I may have more to say later, after lunch and my appointments.
A splashy new production of Massenet’s Manon is due to open this spring in New York, so I have been revisiting performances of music from the opera by Callas and others.
In 1963, Callas made her second recording of French arias, this one produced by Michel Glotz. In The Callas Legacy, John Ardoin wrote that “Callas’s break with [Glotz] in 1965 coincided with the beginning of her exile from the stage.” Do any of you dear readers know the specifics of this “break”? The material I have read by and about Glotz is cagey on this point.
In any event, from Manon, “Adieu, notre petite table.” Callas sang this aria only a handful of times: in the recording studio under Georges Prêtre, in concert twice (in 1963 and 1965), and twice during her “comeback” (or “farewell”) tour in 1974. Ardoin rightly notes that she ducks the B-flat by omitting the first part of the recitative. That said, while the aria does not make extreme demands on the voice, Callas sings it beautifully, with exquisite control of dynamics and phrasing. (All of the singers I know, by the way, report that soft, tapered singing is vastly more difficult than simply letting it rip.)
Callas’s 1965 television performance of the aria is all over YouTube, though none of the versions I auditioned allowed embedding. See and hear it here. That clip, incidentally, was uploaded in honor of Frank Hamilton, whose Callas performance annals and other research materials are invaluable. A friend published a tribute to Hamilton, who died in December.
From the archives: Callas in Massenet’s Werther.
Look, we blog curators welcome most any traffic, but this? Of late, similar Google search strings from all over the world (and not only from necrophilic Canucks) have shown up in my log. Thanks a lot, Terrence McNally.
More sketchiness: The complete track list from Angela Gheorghiu’s so-called Homage to Maria Callas is now available. Let’s see how the musical selections relate to Maria Callas, shall we?
- Arias from Medea and Il pirata: Fine. Both, pace my colleague Robert Seletsky, were important Callas revivals.
- Arias from La traviata: An important Callas rôle. But, honestly, just how many times does Mme Gheorghiu need to record this music?
- Arias from I pagliacci, La Wally, Adriana Lecouvreur, and Samson et Dalila: Callas recorded them but never sang them in public. What’s more, she never approved the release of the Samson aria, which was issued posthumously.
- Arias from Faust and La bohème: Callas sang the Faust aria during her Greek years and recorded it, but never otherwise sang it in public. She recorded the Bohème aria twice (Puccini recital and complete Bohème) but never sang it in public.
- Aria from Andrea Chénier: She sang it once during her Greek years, once for EMI, six times in Chénier at La Scala (not by any account her shining hour).
- Aria from Le Cid: She recorded it for EMI and sang it a handful of times (four or five) in concert.
- “Duet” from Carmen: Oh, do not get me started. But hardly a Callas speciality.
Someone enlighten me, please: Where is the “homage” to Maria Callas in all this? And again I ask: What need does Angela Gheorghiu, an artist of substance, have to stoop to this flimsy and cynical exploitation of the memory of Maria Callas?
It would have been relatively easy to put together a plausible homage to Callas: arias, say, from Armida and perhaps Haydn’s Orfeo ed Euridice (and maybe even the Stradella San Giovanni Battista); some Wagner (why not “La morte di Isotta” or “Ho visto il figlio” from Parsifal?); Vestale, Bolena, Ifigenia, Sonnambula (all or some) to represent the Visconti stagings besides Traviata; different Verdi (Macbeth? Vespri? Ballo?); and some of the bravura material (the Proch variations, Dinorah, Lakmé, or some such). In truth, the bravura material is probably beyond Gheorghiu at this point, but I think that she could handle the rest beautifully.
A reader of this blog kindly sent me excerpts from an interview with the Paris-based coach and voice teacher Janine Reiss, who worked with Maria Callas from the early 1960s until just before her death.
So many people are deeply invested in the idea that Maria Callas was adrift, suicidally depressed, and simply waiting for death at the end of her life. Even Nicholas Gage, who has perpetuated other myths about Callas, dismisses this idea. He quotes a friend of Callas who spoke to her in September 1977: “Of course it was a long time ago… but I can tell you that all the reports that she killed herself are totally wrong. She was very upbeat, full of plans, and really pleased with herself that she had lost weight.”
Stelios Galatopoulos discounted the notion that Callas was desolate and isolated, too, and wrote that Callas had plans to record Werther. The Reiss interview sent by the kind reader confirms this. Reiss was about to leave for New York:
The last day I saw her was 15 September 1977. I went to her house. She accompanied me to the door and said to me on the threshold, “Janine, come back soon, because it’s very hard to have a singing teacher who abandons you to go travelling. I want to work only with you. Will you come back soon? If so, when?” She was obviously anxious, upset, to see me leaving her for a whole month. “Listen, Maria, I’m not going away for a year but for one short month. As you know, I’ll be in New York, where you were born, and you’ll always know where to reach me.” When she kissed me, Maria said: “Come back soon, because when you return, I really want us to get down to work on Charlotte in Werther, which I want to record.”
Callas said that she felt spiritually close to Massenet’s dutiful Charlotte, and she recorded the “Air des lettres” in the early 1960s, sang it during her “comeback” tour, taught it at Juilliard, and also sang it in concert in June 1963, the performance I offer you today.