The Callas Effect
Maria Callas (soprano)
Various orchestras and conductors
Mono/Stereo ADD, 2 CDs + DVD
DVD: The Callas Effect – Aspect Ratio 16:9; Sound LPCM Stereo
Track-listing at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 0843562 [CDs: 77:53 + 75:28; DVD: 70:00]

This makes a good Callas set for beginners. It contains arias that showcase a good section of her most successful repertoire and it captures her voice at its best. Exactly when it is captured remains a mystery, however: the set’s main problem for pre-existing fans and aficionados is that, while it contains information about where and with whom each track was recorded, we are not given any dates. Given the variable nature of Callas’ voice, the multiple occasions on which she recorded many of her roles, and the speed of her vocal decline, this is a serious oversight. However, while this may put off collectors it won’t discourage first-timers. They will also be helped by the sumptuous packaging: the CDs and DVD are housed in a luxurious hardback book with glossy photos and full texts and translations. There is also a very good essay from Ira Siff giving an overview of her career and including some lovely personal recollections, as well as analysing her significance for her art.

The excerpts themselves are well chosen to showcase Callas at her best. I was most pleasantly surprised by the French excerpts which are sung sensitively and with an unusually perceptive ear for French style. Her Donna Elvira is also very interesting, if rather unlovely. For those who are already Callas fans the chief attraction may be the DVD. As you might guess from the title, The Callas Effect, its main aim is to pin down what made Callas special and to pick out some examples of that from her career. It does that fairly well, though it tells us nothing new, instead reiterating commonplaces such as how effective her acting was and how she always used the music to deduce how to give a gesture or action on stage. It focuses disproportionately on her contribution to the 1964 Zeffirelli Tosca at Covent Garden, interviewing some who were involved in that production either as extras or chorus members. There are also extensive extracts from the filmed Act 2. These might not tell us anything new, but they serve to underline just how magnetic a stage presence she really was, as well as what vocal beauty she was capable of even at that late stage in her career. There are some (very unhelpful) interviews with superfans who, somewhat amusingly, are given the title of “Opera connoisseurs”, and with modern singers, such as Joyce DiDonato, who comment on her significance for the art of singing. The most interesting moments, however, come from those who collaborated with her professionally, such as John Copley and John Tooley. Tooley tells a fascinating story of how he offered her Santuzza at Covent Garden as a return to the stage, long after she was supposed to have retired, with the mouth-watering prospect of Domingo as Turridu. We will have to be content with dreaming about what that would have been like! She refused but, he tells us, years later she admitted to him that she should have done it.

So while aficionados probably won’t find much to inspire them here, it’s not a bad way in for those who may want to explore Callas’ legacy on disc. It’s also very good value for money and would make a good gift for someone.

Simon Thompson

Very good value for money and would make a good gift for a beginner.


Disc 1
Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1997 - Remaster)
1 Una voce poco fa 6:53

I vespri Siciliani, '(The) Sicilian Vespers' (1997 Digital Remaster)
2 Mercè, dilette amiche (Bolero) 4:02

Gianni Schicchi (1997 Digital Remaster)
3 O mio babbino caro 2:35

La Bohème (1997 - Remaster), Act I
4 Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì 4:49

Rigoletto (1997 Digital Remaster), Act I, Scene 2
5 Gualtier Maldè ... Caro nome (Gilda/Borsa/Ceprano/Marullo) 7:31

La Traviata (1997 Digital Remaster)
6 Ah, fors'è lui 3:18

Lakmé (1997 - Remaster)
7 Où va la jeune indoue (Bell Song) 8:06

Faust (1997 Digital Remaster)
8 Un bouquet! ... Ah! je ris (Jewel song) 5:29

Samson et Dalila (1997 Digital Remaster)
9 Samson, recherchant ma présence...Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse! 4:11

Carmen (1997 Digital Remaster), Act I
10 L'amour est un oiseau rebelle (Habanera) 4:19

Mignon (1997 - Remaster)
11 Ah, pour ce soir ... Je suis Titania (Polonaise) 5:09

Alceste (1997 Digital Remaster)
12 Divinités du Styx 4:23

Norma (1997 Digital Remaster)
13 Casta Diva 5:33

Macbeth (1997 - Remaster)
14 La luce langue 4:08

Turandot (1997 - Remaster), Act II
15 In questa Reggia 6:25

Disc 2
Tosca (2002 Digital Remaster), Act II
1 Vissi d'arte (Tosca) 3:17

Madama Butterfly (1997 Digital Remaster), Act II
2 Un bel di vedremo 4:42

Suor Angelica, 'Sister Angelica' (1997 Digital Remaster)
3 Senza mamma, O bimbo 5:36

La Wally (1997 Digital Remaster)
4 Ebben?...Ne andrò lontana 4:51

Andrea Chenier (1997 Digital Remaster)
5 La mamma morta 4:53

Il Trovatore (1997 Digital Remaster), ACT 4 Scene One
6 D'amor sull'ali rosee (Leonora) 4:03

Il Pirata
7 ... Col sorriso d'innocenza (Act 2) 3:42

Ernani (1993 - Remaster)
8 Surta è la notte .... Ernani! Ernani, involami 6:11

Aida (1997 - Remaster)
9 Ritorna vincitor (Act I) 7:07

Carmen (1997 Digital Remaster)
10 Carreau! Pique! (Card Scene) 3:38

Don Giovanni, K.527 (1997 - Remaster)
11 In quali eccessi, O Numi!...Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata 6:33

Don Carlo (1997 - Remaster)
12 Tu che le vanità 10:36

La Gioconda (1997 Digital Remaster), Act 4
13 Suicidio! 4:16

Manon Lescaut (1999 Digital Remaster), ACT 4
14 Sola, perduta, abbandonata 5:04

Disc 3
The Callas Effect
1. Introduction 3:47
2. Humble Beginnings 3:08
3. The New Star 2:39
4. Norma at Covent Garden 2:38
5. Records and Romance 0:39
6. La Traviata 4:02
7. Il Trovatore 4:25
8. Bringing drama to the opera stage: Tosca 37:59
9. Concerts 3:39
10. Audience Response 5:23
11. High Society and Fashion 5:05
12. Losing Voice 4:01
13. 'Sola, perduta, abbandonata' 5:28
14. The Callas Effect today 3:12
15. Conclusion 0:55