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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Medea - an opera in three acts (1797) [134:22]
Medea - Maria Callas (soprano)
Giasone - Jon Vickers (tenor)
Glauce - Joan Carlyle (soprano)
Creonte - Nicola Zaccaria (bass)
Neris - Fiorenza Cossotto (mezzo)
Capo delle guardie - David Allen (baritone)
Prima ancella - Mary Wells (soprano)
Seconda ancella - Elizabeth Rust (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of Covent Garden/Nicola Rescigno
rec. live, 30 June 1959, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London,
inc. Radio Introduction, track 1, CD1 [2:32]
Ambient Stereo
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO119 [58:11 + 75:58]

I have already glowingly reviewed the issue on the ICA label of this live radio broadcast and declared it the best of the five recordings I listened to made between 1953 and 1962. All featured Callas in a role she never abandoned during her ten glorious years as the world’s leading prima donna.

However, this latest incarnation from Pristine, is a re-mastering into Ambient Stereo of a previously unavailable recording of the FM broadcast on high-speed, open reel tape. As a result, and after a little audible patching of tape changes and the remedying of a few drop-outs towards the end of Act I, this issue far surpasses in quality what has previously been on offer. There is virtually no hiss and acres of space around the voices and instruments, revealing hitherto inaudible detail and nuance.

Callas’ soprano falcon was in exceptionally good shape that evening in 1959. She is matched by a cast even better than that of the live Dallas performance the year before, which included the same Giasone, Jon Vickers, in finest youthful voice, displaying great beauty of tone and admirable legato.
Only Sylvia Sass and Leyla Gencer have since begun to approach Callas’ supremacy in the role of Medea, although I have not been able to hear Magda Olivero under Rescigno in Dallas in 1967. Of course the latter, Callas’ thirty-one performances and the recordings with Gender under Franci, live in 1968 and Sass under Gardelli, a 1976-77 studio recording, were all in Italian using Fritz Lachner’s stodgy recitatives; if you want a studio recording in the authentic French with spoken dialogue, I can recommend only the excerpts recorded by Rita Gorr and Guy Chauvet under Georges PrÍtre in 1961, which is very difficult to find. Oddly, there were recordings of live performances three years running by Fournillier in 1995, Swierczewski in 1996 and Folse in 1997, then nothing until the latest under Rousset in 2008; none of these can compete in terms of star-power. I have not been able to hear a live recording of the French version made in 1986 with Shirley Verrett and Werner Hollweg under Pinchas Steinberg, but I cannot imagine that the latter matches Vickers or indeed Chauvet. Thus this rejuvenated and revitalised remastering by Pristine of one of Callas’ greatest triumphs remains indispensable to her admirers.
Ralph Moore



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