Author Topic: Maria Callas  (Read 106095 times)

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Offline knight66

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Maria Callas
« on: May 08, 2007, 06:16:02 AM »
30 years dead and like a rock hurled into a pool, the ripples of her way of doing things still vibrate.

Some adore her in much the way Diana was adulated. Some are allergic to her voice. Some whilst getting a lot out of her singing are not deaf to the defects.

EMI have just issued a disc of Verdi Heroines sung by Callas. It is in the Great Recordings series. It seems that three Verdi discs were planned. Two met with Callas's exacting standards, the third languished and was issued a bit at a time, presumably as EMI wore Callas down and the ultimately vetoed tracks were released by EMI shortly after her death.....that is how they respected one of their best cash cows.

Here, instead of the entire initial and earlest Verdi disc, we have bits of it, bits of the second and one track from the third. I do miss having those arias from Nabucco. But I am not clear what I would throw overboard from this very full disc.

Even the earliest, 1958, shows all the stresses, the tone under pressure, the heavy beat on high sustained notes, frequently ugly tone. But the dividends are just so potent, much too valuable to be ignored.

Callas was my introduction to Lady Macbeth's arias and no one else has come near. Caballe produced a wonderful Sleepwalking scene, that EMI butchered on reissue and we are only left with the main part of the scene. Clearly, it is so much more of a beautiful voice and she does dig into the words....but as so often, Callas projects words and imprints them onto your brain. There is an intensity other singers rarely achieve. The ripples from that one recording must have given most subsequent singers real pause for thought. How to do it as well, do it differently?

We get the famous aria from Ernani, Leontine Price sounds more refulgent, but Callas differentiates between the detestation of her husband-to-be and completely alters tone for her fantasies about escaping with her lover. It is a rounded portrait.

In the main aria of Elisabetta from Act 4 of Don Carlo, she lays the landscape out of this woman's dilemma, her unhappiness. Desdemona finds her touching and doomladen. Then we have the contrast of a rare aria from Aroldo, she runs the gamut here, anger, grief etc. It all comes to life and her voice is possibly at its very best here, it is a demanding piece.

Back to Don Carlo for O don Fatale.....'if only' comes to mind, she could have had a much extended career as a compelling mezzo, but this did not seem to interest her. Perhaps she saw it as second best. Not many sopranos would have relished singing Aida against her possible Amneris I suspect. She gives it a really intense reading.

The conductor is Rescigno, I feel he is a valuable collaborator, all support is dramatic or stealthy or tender as needed.

To end we have what the notes to the disc claim was an almost impromptu Ritorna vincitor, done at one of her final serious sessions in 1964 to show that the just recorded Crespin was not up to the challenge. Was she perhaps convincing herself at least as much as her colleagues? It sounds like a challenge, she meets it and we, almost at the end receive a sudden piece of her very greatest work.

The ripples still go on.

Mike



« Last Edit: May 08, 2007, 08:26:10 AM by knight »
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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2007, 07:05:32 AM »
30 years dead and like a rock hurled into a pool, the ripples of her way of doing things still vibrate.

Some adore her in much the way Diana was adulated. Some are allergic to her voice. Some whilst getting a lot out of her singing are not deaf to the defects.

EMI have just issued a disc of Verdi Heroines sung by Callas. It is in the Great Recordings series. It seems that three Verdi discs were planned. Two met with Callas's exacting standards, the third languished and was issued a bit at a time, presumably as EMI wore Callas down and the ultimately vetoed tracks were released by EMI shortly after her death.....that is how they respected one of their best cash cows.

Here, instead of the entire initial and earlest Verdi disc, we have bits of it, bits of the second and one track from the third. I do miss having those arias from Nabucco. But I am not clear what I would throw overboard from this very full disc.

Even the earliest, 1958 show all the stresses, the tone under pressure, the heavy beat on high sustained notes, frequently ugly tone. But the dividends are just so potent, much too valuable to be ignored.

Callas was my introduction to Lady Macbeth's arias and no one else has come near. Caballe produced a wonderful Sleepwalking scene, that EMI butchered on reissue and we are only left with the main part of the scene. Clearly, it is so much more of a beautiful voice and she does dig into the words....but as so often, Callas projects words and imprints them onto your brain. There is an intensity other singers rarely achieve. The ripples from that one recording must have given most subsequent singers real pause for thought. How to do it as well, do it differently?

We get the famous aria from Ernani, Leontine Price sounds more refulgent, but Callas differentiates between the detestation of her husband-to-be and completely alters tone for her fantasies about escaping with her lover. It is a rounded portrait.

In the main aria of Elisabetta from Act 4 of Don Carlo, she lays the landscape out of this woman's dilemma, her unhappiness. Desdemona finds her touching and doomladen. Then we have the contrast of a rare aria from Aroldo, she runs the gamut here, anger, grief etc. It all comes to life and her voice is possibly at its very best here, it is a demanding piece.

Back to Don Carlo for O don Fatale.....'if only' comes to mind, she could have had a much extended career as a compelling mezzo, but this did not seem to interest her. Perhaps she saw it as second best. Not many sopranos would have relished singing Aida against her possible Amneris I suspect. She gives it a really intense reading.

The conductor is Rescigno, I feel he is a valuable collaborator, all support is dramatic or stealthy or tender as needed.

To end we have what the notes to the disc claim was an almost impromptu Ritorna vincitor, done at one of her final serious sessions in 1964 to show that the just recorded Crespin was not up to the challenge. Was she perhaps convincing herself at least as much as her colleagues? It sounds like a challenge, she meets it and we, almost at the end receive a sudden piece of her very greatest work.

The ripples still go on.

Mike





Well said, mon vieux. I've enjoyed collecting her numerous recordings on EMI Classics, feauturing such legendary roles as Carmen and Aida- just a magnificent voice.

Offline Maciek

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2007, 07:06:50 AM »
Thanks, Mike, for the beautiful post. About time we had a Callas thread here! ;D

Quite recently I heard Callas singing some Mozart and was shocked - I expected something dreadfully exaggerated but what I got was really lovely and very much ahead of its time - no fireworks, a very plain, modest way of singing, it really showed how thoughtful a singer she was and how much style she had!

Maciek

Michel

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2007, 07:18:47 AM »
Can someone list the things that make Callas unique/controversial/special etc. etc

I know nothing about her but want to learn.

Sean

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2007, 08:55:34 AM »
Incredible singer, power and venom like nobody in the history of singing: began with Isolde and Brunhilde and took the blood and guts over to bel canto.

I had one of her Normas with Serafin though and the intensity I thought was perhaps too much for more than one listen- she was well manic.

Listening to her approach to climactic moments you feel at first she's never going to carry this off, but then she does, with shocking finality and crunch.

Offline knight66

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2007, 09:05:36 AM »
Norma is a good example of what she did. She sang it more than she sang any other role. It is often referred to as a killer role; as it is simply very heavy on the voice. It is difficult to explain properly without you listening to her. Also, if you don't know the music at all, then hearing her sing Norma you may well feel, well, so what!

With that piece she moved it from being usually done as an almost oratorio, severely classical in feel, to a red of tooth and claw drama. However, in doing this she really used the music rather than damaged it and her phrasing is extremely intelligent and above all musical. She had the skill of making you think it was all coming new minted out of her mouth, rather than learned by rote and coloured here and there.

She inhabited the roles rather than 'taking' them on. Of course there were great singers before her and if you were to hear Claudia Muzio you would be surprised to hear so much of the Callas colouring....but pre-Callas. Her career was short and that was possibly in part because of the risks she took in pushing her voice, but then, if she had played safe, we would not be discussing her.

Now where is Translondon...he is the expert here.

Mike
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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #6 on: May 08, 2007, 09:28:30 AM »
Can't add too much to that knight.

Indeed Callas's perhaps most interesting when compared with what others do... She meant it as few others a have done (or could do in today's cynical rubbish culture).

Must find out more about Claudia Muzio, I wonder if there's anything on YouTube.

And the incomparable Eva Turner? Have you heard her Turandot?????!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2007, 10:41:02 PM »
On local TV recently was "Callas Forever" a pale imitation of the film's namesake, a factory reject that should have been thrown out by Zeffirelli, a long time friend of hers, who should have known better.  After their separation, Callas' husband, Meneghini was approached by many singers who begged him to promote their careers as well. His deft handling of the business end was certainly a major factor in getting his wife to the top. He had a right not only to be angry for being jilted but also not being fully appreciated for the role he played in those crucial early years. But to those aspiring young people he always had an answer. He could not turn them into Callases, they had to BE Callas.

After her departure from the stage, there were a few wannabes like Sylvia Sass who took some lessons with Callas and tried to emulate her deep lower register. But it is not one quality or two that made such a great singer, nor even a few. What they lacked (and her equal is yet to come) is the intensity of expression that she engaged her not just her voice into but her whole being.

A critic wrote in Iphigenia in La Scala right after she shed all those pounds, that she had the aura of Martha Graham while she lay on the pallet. This analogy is very close to the truth as her counterpart in dance also had that uncompromising, total commitment to art. Few film clips but more photographs capture the laserbeam intensity of her eyes (this was REALLY absent in the abovementioned film) that went all the way down to her fingernails. Who can forget her face turning into a viper's when she gets to "ma!" in the Una Voce? I really wish there were more to see and learn from. Even her sudden glare at Di Stephano in the Cavalleria duet in Tokyo was worth the price of admission.

One might ask what has all this to do with opera and singing, for that matter? And quite a few over the years asked the same question. It's the age old dilemma of words and music or words vs. music. Does the music itself have the power to convey the expression and do we need all that other baggage? This discussion is all the more pertinent in Callas' case because in the end she sacrificed her voice for dramatic expression. Other singers who kept their voices much longer like Tebaldi and Sutherland expressed the drama through the music. To lose one's voice in the alleged service of music is more an argument for the other side, how not to sing.

The solution to this dilemma may reside in the technique employed. An example would be Caballe's "O Patria Mia". It was a revelation to hear a soprano not blast out the high C for once. She wrung just as much expression from it, and maybe even more since it sounded like a very high sigh of longing. Here's is where we come to the limits of the voice, where more is less and less is even more. Singing after all, is ART and art is not life but an imitation of it.

Though others have expressed their dislike for Stassinopoulos' biography of Callas, she does make a convincing argument as much as Callas found a refuge in art, she also neglected to the same degree her own real emotional life. She actually was never able to bridge the ever increasing gap between these worlds and in the end, it was her sad nemesis.

ZB

« Last Edit: May 08, 2007, 10:43:18 PM by zamyrabyrd »
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Offline knight66

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2007, 11:33:28 PM »
Here is a photo that conveys something of what ZB explains....Medea


Another in complete contrast, Traviata.


As ZB indicates, it seems she was fulfilling on stage an inner life that was lacking off-stage and so she invested so very heavily into the characters.

However, as well as the use of words, she would make the music itself an expressive vehicle, it was no longer a background to the words, it was not there for foot tapping reasons. She would add to the meaning of what she was singing through the florid passages in a way hardly any other singers managed.

Unfortunately, she did ruin her voice, partly that may have been through psychological reasons. Clearly an insecure person, her voice became increasingly fallible, that fallibility probably deepened by her unstable emotional state.

Other singers have given us a lot, but in terms of expressing the music and the words and projecting character and understanding of the characters, I cannot think of a comparable singer and that ability has become a sort of siren sound through which a number of singers wrecked themselves in their attempt in emulation...Suliotis is another who was hailed as her successor, a handful of recordings and a brief career, she retired with a ruined voice.

Mike
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Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #9 on: May 08, 2007, 11:41:43 PM »
Of course there were great singers before her and if you were to hear Claudia Muzio you would be surprised to hear so much of the Callas colouring....but pre-Callas. Her career was short and that was possibly in part because of the risks she took in pushing her voice, but then, if she had played safe, we would not be discussing her.

It's difficult if not impossible to assess any influence Muzio had on Callas, certainly not live, since she died in 1936 being a doyenne of the Chicago Opera from 1922 to 1932. (I'm taking this from my Prima Voce CD of Muzio.)

So maybe Maria heard recordings of hers, but that's not really enough. Di Hidalgo, her teacher, was a good maybe even great singer but I never found any recordings of hers. One doesn't read that she was an exceptionally dramatic performer. The person who influenced Callas the most, musically and perhaps even dramatically was Serafin. And he came just at the right time in her development. Later on Zeffirelli directed her but she was already possessed of her gifts. Maybe a similarity can be drawn to Mary Garden, another great actress of an earlier time, maybe even better than as a singer. (Some of her recordings do remain.) These women seem to have been sprung from the head of Zeus without real or virtual contact with one another.

ZB
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Offline knight66

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #10 on: May 08, 2007, 11:55:45 PM »
Well, re Muzio, I had the same kind of double-take hearing her as I did on hearing Berlioz orchestration and colours in Mehul, the teacher of Berlioz. There are some effects that I would find it difficult to believe were coincidence. I don't think Callas was likely to divulge or admit to much influence from other singers. Being mentored by Serafin was a different issue and would not impinge on her reputation as an original.

Rather as with Berlioz, who took what he heard and turned it into something much greater; Callas may well have heard Muzio, but incorporated the approach and developed it onto a much more intense level.

Mike
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Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #11 on: May 09, 2007, 02:35:11 PM »
Wow, Mike, those pictures were right on. Those eyes and mouth are reminiscent of the famous pix of her still in the Butterfly costume getting the subpoena after the opera, I think it was Chicago. And just look at those hands in both the shots, splayed back and open in the first with thumbs up. (I just tried it. It's not easy.) And the second is a virtual poem with fingers pointing upwards like a plant. Extraordinary.

Where she got all that body awareness is a wonder. Incredible intuition. Zeffirelli mentioned that she did the disappearing act in Sonnambula by holding her breath and letting it go all at once or something like that. And then there is the story of Jon Vickers finding her beating the ground with a stick in the rehearsal for Medea without her prior knowledge that the ancient Greeks called on the gods that way.

And on and on. And WHO would have been able to stand her implacable anger in Tosca? I don't remember who said it but she could have killed Scarpia with that alone, as amply illustrated in the first picture.

ZB
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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2007, 04:47:06 PM »
I've been an adoring fan of hers in my early years, but as I developed a taste in voices I got more critical. What remains is some instances of extraordinary vocalism, and huge amounts of unexcelled vocal acting. Even in her later years she could transfix one with her dramatic abilities. The EMI french recitals (esp. the first one) are a case in point. The arias by Chimène, Iphigénie, Orphée, Berlioz' Marguerite, Alceste find her in raw, unglamorous voice, but she commands attention from first note to last. Among her really glorious pieces of singing, one must mention the Turandot aria In Questa reggia (from the recital, not the complete opera), the Rossini Armide aria, the Wally aria and certainly a few others. One that she's often had BIG troubles with is the Addio del passato from Traviata's last act. She frequently cracked the last, pianissimo high note. Not necessarily a disaster, given the context.

Membran has issued a 13 disc set of her pre-1956 discs. It's still in wrappings on my shelves.

Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2007, 09:23:21 PM »
The arias by Chimène, Iphigénie, Orphée, Berlioz' Marguerite, Alceste find her in raw, unglamorous voice, but she commands attention from first note to last. Among her really glorious pieces of singing, one must mention the Turandot aria In Questa reggia (from the recital, not the complete opera), the Rossini Armide aria, the Wally aria and certainly a few others...Membran has issued a 13 disc set of her pre-1956 discs. It's still in wrappings on my shelves.

I would just as much have Christmas presents by now still wrapped!!
Her "Wally" aria is in a class by itself.

ZB
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Offline val

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #14 on: May 09, 2007, 11:31:51 PM »
Rearding complete operas, and not only arias or excerpts, I believe that the greatest moments of Callas were:

BELLINI: Norma, with Del Monaco, Simionato and Votto live in the Scala (but the sound is bad).

DONIZETTI: Lucia de Lammermoor, with Tagliavini and Serafin or with Di Stefano and Karajan (1955).

ROSSINI: Il Barbiere di Seviglia with Gobbi and Galliera.

VERDI: Macbeth with the fabulous Vitor de Sabata, Traviata with Bastianini (and in spite of Giulini), Un Ballo in Maschera with Gobbi and Votto.

PUCCINI: Tosca with Gobbi and Sabata and Madame Butterfly with Karajan (La Scala).

And, for those who like this opera, Medea, with Barbieri and Bernstein.

The version of Puccini's Turandot is remarkable but only because of Callas.

Offline Tsaraslondon

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #15 on: May 12, 2007, 05:45:38 AM »
Rather belatedly, I contribute to this topic on my favourite singer of all times. It was Callas's voice, which introduced me to Italian opera. I heard her first on some reissued 78s (the Mad Scene from I Puritani, still one of her greatest recordings) and from then on, I just got my hands on anything I could. It wasn't that easy back in the early 1970s as EMI (it seems unbelievable now) had deleted nearly all the Callas catalogue, and I had to build up my collection slowly, by resorting to second hand shops and imports. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing, both for my student purse, and because it allowed me to get to know one work or recital disc, before acquiring another. Well meaning people tried to introduce me to other singers, but it was no good, I just didn't like the sound of those "more beautiful" voices. For me there was more truth in a single note from Callas, than all those other singers put together. Of course, older now, I have come to love and appreciate many other singers, but Callas remains my favourite, outside the mainstream, and to one side of it. I have all her commercial discs, and most of the live performances, since committed to disc. I have also seen every bit of film I can get my hands on, and have read, I think, every book about her published in English. Of these I would recommend John Ardoin's The Callas Legacy and Callas at Julliard, and Michael Scott's Maria Meneghini Callas, which comes closest to a true assessment of her art, without too much emphasis on the scandals and myths which surround her life.
Listening to Callas is never an easy experience. Unlike many other singers, you can't listen with only half an ear, while you get on with something else. She demands attention. And to really get her, you do have to listen to her in a complete role, libretto in hand. Then and only then will you understand her incredible musicality and dramatic insight. Unfortunately her recorded legacy is not really representative of her actual stage career. Walter Legge recorded her in many roles she had either given up (Turandot, Aida, Cavelleria Rusticana) or had never never sung at all (La Boheme, Manon Lescaut, Pagliacci,), but refused to record her in roles she wanted to do (Macbeth, Anna Bolena, Il Pirata, Armida, Alceste). He also refused to record her in one of her greatest successes Medea, which was eventually recorded by Ricordi. So to hear Callas at her greatest, you often have to go to the live recordings, and listen through decidedly lo-fi sound. Of those, absolute musts are Norma (La Scala, 1955), Lucia de Lammermoor (Berlin, 1955), Anna Bolena (La Scala, 1957), La Sonnambula (La Scala, 1955 and Cologne, 1957), Medea (Dallas, 1958), La Traviata, (Covent Garden, 1958) and Un Ballo in Maschera (La Scala, 1957).
John Steane has written somewhere that when we return to Callas recordings which we have in our mind's ear, it is often to find how economically she achieves her effects. This is because she does so from within the music. The drama is all in the voice, and the way she colours it. She does not add extraneous sobs and gulps, the way so many other singers do, in order to make a dramatic effect. It is also a complete misnomer, that the voice was intrinsically an ugly one. Sure, she could make ugly sounds, sometimes on purpose, though often not, but she could also sing with great beauty of tone. In the closing scene of Anna Bolena, the cavatina is sung with a perfect legato and a melting beauty of tone, the voice perfectly focused. In fact, how often, in this opera, are we made aware of the clear focus of the voice, and the cleanliness of attack on certain phrases, especially in contrast to the vaguer focus of Simionato and Rossi-Lemeni, great singers though they were.
Admittedly from the late 1950s onwards, the voice began to deteriorate sharply. Whole tomes have been written as to the causes, with almost everyone putting forward a different theory, and I suppose we will never know the true reason for this. However her musical intentions are never in doubt, and even some of those late recordings can reap dividends. I confess there are times that even I find them uncomfortable listening, yet there are others when I hardly notice the defects, so unerringly she seems to capture the mood and feel of a piece.
As Andrew Porter wrote, when reviewing the second studio Norma:
There are people who have a kind of tone deafness to the timbres of Callas' present voice, who don't respond to one of the most affecting and eloquent of all sounds. They will stick to the earlier set. But I know that it is the new one which I shall be listening to again and again, not unaware of, not even unflinching from, its faults, but still more keenly responsive to its beauties.
I suppose I feel the same way about her whole oeuvre.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2007, 12:19:55 AM by Tsaraslondon »
\"A beautiful voice is not enough.\" Maria Callas

Offline 71 dB

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #16 on: May 12, 2007, 06:02:15 AM »
Callas is one of those artists who lived too early. Her heavenly voice is distroyed but stone aged recording technology. I wish she lived in the digital era. I probably never buy any opera's by her because they are just too old for me. Pitty.
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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #17 on: May 12, 2007, 06:21:56 AM »
Great post Tsaras, I particularly look forward to hearing Callas in I puritani.

Offline Tsaraslondon

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #18 on: May 12, 2007, 06:26:12 AM »
Callas is one of those artists who lived too early. Her heavenly voice is distroyed but stone aged recording technology. I wish she lived in the digital era. I probably never buy any opera's by her because they are just too old for me. Pitty.

I used to feel the same way about 78s. Thank God I read John Steane's book The Grand Tradition. His enthusiasm led me to explore some great voices, and  I discovered the amazing art of such singers as Rosa Ponselle, Caruso, Frida Leider, Claudai Muzio, Lotte Lehmann...I could go on. I wouldn't want to listen exclusively to 78s, but I'm glad I found them. And really the sound on many of Callas's records is still pretty good. The 1953 Tosca is pretty incredible still and, in fact, more naturally recorded than many of its stereo and digital successors.
\"A beautiful voice is not enough.\" Maria Callas

Offline Tsaraslondon

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Re: Maria Callas
« Reply #19 on: May 12, 2007, 06:46:17 AM »
I fogot to add another point in my previous post. It has often been stated that Callas's fame rested on her undoubted stage presence and dramatic gifts, and though this is no doubt partly true, it doesn't explain her continuing popularity, or why her records should sell in such huge numbers. There have been plenty of other great singer/actors, whose recorded legacy is relatively slight. I can think of Teresa Stratas and Josephine Barstow, both of whom are tremendous on stage, but whose voices convey very little of that presence on record. This is where Callas is different. Her presence and personality fairly burst through the speakers. She creates drama for the mind's theatre, as surely as if she were standing there before us. With Callas, I no longer listen to the singer, but to the story and character she is unfolding. An example of the differences would be to listen to her performance of say O patria mia, from Aida, alongside Caballe's. Now this is an aria which never worked well for Callas. Caballe here is divine, the top C spun out in a pure pianissimo, which is literally breathtaking. I am astonished and captivated, but I am no longer listening to the opera, I am listening to Caballe. In the Callas version , the note is somewhat earthbound and effortful to say the least, but it becomes as nothing, so wistfully has she longed for her homeland in the previos measures. Indeed I can't hear the words o cielei azzuri, without hearing Callas's peculiarly yearning tone. Someone once said of Callas to John Steane, "Of course you had to see her", to which he replied "Ah, but I can, and I do!"
\"A beautiful voice is not enough.\" Maria Callas

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