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.)
In 1961, Maria Callas set down for EMI an exceedingly ambitious program of French arias that ranged from Gluck’s Orphée (as reworked by Berlioz, yes?) to Massenet’s Le Cid, comprising both coloratura showpieces and arias for mezzo-soprano and contralto.
My own favorite of the lot, “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila, was not even released during Callas’s lifetime because of her evident difficulties in supporting the aria’s lowest phrases. Nonetheless, to me it is a performance of matchless, silken allure. You can hear Dalila’s three arias in the blog archives.
Today’s selection is Philine’s “Je suis Titania” from Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon (1866). As far as I know, Callas sang this aria only three times: twice in 1951 (in Italian) and for the 1961 EMI sessions.
Michael Scott in Maria Meneghini Callas offered a memorable critique of this performance: “As we hear in her EMI recording of the Mignon polonaise, the perfection of her coloratura remains, like the Chesire Cat’s smile, when the voice itself has practically disappeared.”
What do you think of Scott’s evaluation? Many find his book praiseworthy, but I struggle with it because of the author’s sometimes vicious tone (“Up close, after a performance, all I could remember is how much acne and dandruff her Violetta had.”), and also because on page after page (after page!) he pounds home the same basic point: that Callas lost her voice along with her weight.
He also yammers on about the great “responsiveness” of her voice, as if her musicianship were somehow not the fruit of active intelligence and dogged hard work but nothing more than a reaction. (Google Books tells me that Scott uses “responsive” and “responsiveness” only about two dozen times, but that seems on the low side to me.)
Re-vision—the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction—is for [women] more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. —Adrienne Rich