La Traviata” is far ahead of the earlier Cetra studio recording. 

The choice of content for each disc appears to have been made according to two different principles. For the most part what we have are highlights of the operas, rather than of Callas’s performances in them. Thus the “Carmen” disc starts with the children’s chorus and includes not only Don José’s solo but also his duet with Micaëla and the latter’s aria. In “Lucia di Lammermoor” we have Enrico’s cavatina and Edgardo’s solos in the final scene. I have to say that I greatly enjoyed all of these, but equally I can understand why in “Madama Butterfly” and even more in “La Traviata” the focus is almost exclusively on Callas. “La Traviata” is in fact unlike all of the other sets in that it is a live performance from La Scala in 1955. There have been many live recordings available on various fringe labels of Callas in this opera, but this is certainly the best of those that I have heard. The sound may be primitive by comparison with the other operas, but one soon gets used to it, and it is wonderful to hear such a vivid portrayal. 

No texts or translations are included, but the booklet includes good historical notes about each work together with a full synopsis of each. Somewhat oddly for a set celebrating the work of a single singer, there are no biographical notes about her or indeed about any of the other performers, neither is there any attempt to fit these recordings into the context of Callas’s overall recording career.

Avid collectors of Callas will certainly have most if not all of this already, but the set can be especially recommended to those with other versions of these operas and to those wanting a succinct demonstration in seven of the operas of why Callas is regarded by many as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, dramatic sopranos of recent times. The excerpts from “Carmen” provide additional interest in showing her limitations, although there is still much enjoyment to be had from the disc as the other roles are well and often imaginatively cast, as indeed they are throughout this set. The various conductors, especially Serafin, Karajan and de Sabata, all give idiomatic and dramatic performances of each opera. 

John Sheppard

see also Review by Göran Forsling

Casts and Recording details

Norma

Maria Callas (soprano) – Norma; Franco Corelli (tenor) – Pollione; Christa Ludwig (mezzo-soprano); Adalgisa; Nicola Zaccaria (bass) – Orovesco: Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tullio Serafin: recorded November 1960 at La Scala

Carmen

Maria Callas (soprano) – Carmen; Nicolai Gedda (tenor) – Don José; Andréa Guiot (soprano) – Michaëla; Robert Massard (baritone) – (Escamillo); Nadine Sautrau (soprano) – Frasquita; Jane Berbié (mezzo-soprano) – Mercédès; Claude Calès (baritone) – Moralès; Chorus and Orchestra of the Paris Opera/Georges Prêtre: recorded in the Salle Wagram, Paris in July 1964

Lucia di Lammermoor

Maria Callas (soprano) – Lucia; Ferrucio Tagliavini (tenor) – Edgardo; Piero Cappuccilli (baritone) – Enrico; Bernard Ladysz (bass) – Raimondo; Leonard del Ferro (tenor) – Arturo; Margreta Elkins (mezzo-soprano) – Alisa; Renzo Casellato (tenor) – Normanno; Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Tullio Serafin: recorded in Kingsway Hall, London, in March 1959

La Bohème

Mari Callas (soprano) – Mimì; Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor) – Rodolfo; Rolando Panerai (baritone) – Marcello; Manuel Spatafora (baritone) – Schaunard; Nicola Zaccaria (bass) – Colline; Anna Moffo (soprano) – Musetta; Carlo Badioli (bass) – Alcindoro; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Antonio Votto: recorded in La Scala in August and November 1956

Madama Butterfly

Maria Callas (soprano) – Butterfly; Lucia Danieli (mezzo) – Suzuki; Nicolai Gedda (tenor) – Pinkerton; Mario Borriello (baritone) – Sharpless; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Herbert von Karajan: recorded at La Scala in August 1955

Tosca

Maria Callas (soprano) – Tosca; Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor) – Cavaradossi; Tito Gobbi (baritone) – Scarpia; Franco Calabrese (baritone) – Angelotti; Angelo Mecuriali (tenor) – Spoletta; Dario Caselli (baritone) - Sciarrone/Gaoler; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Victor de Sabata: recorded at La Scala in August 1953

Aida

Maria Callas (soprano) – Aida; Richard Tucker (tenor) – Radamès; Fedora Barbieri (mezzo); Tito Gobbi (baritone) – Amonasro; Giuseppe Modesti (bass) – Ramfis; Nicola Zaccaria (bass); Franco Ricciadi (tenor) - Un messaggero; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tullio Serafin: recorded at La Scala in August 1955

La Traviata

Maria Callas (soprano) – Violetta; Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor) – Alfredo; Ettore Bastianini (baritone) – Germont; Silvana Zanolli (mezzo) – Flora; Luisa Mandelli (mezzo); Giuseppe Zampieri (tenor) – Gastone; Arturo La Porta (bass) – Baron; Antonio Zerbini (baritone) – Marquis; Silvio Maionica (bass) – Doctor; Franco Ricciardi (tenor) – Giuseppe; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Carlo Maria Giulini; recorded live at La Scala on 28 May 1955

 




 


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