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Happy Birthday Maria Meneghini Callas

Today* would have been the 90th birthday of the quintessential prima donna. The cher public are invited to comment, reminisce, and generally reflect on the artistry of this magnificent soprano.

* Yes, La Cieca realizes that the traditional date chez parterre for celebrating this birthday is December 3, but we’ll have another (perhaps) noteworthy anniversary to recall tomorrow.

525 comments

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Amazon has some copies of the heavily illustrated Wisneski Callas book for as low as $1.19 (Savoring the memories of the New York City of Bagel Nosh, Chock-full-o-nuts and Doubleday book stores; it was such fun finding many of the Callas books on tables of discontinued books, including the Wisneski and the Fitzgerald). Here is a different view of Callas

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Interesting bed and breakfast:

  • Niel Rishoi says:

    My all-time favorite Callas recording is the 1958 “Col sorriso d’innocenza” -- at 7:00 -- from Bellini’s IL PIRATA. I would summarize this as the ideal illustration of legato singing. The line, breath and phrasing are perfectly judged -- it is flexible, rhythmically elastic and buoyant. The veiled coloration has never been better employed, and it gives the piece a haunting, ethereal beauty. She IS the line: there’s no self-conscious play at rubato -- meaning she doesn’t tug it out of shape -- and the dynamic effects are organically deployed; on the notes where there are accent marks they are exquisitely “eased” into, and tapered off from.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    That clip on Callas’ jewelry was fun. It makes me think that the Met maybe has some costumes she wore in her performances. Will they ever exhibit them in those display windows at the Parterre and Dress Circle levels? That would be wonderful.

    Anyway, there is more of Maria recorded than what has been posted here in this thread, of course, much, much more. So nobody should be surprised if something fabulous was missing. Still, I am surprised no one has posted La Wally.

    • Feldmarschallin says:

      Some of the jewellery was her own real very expensive jewellery and some were costume jewellery which she might have also ordered herself since in those days divas still had their own costumes and props.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    Luchino Visconti says in the French interview Lurker posted that he was inspired by Callas to film the Trovatore scene in Senso. That is the only film he made of opera, as he hated opera on film, and it is in some people’s opinion (moi aussi) the greatest film of an opera scene.

    I have told this story before. I saw Callas only once. April 15, 1974 at Carnegie Hall. I could have seen her in other occasions with some effort, but as MMII said, life is wated on the young (MMII, you took that from either Wilde or Shaw). One of those concerts when her voice was a wreck but, as Ardoin comments making a simile with the Last Supper of Da Vinci, a wreck but the most beautiful painting. I remember at the end of the programmed concert I walked to the front of the auditorium and was about three or four meters from Callas when she sang as encore the little aria from Manon,

    This clip is from nine years previous (its sync is not too good). Since then she had done the movie Medea. It was an incredible experience. It could have worked without sound. The big lips, the large eyes. Every gesture, every movement. Garbo, Gloria, eat your hearts out, I thought. But the sounds. Even if the voice was not what it was twenty years previous, I don’t know what it was, it was perfect. As someone commented, The vibrations of her voice have some particular harmonics that make the sound unique. Even now, if I could relive only one operatic experience in my life, I would go back to that. It was the most fabulous I have ever had, and I have had many.

    After the concert I went backstage, of course. We were in line to talk to Callas. At one point they told us to put the pens away since she was tired and was not going to sign autographs. My turn came. I think she liked me as she gave me a smile. In the previous three or four years I had collected many of her recordings. There she was the La Scala Traviata, the Paris Norma, the Edinburgh Sonnambula, the Berlin Lucia, none other. I could only shake her hand, a frail hand that I should have kissed, but I was afraid to even shake hard, and I only said, “Wonderful”. And as those things are, I moved away.

    • Camille says:

      A wonderful story and worth repeating another hundred times for all the love it shows.

      I am happy that at least a few of us have had the actual live experience of this great artist as great art is experienced live and in the moment. Recordings and photos and transmissions and now the advent of the HDs and the webcasts—they are a great boon and bounty—but there is nothing like being in the presence of the bleeding, loving, and palpitating large heart of great art. What do we all submit to and put up with for those few moments? A lifetime of denial and perseverance.

      I am happy you had your moment Valkyrietta and I wish everyone such a one.

      • Clita del Toro says:

        The same thing happened to me after one of those concerts (Portland OR) except that when it was my turn to get her autograph, she said, no more. I was furious!!!! She did give me a pre-signed photograph.
        I ran outside later on and saw her sitting in a limo on a side street. I said something to her, but she was totally unresponsive, so I left. It was a most depressing evening.

        • Camille says:

          Ewww, that’s cold, CdelToro. I had a bad experience with two dear singers but not that bad. A couple were surprisingly nice, however, and chatty in a most engaging manner.

          But—I am sorry that it was a bummer as you had seen her in her prime years before and remembered her in a good way, and then you had that rude slap in the face. That’s the way love sometimes is: rude.

          Sorry—cammieleastest

          • Clita del Toro says:

            Cammie: Love can be a moment’s madness, love can be a lie……

            • Camille says:

              love can be a pain in the ass!!!! It ain’t worth it, but still we do it, anyway, because it is our nature, our biology, our destiny, and because we drink too many vodka collins.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              What is a Vodka Collins? Really!!! You do know that Joan drinks only
              Vermouth Cassis!

        • La Valkyrietta says:

          Clita,

          That sounds frustrating. I have been lucky with most opera singers and now that there are digital cameras, I can take pictures. The last time Caballé was at the Met store I had people take pictures and all, same with Dima. But in the sixties I was frustrated not being able to get Mary Martin’s autograph the times I saw Sound of Music, she would always sneak out the wrong door and have a car already running. Same with Vivien Leigh in Tovarich, she disappeared after every performance. I did get Carol Burnett’s autograph after Once Upon a Mattress, and that was funny because she was in a hurry and said she would sign if we hailed her a cab, so while she was signing two programs, I hailed a cab for her :) .

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            I don’t generally try to get autographs or any kind of encounters with opera singers, although I have made exceptions over the years for Sutherland, Gwyneth Jones and Fleming. However, c.1994 I went to see a Jessye Norman recital, and after about 5 encores the audience began to leave, but a tiny little man continued applauding wildly at the very front of the stalls where he had moved to. Jessye came back out, crouched down at the edge of the stage and very quietly crooned ‘Amazing grace’ right into his ear, whereupon the hundreds of people who had been making their way out all stopped dead in their tracks to listen (even Jessye’s quietest croon projects perfectly across the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, obv). Judging by the look on his face, it made not only the man’s day, but probably his year too. I have always remembered the generosity of Jessye’s gesture that evening which I love to think of alongside all her untouchable grandezza. It was not only the first time I’d seen a great diva, but it was my first time ever going to any kind of recital, and I still remember it more clearly than things I saw earlier this year.

            • kashania says:

              What a lovely story, Cocky. Jessye was very generous with her post-show autograph sessions the two times I lined up to get it. The only other diva I lined up for an autograph was a 65-year-old Leontyne Price. I told her how lucky I felt to have had a chance to hear her live and she replied “Are you a singer?” I said no and she quickly retorted “Oh, just handsome?”. Well, did that ever put a smile on this bashful 18-year-old.

          • Clita del Toro says:

            Valkie: I used to collect autographs, mostly in the fifties and sixties and have a whole bunch from fabulous singers like: Milanov, Tebaldi, Nilsson, Sutherland, Price, MdM, VdlA, Björling (my treasure) Mödl, etc. The only one I didn’t have that I really wanted was from The Only Maria, my very favorite. That’s why I was so frustrated when she refused to sign. I though to myself, all these idiots in Portland, who have probably never seen her or loved her as I did, are getting her fucking autograph! lol

            PS I once got Rosalind Russell’s autograph in the Met lobby.

    • armerjacquino says:

      Lovely story.

      ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ is GBS, as you suspected. Hadn’t heard the Ardoin ‘great picture’ comment before: whether he knew/credited it or not, he was quoting Viardot on Pasta.

      • La Valkyrietta says:

        amerjacquino,

        Yes, Ardoin tells the whole story of Pasta doing scenes of Anna Bolena in 1850 after not having sung for some time, and the comment of Viardot. He tells it at the end of the little biography of Callas in the Callas book full of pictures, making a parallel between the two singers. Let me dig it up. Pauline’s words on seeing and hearing Pasta, “You are right! It is like the Cenacolo of da Vinci in Milan -a wreck of a picture, but the picture is the greatest picture in the world.”

    • Lurker_del_Cairo says:

      Mme (Mlle?) La V -- thank you so much for this memory. Her performance of Ah, non credea from the same broadcast, which Alejandro posted near the beginning of this thread, is also very moving.

      • marshiemarkII says:

        Vallyita queridisima that is a wonderful story, and I am so so envious, you know MMII set foot in Sucksee 11 months later for the first time evah, short by 11 months is a regret I’ll carry forever, but it’s wonderful to live it vicariously through your beautiful story!

        Lurquito queridisimo also (seems we’ve been sistahs for ever already :-) yes that ah non credea chokes me every single time I watch it, because I remember the first documentary that was broadcast after her death, it closed with that sequence,…… but the petite table is also unbelievably poignant!
        And many thanks for your good wishes, the gurl is baaaaaaack. Wow it’s good to get out of Manhattan occasionally, so many pretty people in Crooklyn Heights, lots of perfect bubbles, and lovely restaurants. There is life outside of Sucksee after all :P

        • Lurker_del_Cairo says:

          Hard to let go of Anna Maria Sofia’s birthday this week, no?

          The first documentary that I can remember seeing was Tony Palmer’s -- Callas La Divina. It ends with O mio babbino caro from one of the 1974 recitals. In the performance and in her expression you can see something like desperation, and it made be sob out loud.

          The only other thing I know that exists from the broadcast with Pretre is also, by coincidence, O mio babbino caro:

          And how do you insert an emoticon?!?!?!?

          • marshiemarkII says:

            I think the first one I saw on TV was by that evil Q La Franca, maybe the other Qs of that era remember better, it was like in December of 1977 around her first birthday after her death. I also went to a live Memorial at the 92th Street Y, at that same time, with some of the living characters from her era speaking, and some “unknown” (then of course) videos that were so amazing to see at that point, and it might have been that, really cannot remember, it’s kind of all very foggy. All of that I have now on every single DVD that has been released, but you have no idea how precious it was back then to be able to see anything with the Only Maria….and with the emotion of her so recent departure. You know at that age, 53, we were certainly expecting THE BIG COMEBACK was just around the corner…….

        • Lurker_del_Cairo says:

          PS I thought we WERE sisters?

          • marshiemarkII says:

            But we Ahhhhh honey we Aaaaah! sistaaaahs that is!
            The grandest list of emoticons, and you know it has the grandEST because MMII cannot live without superlatives can be found here:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emoticons
            Now word of caution not all of them turn to thingies on wordpress but the basic ones do like the smiley and the tongue out n:P and some others, but that list is tantalizing how many you can actually make!

        • Lurker_del_Cairo says:

          PPS Medici.tv gives the date of this broadcast recital in Paris as May 2, 1965 -- just days before she canceled in the middle of the last Norma.

  • Camille says:

    Bianca Castafiore—Yo, Diva Lady!

    Yesterday while trying to find out about the Michael Scott book on La Callas I came across this quite interesting item which I thought may be of interest, as you had inquired by her continuing use of her married cognomen.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/31/books/l-discombobulating-callas-934093.html

    Kind of shocking, the vehemence, after so many years. but love never dies so correspondingly, neither should hate.

    • Lurker_del_Cairo says:

      Mme C -- very interesting, thank you. But I was unable to find the actual review that is referenced in this letter -- were you?

      Trop tard, mais Bonne Anniversaire, toute la semaine!

  • Evenhanded says:

    Well.

    Perhaps autograph authentication been discussed previously, but if so, I would appreciate the indulgence of anyone who might be able to offer some advice. I have an LP of one of Callas’ live performances of Norma (you would think I would have the details memorized, but at the moment I cannot recall the year or venue). Her signature adorns the cover, but I always just assumed it was either fake or perhaps included by the LP manufacturer when they printed the covers for this release. Can anyone tell me how I might check as to the authenticity? Is there a possibility that it was actually signed by Callas herself? Am I being silly? The LP is deep in storage, so I can’t reference it now, but will find it if it seems a worthwhile pursuit. Thoughts?

    • oedipe says:

      Auction houses have experts for just about everything. There have been Callas-themed auctions before. They will do it for free. Just call up Christie’s or Sotheby’s and ask.

      • Evenhanded says:

        Well.

        Thank you, Oedipe! I have never had the opportunity to investigate something like this before, so I’m pretty clueless. I actually piqued my own curiosity to the point that I went into the basement and dug through a couple dozen boxes until I found the LPs.

        The performance is from the Covent Garden series in 1952 and was issued as a “Private Recording”. Her signature is actually dated 1974, and so I suppose she could have signed the cover for someone during the well-known concert tour that year. Perhaps it was signed the very night of La Valkyrietta’s story as told above!

        Maybe one day, I will find out.

        • La Valkyrietta says:

          Evenhanded,

          The night of my story Maria signed a few programs of the first ones on line, but the line was long and I had not hurried enough backstage and at one point when I was not even in Maria’s field of view we were told to put the pens away, that she was not going to sign. So it is possible your recording was signed then.

          I have that Norma in vinyl. It was with Ebe Stignani and Giacomo Vaghi, conducted by Vittorio Gui. Mine came with a little folded page with photos. It is fascinating to see in the back of it a photo with Maria at the center, Ebe on her right, and on her left Joan Sutherland with the children, Joan was Clotilde!

  • mirywi says:

    Am I misremembering, or is there a Cetra lp that was excerpts from something with a duet sung by Maria Callas and Renata Scotto? Something Cherubini-ish. I swear I remember having it, 30 years ago

    I would like to say also that my heart leaps up whenever I see the name Bobolink here.

    • Camille says:

      That’s gotta be something from Medea! One of these guys will know. Maybe Marshie. I can’t quite remember if Glauce and Medea actually sing a duet together. Damn.

      Someone will know. Oh gee, you are not thinking of Tebaldi and Scotto singing their little duettinos from La Wally, per chance?? Just a thought.

    • marshiemarkII says:

      Well the commercial recording of Medea, currently available on EMI was originally released by Cetra, so recorded by the RAI. And that is the occasion when according to La Scotto Maria wanted to cut my leetle aria, she has beeg part but she suggested they cut my leetle aria, but I don’t believe they sing anything together. Now it’s possible they did sing on stage together and I don’t remember but will have to check tomorrow my shelves, I think I have every single Medea the only Maria was ever recorded in, starting with the fabulous, INSANE one, from Florence right before the Scala with Bernstein, also demonic! How I love that opera, it sends me into orbit, higher than I usually am :-)

      CammiB listening to the Op76, this morning Op20, what DIVINE music!!!!

      • Camille says:

        Hey Marshie, what label is that fiorentini Medea on? I don’t have one anymore and I want the absolute wildest scariest witchiest one out there!

        Clita is out slumming apparently. No opera for her today.

        Ciao!
        Cowbell

        • marshiemarkII says:

          CammiB, now this is something I would do only for you. Cherubini is on the top shelf of my wall, had to pull a ladder and just checked, it’s in a box I got last summer and RAVED by IDIS, called Maria Callas Gli anni d’oro, it has a Norma from Trieste and a pretty glorious Trovatore from Napoli (?). Now in the process of looking I saw that I already had the Medea for over 20 years on a label called Hunt, and it would be pleasure to give to you if you would like it! it is now another duplicate. the performance is INSANE beyond any madness!!!!!!

          And you know, also very interesting, I saw I also had a CD of music for the Coronation of Charles X, which is my favorite furniture (lots of sober mahogany and ormolu that makes MMII swoon), written by one Luigi Cherubini:-) so I pulled it out, and will listen to it tomorrow!
          You know in my shelves Cherubini is paired up with Rossini (don’t tell HER)…. I apparently have a lot more Rossini than I imagined I had :P

          • Camille says:

            Oh that is so truly sweet. Io sono tanta commossa!!!

            I would not want to oblige you but perhaps it may be nice. Thanl you so very kindly for such a generous impulse.

            The Cherubini Mass is supposed to be a good work, but I am afraid that Coronation music for Charles Dix I know not. Well, Beethoven revered him, so that’s good enough for me!

            Molto grata e commossa e mille grazie!
            CB

          • marshiemarkII says:

            The offer is very serious, it is very unfair that I have so many duplicates, and other people could enjoy them. I bought that IDIS box when I discovered it on the web last summer, and it is supposedly a fabulous remastering , but the basic sound is not great of course, it is early 50s, fat Maria period. But it is a box of 11 CDs (5 operas) that cost like $59.99 which is kind of expensivish for these pirated things these days. Anyway, I will have lunch with one of my chickadees tomorrow at Bar Boulud at 3 PM, or we can find another way to get it to you!

      • marshiemarkII says:

        By the way, the Cetra recording is by all accounts the worst performance the Only Maria did of Medea, she was sick when the recording was made, it’s around the time of the scandale of the Edinburgh Sonambula if I remember correctly in 1957, and it’s really worth having only by completists Qs. Luckily a good number of the sensational pirated one from live performances are recorded in excellent sound, and with supremely superior casts, imagine with names like Vickers, Simionato, Cossotto and Ghiaurov…. and my personal recomendation would be the trio from 1959, Dallas and London and the Scala 1961 all on new Myto are beyong anything imaginable and the sound is spectacular!!!!!!!! in all three.

        Now the Firenze and Scala from 1953 are DEMONICITY ITSELF, you wouldn’t want to meet that Maria on a dark alley :-P but the sound is of course not as good, especially the Firenze one. But what sublime music!!!!