Rare Callas photo

Callas in "Puritani"?

Callas in “Puritani”?

This is a new-to-me photo of Maria Callas. The source from which I pilfered it suggests that it shows Callas as Elvira in Bellini’s I puritani.

Can any of you gentle readers confirm this? If it is indeed Puritani, it must be from Chicago, 1955; all her earlier outings in the rôle took place before her dramatic weight loss.





Callas sings Mozart

This is reportedly the second of two test recordings of Donna Anna’s aria “Non mi dir,” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, set down by Callas in Florence in 1953 before her EMI Lucia di Lammermoor sessions.

I have posted some of Callas’s Mozart recordings in the past, possibly including this one, though I’m fairly certain that this is the first time I’ve offered you the second take.

Callas reportedly sight-read “Non mi dir.” Compare her performance with the one by Krasnodar Barbie given on opening night of the 2011–2012 season at La Scala. Overall, Barbie acquits herself better than I would have expected, but her sense of pitch and rhythm are vague, her vowels dim and gluey, and her staccati effortful. And yet the La Scala audience that decades earlier had sometimes hissed and booed Callas roar their approval.

Callas, instead, in her first or second run-through of this aria offered singing of seemingly effortless precision and elegance. (To be fair, she was singing under a vastly superior conductor, Tullio Serafin.)

I commend to you Albert Innaurato’s critique of Barbie’s latest recording. Some misguided souls have seen fit to invoke Callas in reviewing her amateurish tootling.

Callas interviewed by David Frost, 1970

Another interesting YouTube upload: Maria Callas interviewed by David Frost in 1970. I have heard this before thanks to a very kind blog reader, but it is hard to come by—last I checked available only at a stiff premium.

Her English seems more fluent than in the 1968 Ardoin interview.


Hi, all! Long time no see!

I have been keeping busy. My articles archive at mondo marion is more or less up to date. Some highlights:

  • For Time Out New York, I have written about a superb Keller Quartet disc and “Soundings” at MoMA.
  • I have an Italian-language column for La VOCE di New York. I archive my articles at a Tumblr blog, and they include an interview with Gianandrea Noseda, reviews of shows at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Morgan Library & Museum, and more.
  • For WQXR I have written about Wagner books and many other things, including Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Norma (which has knocked me out).
  • I am also translating a very interesting book (all I can say about it for now).

Hope you are having a good and relaxing summer!

Callas interviewed by John Ardoin, 1968

Some good soul has been uploading some fascinating Callas material to YouTube. This is a seventy-minute 1968 interview with John Ardoin, conducted during her peregrinations in the United States and Mexico after she had left the Christina for the last time, during the months leading up to Aristotle Onassis’s marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy.

I had never heard this interview before. Towards the end, Callas and Ardoin go through the sonnambulismo from Verdi’s Macbeth phrase by phrase. We hear the music twice: the first time, I believe, from the 1952 La Scala opening under Victor de Sabata; and the second from Callas’s 1958 studio recording under Nicola Rescigno. (If someone knows otherwise, please pipe up.)

I am struck by her halting English, and also by her (dare I say) “uninformed” or at least out-of-date views on cuts and the like.

Une revenante

Callas in Dallas, 1959.

Callas in Dallas, 1959.

Well hello, everyone! Sorry to have been away from you for so long. By the time my webmaster fixed this once gimpy blog, I was up to my ears in writing assignments. Go here and follow the links to learn what I have been up to. (I saw Parsifal six times and would have been glad to see it sixty times. It was by far the most moving and beautiful operatic performance I have ever had the good fortune to witness, and I cannot wait for the DVD.)

Above is a photo I found on Facebook that I have never seen before. It supposedly shows Maria Callas in Dallas, reading through the Lucia libretto, in 1959. She sports her post-Meneghini coiffure, which I believe was created by Alexandre in Paris, and I think that the poodle’s name is Toy.

Shall we listen to Callas in Lucia? Though I do not favor her earliest recordings, this excerpt from Donizetti’s opera as performed in México in 1952 finds Callas in lush and secure voice. (The Dallas Lucia, by contrast, was fraught for many reasons and marked her final appearnces in Donizetti and Cammarano’s dramma tragico.)

The siffleur is exceedingly loud, and the music is embedded in a Flash player, which you may not see if you view this blog on a mobile device. (Incidentally, last night I heard the world premiere of a song cycle by Anders Hillborg that, like Lucia, calls for a glass harmonica.)

How are you darlings? I have hundreds of comments, mostly spam, to wade through, but hope to be back soon.

Callas sings “La sonnambula”

A colleague and reader of this blog posted Amina’s “Ah non giunge” to Facebook last night, writing that after “months of stomach-churning terror” it seemed apt. He chose the 1957 Cologne performance, which I prefer; this is from La Scala in 1955 and features the crazy ornamentations wrought by Leonard Bernstein.

Can you imagine singing this at the end of a long “trapeze-rôle” opera, to borrow a phrase from Callas?

I am still cranky (behind on my work, too) after Sandy. I know some people still without power, and many New Yorkers and people in surrounding states lost everything.

Some of my friends here in Manhattan waited on line for three hours in order to vote. I’m not sure why the waits were so long this time around. One reason may be that we used paper ballots, supposedly the voting method least vulnerable to tampering. That said, anyone who doesn’t have an understanding employer or cannot spend hours away from an ailing family member is effectively disenfranchised.

I am exhausted and hung over with disbelief and joy following the election. At roughly 2:00 a.m. today I was in tears as I listened to President Obama speak these words:

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities, our culture are the envy of all the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedoms which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

Marriage equality was ratified in four more states. I lost friends to the AIDS genocide; I never thought that I would live to see the dignity and rights of LGBT Americans affirmed so resoundingly, just as I never thought that I would live to see an African-American President elected. As Andrew Sullivan wrote, November 6, 2012 was the single biggest night for gay rights in U.S. electoral history.

Women account for 20% of the incoming U.S. Senate. That’s still too little, but we’re moving in the right direction. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin will be our first openly gay Senator. Her sexual orientation was largely a non-issue in the campaign.

Tulsi Gabbard will be our first Hindu American Representative; she will also be the first female combat veteran to serve in Congress. When Vice President Biden administers the oath of office, she will place her hand on the Bhagavad Gita. (Representative Ellison took the oath of office using Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an; I wonder if her text will have a similarly illustrious history.) Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono will become the first Buddhist and the first Asian-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.

New Hampshire has the nation’s first all-female Congressional delegation.

Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden: they tell us that President Obama and Vice President Biden love and respect strong, intelligent, accomplished women.

The evening’s only major blow: California failed to abolish the death penalty.

My favorite founding documents are the 1790 letters exchanged between Moses Seixas, warden of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, and President George Washington, who wrote:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

We’re not there yet, but last night brought us closer.

Yes we can.

Callas sings Thomas

Dear all: I am alive. Along with c. 800,000 other households in Manhattan, I have no water or electricity, with none expected until Friday at the earliest, so this post comes to you courtesy of a dear friend who has taken me in.

Enjoy (again) Callas singing Ophélie’s mad scene from Thomas’s Hamlet, recorded in 1958. It’s the most watery, Sandy-appropriate music I can think of. (As the storm approached, I listened to this, and perhaps was punished for my flippancy.)

My recent articles include pieces about Sciarrino, Maya Beiser’s Elsewhere, and the Met’s (ghastly) Nozze di Figaro revival.

Back soon!

“Inventing Elsa Maxwell”

“Inventing Elsa Maxwell” by Sam Staggs

A book by the great lady herself.

Dear hearts, forgive me for having neglected you. Earlier this month I was sick (think Donald Duck’s voice and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s schnozzola). What’s more, my non-writing work has mushroomed in the past six weeks.

I’ll be back soon, and we’ll mark the anniversary of Callas’s passing together.

In the meantime, some writing news. My review of Inventing Elsa Maxwell: How an Irrepressible Nobody Conquered High Society, Hollywood, the Press, and the World by Sam Staggs appears in the October 2012 issue of Town & Country. Readers in the States can find the magazine on newsstands; if you are overseas and fancy a scan of the article, just give a holler. My review briefly mentions Callas.

I also reviewed the wonderful exhibit “John Cage: The Sight of Silence” at the National Academy Museum.

Have I mentioned that I’ve been doing some writing for The Jewish Daily Forward? I’m thrilled and honored to be associated with that venerable publication, and to be in the company of so many amazing writers. What’s more, my editor is a mensch and not afraid of chewy material, glory be.

Back at you soon! *smooch*


Callas at the seashore.

Callas at the seashore.

Dear hearts, it is the Labor Day holiday here in the States, and my long weekend looks like this: four articles (one a review of a LONG book), many pitches, and a sizable (and tricksy) editorial project.

As you might expect, I shall also be snarfing quite a bit of iced coffee and Diet Coke.

Wherever you are, I hope that your weekend looks more like the picture in this post. (Callas at the seashore in full maquillage, with pearl earrings, a fresh manicure, and an impeccable chignon: The diva’s life is hard indeed.)

I will be back on Wednesday, 5 September. In the meantime, why not revisit a post from Maria Callas’s birthday week chock-full of Rossini goodies?

Bon week-end à tous !

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