Puccini’s Manon Lescaut is one of several operas that Callas recorded but never performed on stage. (The others are Puccini’s La bohème, Bizet’s Carmen, and Leoncavallo’s I pagliacci.)
Today’s rendition of “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” comes not from her complete Manon Lescaut (1957) but from her 1954 Puccini recital under Tullio Serafin. She also taught the aria at Juilliard and sang it frequently in 1974, during her “farewell” tour.
John Ardoin underscored the simplicity and understatement that Callas brought to this aria: “Rather than a voice racked with desperation, hers is colored with tired resignation. This is a Manon who has faced and accepted her death. This idea is reinforced later by the sense of release with which Callas frames ‘Terra di pace mi sembrava questa.’”
When I received EMI’s latest Callas compilation, The Callas Effect, I noticed immediately that this aria closes the set. In artistic terms, it is an odd choice: Puccini was not especially close to Callas’s heart, Manon Lescaut was not important in her career, and many sopranos have sung this music at least as well as she. (I am especially fond of Mirella Freni in the rôle.)
If, however, one is determined to depict Callas as a pathetic mess at the end of her life, then I suppose it is the ideal choice. (Sigh!)
Bon week-end à tous !