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During her lifetime, some in the French press called her “la Callas du music‑hall” because of her beauty, talent, chameleon-like transformations, and personal unhappiness.
I share one of her greatest performances here.
Nanni Ricordi, a direct descendent of Giovanni Ricordi, the founder of Casa Ricordi, died on 15 January at the age of 79.
He founded Dischi Ricordi S.p.A., for which Maria Callas made her studio recording of Cherubini’s Medea in 1957.
Nanni Ricordi was known primarily as “the father of singer-songwriters.” Ennio Morricone wrote of him in Ti ricordi Nanni? L’uomo che inventò i cantautori:
Everyone knew that Nanni discovered talent. But few people know that he envisioned a revolution in Italian song. He invented singer-songwriters. He rethought melodies and poetic texts, opening the way for that freedom (in lyrics most of all) that utterly transcended the routine into which Italian song, with rare exceptions, had fallen.
From Act I of the 1957 Ricordi Medea, Maria Callas and Mirto Picchi perform the brief scene “Taci, Giasone.” Tullio Serafin conducts.
I posted an excerpt from Beethoven’s “Ah, perfido!” (1796) last year. Today’s selection is the complete EMI recording from late 1963 and early 1964. Nicola Rescigno leads the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire.
Though Callas’s voice is not at its surest here, this “Ah, perfido!” is one of my great favorites among her recordings. I find that the combination of severity and fire in the music of Cherubini, Beethoven, Spontini, and Berlioz (who modelled himself on the older composers) suited her exceptionally well.
What a pity that she never revisited Fidelio after 1945!
Here is a snippet from a rehearsal recording of “Ah, perfido!” supposedly made in 1976, about a year before Callas died. Again, if the date is accurate, then it may be true that Callas never really lost her voice, only her nerve. And here is her Juilliard master class on Beethoven’s concert aria.
P.S. This post comes to you by the miracle of auto-scheduling. I’ll respond to comments and such on Monday.
Ponder this: between 19 January and 20 March 1956, the Milanese had seventeen chances to see and hear Verdi’s La traviata staged by Luchino Visconti and starring Maria Callas.
Remember that nauseous old song “Born too late”? Yes.
In any event, today’s selection is a generous chunk from the second scene of Act III, the party at Flora’s house. The La Scala audience goes berserk after Gianni Raimondi sings “Ogni suo aver tal femmina,” and Giulini leads a brisk, tense, and (for lack of a better word) “peppery” account of the score. (If it were Riccardo Muti instead of Giulini, idiots would be demanding his head. Hélas.)
At least one of the still images is in fact from the 1991 Muti/Cavani Traviata starring Tiziana Fabbricini and a very young Rototo. I have been revisiting it lately, and it is remarkable.
Speaking of Rototo, I reviewed the Met’s latest Tosca revival, and there is a link to my review over at my other blog. (Yes, I am very “blogged out” and daydream a lot about the old Club Med, which didn’t have Internet access.)
Hear Maria Callas in other music by Verdi.
Today’s selection is one of Callas’s lesser-known commercial recordings: Donna Anna’s “Or sai chi l’onore” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. She recorded it in Paris in December 1963 and January 1964 with the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire under the direction of Nicola Rescigno.
As John Ardoin observes, Callas was in uneven voice at these sessions (the oscillation of her highest notes indeed tries my patience), but she sang “with great strength of purpose.” Indeed, listening to this recording for the first time in a long while, I was struck by its grandeur and fury, and by how tame the aria can sound sung by other sopranos. Also of interest: the rather deliberate tempo adopted by Callas and Rescigno. (Ardoin: “[I]t is paced as an andante rather than the rushed allegro often heard.”)
P.S. My new non-Callas, non-Verdi blog is live: http://www.mondo-marion.com/blog.
I do apologize for the blog’s downtime: it seems there was a nasty server crash. Well, phew! I am grateful to the computer deities for the (apparently) full restoration.
(By the way, I am working on a new blog so that I need no longer try your patience with off-topic posts here. Details to follow.)
The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera: I reviewed it for The Classical Review. I found the writing difficult, what with a world premiere, a cast of thousands (on stage and in the production team), a pastiche, an original libretto that mucks about with its sources, etc.
In any event, I did compare Joyce DiDonato to Maria Callas in terms of overall musical and dramatic excellence. I think that this may be a first for me: I have raised Callas’s name in the past in connection with specific aspects of an artist’s performance, but never in a sweeping way.
This time I did make a sweeping comparison, and I made it advisedly. This is what I actually wrote. (My editor rightly edited it—again, I found this assignment very challenging.)
A comparison to Maria Callas is not to be made lightly—not least because poor Callas has been invoked so often to praise sloppy, unmusical singers—but the unsparing ferocity with which DiDonato digs into her music and probes beauties both ravishing and terrible deserves no less illustrious a parallel.
Now, that said, I am not at all inclined to see The Enchanted Island a second time. I saw Rodelinda twice and would have gone a third time if my agenda had allowed (ditto for Hansel and Gretel), but the cheap and silly bits of The Enchanted Island spoiled the show for me.
(The great Martin Bernheimer relayed Peter Gelb’s statement that he “wanted to play the Baroque card, but with a faster dramatic rhythm tailored to modern attention spans.” Dear Mr. Gelb: you and your team would have done well to respect your material and, most of all, the intelligence of your audience. Then The Enchanted Island might have been a show for the ages.)
May 2012 bring you and yours all blessings of health, abundance, serenity, success, and love. Καλή χρονιά! And if you don’t mind something tacky (but wonderful), listen to this.
(The musical selection here has been posted before:
the brindisi from the 1953 Cetra Traviata with Francesco Albanese as Alfredo and Gabriele Santini conducting. Thank you to a perceptive reader for pointing out my error: this is Callas and Alfredo Kraus in the 1958 Lisbon Traviata. I had intended to post the Cetra version but copied the wrong code. My mistake!)
In these days leading up to the turn of the year, the mind turns to drinking, right? (I myself don’t imbibe, but I do my best to be a festive and inclusive hostess.)
It’s time then for drinking songs—in this case, a drinking song gone terribly wrong, from Act II of Verdi’s Macbeth. You know the situation: Lady Macbeth sings a brindisi. Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost and begins to rave. Lady Macbeth resumes her song, drained of merriment, and the revenant once again visits her terrorized husband.
There is little to add about the white-hot performance of Macbeth from which today’s excerpt is taken. It opened the 1952-53 season at La Scala; Callas’s Macbeth (Enzo Mascherini) and maestro (Victor de Sabata) are in inspired form; and she shows us once and for all why it is a mistake to cast as Lady Macbeth PEOPLE WHO CANNOT SING. (I’m not going to name names, but I have in mind past and future interpreters of the rôle at the Metropolitan Opera. ’Nuff said.)
Yes, I know what Verdi wrote, that in Macbeth “some passages must not even be sung, but acted and declaimed in a veiled, dark voice.” It was hyperbole, intended to draw searching and alert performances from prima donnas. It was not a blanket authorization for shrieking and caterwauling.