Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor - Dramma tragico in tre atti [119:13]
Lucia - Maria Callas (soprano); Edgardo - Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor);
Enrico – Rolando Panerai (baritone); Raimondo – Nicola Zaccaria
(bass); Arturo – Giuseppe Zampieri (tenor); Alisa – Luisa
Villa (mezzo); Normanno – Mario Carlin (tenor)
Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano & RIAS Symphony Orchestra/Herbert
tec. live 29 September, 1955, Staatsoper, Berlin.
Giacomo PUCCINI (1859-1924)
In quelle trine morbide [2:56]
Sola, perduta, abbandonata [5:52]
Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì [4:49]
Donde lieta uscì [3:20]
Senza mamma [5:53]
O mio babbino caro [2:34]
Maria Callas (soprano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Tullio Serafin
rec. 15-21 September, 1954, London.
16 page booklet in English; no texts or translations
MINUET RECORDS 428412 [76:17 + 68:19]
This re-issue of a classic Callas recording is presumably the result of its having come out of copyright. The neatly presented, 16 page booklet provides track-listings, some nice photographs from the stage production, a new biographical appreciation by Arnold Jason and the original “Turnabout” LP liner notes, but no libretto or access to one and only a brief, partial plot summary, not even a synopsis. It has been effectively re-mastered but sounds to my ears virtually identical to the 1997 EMI issue, which has the advantage of a full libretto. I do not believe that Warner has yet re-mastered this is in their ongoing survey of Karajan’s recordings but this new Minuet issue represents good value as long as you can do without the text.
The sound was in fact always very acceptable for a live, mono 1955 stage recording, hardly any less listenable than Callas’ first 1953 studio recording under Serafin apart from the occasional cough. That has rightly long been highly regarded, not only for Callas’ compelling assumption of the eponymous role but also for the intensity of Gobbi’s Enrico and the vigour of Di Stefano’s singing, which although never entirely stylish or idiomatic is very affecting despite his tendency to shout, and is faithfully reproduced here two years later for Karajan. To be fair, he also sings softly and tenderly in his final big scene, so he is not all can belto. Panerai’s artistry is hardly a step down from Gobbi’s and he has better top notes, including a high G. Zampieri is a virile, effective Arturo. Furthermore, some prefer the extra energy Karajan generates in a live performance to Serafin’s steadier direction. Either way, both performances remain highly desirable, featuring all-Italian casts (with the exception of Greek bass Zaccaria, who was the adopted primo basso at la Scala and preferable to a rather woolly Raffaele Arié in 1953) and it is undeniable that by the time Callas came to make the second studio recording with Serafin in 1959 she was vocally in less secure form and less aptly partnered by an aging Tagliavini and a competent but bland Cappuccilli.
Of course every one of Callas’ recordings suffers from what we would now regard as disfiguring cuts; for the complete score we may turn to the excellent 1971 recording with Joan Sutherland, Pavarotti, Milnes and Ghiaurov under Bonynge, but all her recordings are thrilling theatrical experiences. Callas’ exploitation of portamento is a marvel of liquid fluency, her top D’s are secure and the poignancy of her portrayal unparalleled. The famous sextet is terrific – and encored for good measure.
As a bonus, we are given six beautiful Puccini arias that Callas recorded the year before, which again demonstrate the unique power to move or her downward portamento and the plangency of her soft tones.