Darlings, I am on vacation, and I wish you all Chag Pesach Sameach, Happy Easter, or just “Have a nice day” if you celebrate neither of the above.
I did, however, head uptown to review the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of La traviata for The Classical Review.
Hei-Kyung Hong was a marvelous Violetta, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky was in sensational form.
Back at you soon!
Maria Callas took up Odabella’s aria “O nel fuggente nuvolo” from Verdi’s Attila for a handful of recording sessions in 1964 and 1969.
If the YouTube information is to be believed, this recording is from 1969, possibly with material from 1964 spliced in. (I don’t often revisit Callas’s very late recordings, so I cannot say for sure.) Her sound is raw at certain moments, yet how splendidly she shapes Verdi’s music and makes it into a living, breathing thing.
Consider that Philips recorded a complete Attila with Ruggero Raimondi and Cristina Deutekom a scant four years later. If only Callas had taken part in that project!
I may have more to say later, after lunch and my appointments.
Callas sang Verdi’s Il trovatore on stage for the first time in June 1950, in Mexico City. She had sung excerpts from the opera during her Greek years, and she tried out “D’amor sull’ali rosee” in a Torino concert in early 1950.
Opinions differ on these early “big-career” performances. Callas herself years later found fault with them, saying that she sang “like a wildcat.” Michael Scott (him again) reckons that she was “embarrassed by the recollections that they stirred up,” as they revealed the “vocal fecundity” that in his view she had lost along with her excess weight.
(“Vocal fecundity:” Somehow, with Callas and female artists, it always comes down to the reproductive organs and hysteria [from the Greek ὑστέρα, “uterus”].)
What do you think of this performance? I especially admire the buoyant, juicy trills; I especially dislike the sighs and gasps and, most of all, the way she hangs on to the sovracuto near the end of the aria, destroying Verdi’s musical architecture; and the tempo in the stretta of the duet (with Leonard Warren) is, well, manic. It seems to me, as well, that Callas has a brief memory lapse in the tempo di mezzo bit of the duet.
My darlings, your lovely hostess has been on an opera-going binge. I saw four operas last week, including three in the space of four days. I am knackered and feeling deeply and humbly grateful.
I recused myself from a paid review of Macbeth because I know a member of the company, but I did review it on my Verdi blog. While it is an uneven show, the best parts—the singing of Dimitri Pittas and Günther Groissböck and, above all, the incandescent conducting of Gianandrea Noseda—are very fine indeed. I believe it will be broadcast on 24 March; do tune in if you can.
For The Classical Review, I reviewed New York City Opera’s new production of Mozart and Da Ponte’s Così fan tutte. While I had reservations about specific aspects of the staging (Don Alfonso in a bear costume at the beginning of Act II? WTF?!?), they were unimportant given the go-for-broke singing and acting and the show’s overall theatrical brilliance. It was far and away the most gripping and truly erotic Così I have seen.
Finally, I went twice to Mussorgsky’s Kovanshchina at the Met. The sets are old and shabby, the staging rather static, but Kirill Petrenko’s remarkable conducting, the staggeringly beautiful singing of the Met Chorus (led by Donald Palumbo), and the uniformly superb cast made it one of the greatest musical events I have ever had the good fortune to attend. I would gladly have gone another ten times, and I may write something up about it later this week.
Video snippets of Maria Callas en vacances with Aristotle Onassis, from 1964 according to the Maria Callas Museum.
The Edmonton Journal has a very interesting article about Onassis’s yacht the Christina, which is now on display in London. The article says more or less nothing about Callas, but it does offer fascinating information about the Christina’s previous incarnation:
Built in 1943 at the Canadian Vickers shipyard in Montreal, HMCS Stormont took its name from a former county south of Ottawa.
It served in the famous Murmansk Run convoys, maintaining a supply line to the Soviet Union through treacherous Arctic waters at the height of the Second World War.
The ship also escorted troops and munitions across the North Atlantic and hunted submarines before its participation in “Operation Neptune”—code name for the landing phase during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
During one extended wartime voyage between Gibraltar, Murmansk and Halifax, HMCS Stormont was at sea for 63 straight days—the single longest mission of any Canadian frigate during the 1939-45 conflict.
- Faye Dunaway’s film of Terrence McNally’s Master Class is reportedly in post-production.
- On 17 and 18 March, Great Performers at Lincoln Center will present a three-part series, “Callas on Film.” The Callas Effect (2011) is the first offering, and I think it’s a pretty sorry one. Here’s hoping that the other screenings are more substantial.
- An exhibit is on in Egypt of photographs by Philipe Koudjina, who shot Maria Callas and Pier Paolo Pasolini during their travels in Africa. (The article says that he did so in 1965, but I’m fairly certain it was five or six years later.)
- In a Qobuz interview, Juliette Gréco recalls Callas. “[She] often came to hear me sing and would tape me in concert with a little recorder. She was very kind to me. For me she was the greatest… Today I love Cecilia Bartoli for her joie de vivre. She is an angel blessed with happiness, the opposite of Maria Callas, who was a character from Greek tragedy.” The article includes a photo of Callas and Gréco.
- A new book of interviews with Janine Reiss has been published in France. It includes a chapter on Maria Callas.
- An exhibit is on in Casarsa (Friuli-Venezia Giulia) for the ninetieth anniversary of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s birth: Organizar il trasumanar. Pier Paolo Pasolini cristiano delle origini o gnostico moderno. It includes portraits he made of Callas (one in shown in the article). According to the exhibit’s curator, “With his great sensitivity, Pasolini intuits that Callas will die soon. His passion is for the drama she carries within her.”
Leila’s “Comme autrefois” from Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles seems ill-suited to the voice and temperament of Maria Callas, but she chose it as part of her 1963 EMI recital of French arias along with selections from Manon, La Damnation de Faust, Iphigénie, Faust, and Werther.
John Ardoin remarks on Callas’s “cautious” approach to the aria and the feeling that she is “on the outside of the music looking in.” On the other hand, Janine Reiss, a coach and friend to Callas during her Paris years, was astonished at Callas’s request at an early session: “I would like you to explain to me how the [Pêcheurs] cadenza is constructed, rhythmically and harmonically, because one can sing it well only if one knows how it is written.”
(Incidentally, the Maria Callas International Archive is looking for the French-language version of Medea, which Callas may have made for the film’s gala première at the Paris Opéra. Can anyone help?)
Dacia Maraini, a marvelous writer herself, travelled with Callas and Pasolini to Africa. She believes that Callas fell in love with Pasolini and was convinced that she could “cure” him of his homosexuality. It’s hard to tell whether this is yet another way of portraying Callas as “doomed,” forever unhappy in love, or whether Callas in a first moment may have had feelings for Pasolini but then moved on and accepted him as he was. (Forty years ago is a geological era in terms of understanding of queers and queer culture.)
There are many tributes to Pasolini, some worthy and most not, in the Italian press.