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Maria Callas in Manon Lescaut

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!)

Hear Maria Callas in other music by Puccini here and in the blog archives.

Bon week-end à tous !

Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today’s selection is “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, recorded in Paris in 1965.

There are so few arias about love-with-a-happy-ending, and even fewer of them sung by Maria Callas!

I have been busy. Fingers crossed, hoping the sites don’t go down again, I created a pop playlist for Valentine’s Day, wrote a profile of the extraordinary jazz singer Cyrille Aimée, reviewed You, My Mother for Time Out New York, and reviewed Aida at the Metropolitan Opera for The Classical Review.

Hoping that the server gods are appeased. Have a lovely Valentine’s Day!

Callas in Tosca II

Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca had its world premiere in Rome on 14 January 1900.

Today’s selection is the end of Act II from Covent Garden in 1964: Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, with Carlo Felice Cillario conducting.

From the archives: Maria Callas in Tosca and other music by Puccini.

Maria Callas in La bohème III

I hope that I did not miss something very obvious, but the only Christmas-related music sung by Maria Callas that I came up with is the love duet from Act I of Puccini’s La bohème, which takes place on Christmas Eve.

So, if you will forgive the profane concerns of Rodolfo and Mimì (and the bellowing of Giuseppe di Stefano), here is “O soave fanciulla,” recorded for EMI in 1956 under the direction of Antonino Votto. (You are on your own for Act II, also set on Christmas Eve.)

Hear Maria Callas in other music from La bohème here and in the blog archives. (The archives include Carlo Bergonzi’s performance of “Che gelida manina,” another aria sung on Christmas Eve, and one of my desert-island recordings.)

P.S. Puccini turns 158 153 today! Buon compleanno, maestro!

Callas in Turandot V

Yesterday I posted Callas’s performance of “Signore, ascolta!” from her 1954 Puccini Heroines recital, and today I offer you Liù’s final aria, “Tu che di gel sei cinta.”

Just for fun, let’s compare Callas’s recording with performances by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (from the 1957 EMI Turandot with Callas in the title rôle) and by Renée Fleming (from a 2010 concert).

Is it me, or is the pitch suspect in one or more of these clips?

To my mind, Callas is the most (apparently) “simple” and “spontaneous” of the three. I find that Schwarzkopf sings carefully but beautifully, while Fleming for me is much too much the sophisticate for Liù.

And then there is Caballé!

Hear Maria Callas in other selections from Turandot and other music by Puccini.

Callas in Turandot IV

Today is the birthday of Count Carlo Gozzi, who was born in Venice in 1720. His Turandot is a source for Puccini’s Turandot—though not its immediate source, which seems to be Andrea Maffei’s Italian translation of Friedrich Schiller’s play based on Gozzi.

In the past month I posted three excerpts from Callas’s EMI recording of Turandot, in which she sings the title rôle. Today, instead, from her 1954 EMI Puccini Heroines recital, she performs Liù’s aria “Signore, ascolta!” (The character Liù has no close counterpart in Gozzi, but tant pis.)

Callas’s gentle, restrained way with this aria is most compelling. What do you think of the last note? It’s an honest-to-goodness diminuendo… and Callas’s tone turns wobbly and watery. Besides this EMI recording, Callas never otherwise went near this seconda-donna rôle, though she did teach Liù’s other aria (“Tu che di gel sei cinta”) at Juilliard.

All or nearly all of Zubin Mehta’s great Decca recording of Turandot (with Sutherland, Pavarotti, Caballé, Ghiaurov, and Pears) is available on YouTube: start with Part 1 and follow the links. (Did Pavarotti ever set down anything better than that “Non piangere, Liù”?)

And to repeat myself (sorry): If Peter Gelb really were an effin’ genius, he would let Met audiences hear Luciano Berio’s Turandot finale and also commission a new one from Kaija Saariaho. But instead we get Des McAnuff and Marina Poplavskaya. Yuck.

OT: Madama Butterfly

Puccini staged by Minghella. Photo © Ken Howard.

Puccini staged by Minghella. Photo © Ken Howard.

Over the years (that is: the decades), I have seen exactly three completely satisfying stagings at the Metropolitan Opera: Robert Wilson’s production of Wagner’s Lohengrin, Graham Vick’s staging of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, and Anthony Minghella’s production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

(Lest you think me a churl, I think that three is a lot. Sadly, I did not see Patrice Chéreau’s staging of Janáček’s Z mrtvého domu.)

Anyhow, you can read my review of the Met’s latest Madama Butterfly revival in The Classical Review.

I interviewed Mr. Minghella (who was a lovely and brilliant gentleman) around the time of his production’s Met premiere.

Hear (and, briefly, see) Callas as Madama Butterfly in the archives. Also, don’t miss Armen Ra’s Callas/Butterfly gloss (first clip in the post).

Anna Calvi on Maria Callas

Maria Callas: more than just a tragedy.

Maria Callas: more than just a tragedy.

Anna Calvi, whoever that is… Wait, there’s Wikipedia for us olds: “Anna Calvi is an English musician who plays in the band of the same name.” It seems that we have some favorite composers in common (Gesualdo and Messiaen), so maybe I will check her out.

In any event, in an interview published in The Vine, Ms. Calvi briefly discusses Maria Callas. Her comments on Callas’s singing are not especially insightful—no surprise there, musicians are rarely good with words. But further on, she makes a remark I very much appreciate:

I find when you listen to Maria Callas it’s hard to separate what you know about her life from her actual music.

I don’t know. I don’t really find that at all. She’s more than just a tragedy. She’s a true artist, I think.

No “Vissi d’arte,” no “Sola, perduta, abbandonata.” Instead, Callas in a light-hearted vein: “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, recorded in 1954 with Tullio Serafin conducting.

Maria Callas as Turandot III

Greetings, my venticinque lettori! I hope that all of you in the States had a wonderful Thanksgiving. (Mine was grand.)

Turandot: I have another trip coming up, and I think that Callas’s 1957 EMI recording will come along with me. Why have I not spent more time with this set? Well, for one thing, my favorite Puccini opera (by far) is Fanciulla. And there are so many operas by other composers that I prefer to Turandot. And, yes, Schwarzkopf as Liù is a bitter pill, to say the least.

Still, Callas is wondrous as Turandot. In today’s selection, the riddle scene, listen to her growing panic: she taunts Calaf before he answers the final enigma, but her anxiety is palpable, and we can feel the butterflies in her gut. And the sense of mystery and vulnerability she brings to the first riddle echoes what we heard in her evocation of Lou-Ling’s rape and what we will hear after Calaf’s kiss.

Eugenio Fernandi is Calaf and Giuseppe Nessi is the emperor; Tullio Serafin conducts.

Maria Callas as Turandot II

The finale of Pucccini’s Turandot is problematic, to say the least. I have never had the opportunity to hear in the theatre Alfano’s complete completion or the finale by Luciano Berio. Truth be told, I long for someone to commission a Turandot finale from a woman. (Kaija Saariaho? Why, yes, she would do quite nicely, thank you.)

The EMI Turandot from 1957 is not considered one of Callas’s finest efforts. She recorded it shortly before she set down Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, and that set was withheld until 1960 because of her poor vocal form. The months following these recording sessions would bring two Callas “scandals”—her failure to sing a final Sonnambula at the Edinburgh Festival (for which she may or may not have signed a contract); and the Rome Norma hullabaloo.

Now, all of that said, 1957 also brought some of Callas’s greatest performances: the Cologne Sonnambula, the La Scala Ballo, the Dallas rehearsal and concert, and her EMI Barbiere.

I revisited the finale from the 1957 recording of Turandot expecting to hear middling Callas and was surprised at her fierce and authoritative form. I don’t much care for the Calaf, Eugenio Fernandi, and Turandot needs better sound quality than EMI could deliver half a century ago, but… tutto sommato… wow.

Turandot was only 33 years old (counting from Puccini’s death in 1924) when this recording was made. How about that?

Hear Callas in other music by Puccini here and in the blog archives.

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