During her early years in Italy, Maria Callas often programmed her concerts to showcase herself as an assoluta, an artist who could sing most any music written for the female voice. One evening in 1949, for example, she performed two arias by Bellini (from Norma and Puritani), one by Verdi (Aida), and one by Wagner (Tristan). Nineteenth-century sopranos sometimes sang similar programs, but in Callas’s day, such “versatility” was considered freakish and astonishing. (It still is!)
The intricate “Ombra leggiera” from Meyerbeer’s Dinorah, laden with runs, tricky intervals, and echo effects, was in Callas’s concert repertoire from 1949 to 1957 and often figured in her assoluta evenings. Today’s performance is from a December 1954 concert in San Remo; Callas also recorded the aria for EMI in 1954.