The famous Callas/Serafin Turandot
surfaces again, once
more at super-budget price. It has already appeared on EMI GROC
and Naxos Historical (see review
now, here it is on Regis.
Right from the crashing, dramatic opening, it is clear that Serafin
means business. In the great choral scenes of the first Act,
he generates huge excitement; in the more playful moments of
the second act (the Ping/Pang/Pong trio section) he can be delightfully
playful. He was vastly experienced in this repertoire, and it
shows in the natural feel of the work’s flow.
The Prince Calaf (the Unknown Prince) is sung by Eugenio Fernandi.
As so often with Callas’ leading men, he was perhaps chosen
to be solid, strong but with no chance of overshadowing the great
diva, as his “non piangere Liù” so conclusively
proves: eminently musical, very tender, it is in no way great
singing, merely admirable. His Act 3 “Nessun dorma” mirrors
all these traits. More interior than most - a polar opposite
to Pavarotti’s myriad performances - it fits in well with
his conception and voice, while Serafin enables us to hear orchestral
counterpoints that often get lost.
It is for Callas that most will buy this set, however. Her “In
questa reggia” shows this Turandot to be a woman with a
core of steel The interjecting staccato orchestral chords do
not carry sufficient weight - one feels strongly this is the
recording’s fault, not Serafin’s - but nothing, seemingly,
can stop Callas’s icy determination. “Icy” seems
the right description here - this is a woman with a heart of
Giulio Mauri is a strong-voiced Mandarin. Whoever sings this
part has to be - he begins the opera. In his review of the Naxos
transfer of this performance, Ralph
suggests this role is sung by Zaccaria. As Timur, the
deposed King of Tartary, and identifiably himself, Nicola Zaccaria
is strong and confident.
The voice of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is surely instantly recognisable.
Her voice is well-suited to Liù, in no way too light and
there is no hint of the tremulous quality that can sporadically
afflict Schwarzkopf in her memorable “Signore ascolta!”.
Interestingly, the bonus tracks on this particular product include
a Callas “Signore ascolta”, again with Serafin at
the helm (but with the Philharmonia Orchestra) - note this is
track 17, not 16 as indicated in the booklet. Callas is as instantly
recognisable as Schwarzkopf, and injects her own, rather larger
and self-interested, character onto the musical surface. Liù’s “Tu
che di gel sei cinta” is also reprised, recognisably, by
Callas in the present set’s appendix.
Ping, Pang and Pong are well cast (Mario Borriello, Renato Ercolani
and Piero de Palma, respectively), although Borriello is perhaps
a tad tremulous.
The transfer is generally excellent. There is some abrasion/stretching
of sonic resources as the climax of Act 1 choral scenes - immediately
prior to the crowd’s calling for the moon - but elsewhere
all is well and the choral passages in question were after all
similarly afflicted on the EMI originals.