Cher Public

Divinity, restored

Rivals has she none.

“I don’t know what happens to me on stage. Something else seems to take over.”

All the daring and imagination of La Divina’s live work, particularly in the early years, is revealed in Warner Classics’ Maria Callas: The Live Recordings

In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the death of Maria Callas, Warner Classics has released this set of 20 complete live opera recordings at reasonable pricing, with spectacular sound restoration by Studio Art et Son and Studio Circé. An excellent booklet places each performance into the context of her career, focusing on a particular repertoire or season.

In addition to some choice reprints of essays by John B. Steane, newly commissioned pieces by Michel Roubinet also reveal much, particularly about the soprano’s early work in Greece. You will need French or Italian to read a few of them.

Each opera is also available separately (although I recommend getting the whole set, as it doesn’t take up much space and the price is nice, under $4.00 an opera), so I’ll comment on each work in chronological order, attempting to note the pros and cons of replacing a set you already own, or venturing into new territory. I expect lively discussion of the many points I have omitted or overlooked!

A few of the offerings still suffer from poor sound quality in the original material, even though in many cases the producers went back to original analog recordings. But most of the set offers vivid sound, absent of surface noise, hiss, pitch irregularities and balance problems, plus an entirely new sense of theatrical space. Many of us, of course, learned these performances from LPs and cassettes, and mine have now found their way to the curb.

The 1949 Nabucco from Naples leads off the collection, representing not just Callas’ earliest known live recording of a complete opera, but also her only complete recording of Abigaille, a role seemingly made for her combination of power and agility. Although there are many available recordings, live and studio, of the heroine’s aria “Anch’io dischuiso,” this set is a must-have for the thrill of the soprano’s bold vocal characterization and huge, spacious sound, especially in the top notes.

We already hear the variety of attack and some of the lightening and sweetening, along with the reduction of vibrato, that characterizes her bel canto singing. Abigaille’s cadenzas, particularly in the aria and in the act three confrontation duet “Donna, chi sei?”, are rapid and clean, driving up and down the scale in one thrilling gesture.

Gino Bechi’s work in the title role is uneven, but Callas seems to perk him up in their Act Three duet, and her final high E-flat encourages him to counter with a decent A-flat. A near riot of enthusiasm propels the encore of the chorus’s “Va, pensiero.” The soprano’s characteristic mournful sound is used in the final scene, along with effective sobs cutting off her plea, “Non maledire a me!”. This is an essential historical document.

The 1950 Italian-language Parsifal is presented in its entirety (for a long time only Act Two was available), and Kundry is Callas’s only recorded Wagner role. She easily handles the urgent, jagged vocal writing in Act One, and uses a tortured, dark and melancholy sound throughout. She breaks into the cheerful gathering of flower maidens with an arresting and commanding address to the hero, and brings warm, mysterious, and alluring sound to their duet.

She makes ample use of diminuendos, always staying on the breath, with very even vocalism, moving easily from tender to furious to manipulative. Of note is quick-vibratoed Boris Christoff as Gurnemanz and Rolando Panerai as Amfortas. To the presence of Lina Pagliughi as a flower maiden, John Ardoin quipped that two famous Lucias had probably never appeared together in Parsifal.
The 1951 Vespri siciliani from Florence, under Erich Kleiber’s direction, is deservedly well-known, and the restored sound is clean and relatively clear. Callas brings point to Elena’s first act aria “Deh! tu calma,” particularly the insistent repetitions of “Il vostro fato è in vostro mano” (Your fate is in your hands) where the directness and specificity of her challenges—you can almost see her eyes burning into each person in turn–are chillingly effective.

The difficult quartet that follows (“D’ira fremo”) represents Callas’s innate musicality—when the writing turns tricky, she becomes laser-like in pitch and focus. In the Act Two Elena/Arrigo scene, Callas’s limpid and delicate singing, clear and on point in those rising lines, draws even the unsubtle Giórgios Kokoliós-Bardi into her aesthetic. Similarly in the Act Four duet “Pensando a me,” the tenor becomes more focused in response to her tender sound.

The popular arias–Christoff’s “O tu Palermo” and Callas’s jaunty Bolero–are high points, of course, but it’s Callas steady work throughout, illuminating the score even as she is expressing it, that reveals a truly historical artistic moment.

Aida represents the return of the high E flat. This is the second year of the legendary Mexico City performances in which Callas capped the Act Two finale with an E-flat in alt. In 1950 the feat was revenge for particularly piggish singing by tenor Kurt Baum, and the soprano had given a heads up to the rest of the cast.

A year later, Mario del Monaco and Oralia Domínguez were on fire, the tenor singing loud and louder, taking extra breaths in “Celeste Aida” to roar out spectacular high notes, the mezzo bringing terrifying, granite-like sound to every phrase. Callas bides her time through the scream fest of Act One, until “Ritorna vincitor,” where she invests every phrase with thought and meaning, feeling her way through each dramatic moment. The show may be a circus, but her artistry will win.

Dominguez’ massive sound dominates the Amneris/Aida confrontation scene in Act Two, until Callas bursts forth with “Vive! O grazie, o Numi,” her high A a cry of joy and defiance. Here she takes control of the scene, and indeed of the entire performance. The high E-flat at the end of the act is her trophy. I must admit a preference for Giulietta Simionato as Amneris, whose sweet, more womanly sound (along with a major memory lapse in the judgment scene) is heard on the 1950 Mexico City Aida. The drawbacks of that performance, of course, are Baum’s Radames and conductor Guido Picco.

Warner Classics offers these sound clips to contrast the 1999 EMI remastering vs. the new mastering of this 2017 set:

Armida from the 1952 Maggio Musicale (with Tullio Serafin) represents the soprano’s only complete Rossini opera seria role, and her spectacular, stylish singing overcomes the poor sound quality of some of the tracks. In top form, she adds high note after high note, including plenty of blazing high Ds. But more telling is her masterful shaping of the fioritura, both the rhythmically propelled patterns of 16th notes as well as the rhapsodic, cascading cadenzas.

Tenors Francesco Albanese, Mario Filippeschi and Alessandro Ziliani omit much of their coloratura writing, and when Callas repeats someone else’s line she invariably shows them how to sing it more accurately and more expressively. While colleagues often sing around the beat, Callas is always spot on.

In the famous aria “D’amore al dolce impero,” grace, line, and style propel the difficult variations, the quick triplets rippling easily and evenly throughout more than two octaves without ever sounding driven. The final scene combines furious recitative, militant arioso, plaintive aria, and a final high E-flat as the sorceress exits in a fiery chariot.

The 1952 Rigoletto from Mexico City (with nicely cleaned-up sound and some restored pitch inconsistencies) represents Callas’s vocal acting at its most supreme, and a growing concentration on investing bel canto roles with imagination and drama. Piero Campolonghi’s jester is not particularly interesting, but Giuseppe di Stefano brings his characteristic vocal charm and technical randomness to a committed portrayal of the Duke.

“Parmi veder le lagrime” is his best contribution, while “La donna è mobile” ends an entire half step flat (as does the encored second verse). Conductor Umberto Mugnai waits as long as possible before bringing in the orchestra, but the tuning is painful, although the rapturous public cares not.

Callas explores girlish, vulnerable sounds, and is utterly convincing as a shy, virginal victim. The duet with di Stefano is heavily cut, but both singers produce acceptable high D-flats at the rushed conclusion. “Caro nome” is a thing of utter beauty, with delicate filigree and a controlled dreaminess that once again reveals the soprano’s rhythmic genius in understanding the larger metrical units that still allow rubato and freedom.

When Gilda enters, after “Corteggiani, vil razza,” the devastating heaviness of Callas’ tone is clearly that of a molested innocent. She mumbles the opening line of “Tutte le feste,” the prompter, having shouted nearly every word of Act One, now mysteriously gone missing.

The well-known 1952 Norma from Covent Garden reappears with clean sound and represents an early Callas recording in which the listener doesn’t need to skip the parts she’s not in. Mirto Picchi’s quick-vibratoed Pollione and Ebe Stignani’s luscious sound (although nearly every vowel mutates to “ah”) contribute powerfully, though their singing is boxy and square compared to the soprano’s.

Callas seems nervous in the opening recitative, using the high A-flat on “io mieto” to test out her breath, spin, head voice, and control for “Casta diva.” While conductor Vittorio Gui seems to hear the piece in 12, Callas sings in a broad 4, always magically suspending the long notes that begin the first two phrases. The cabaletta “A bello a me” is sung confidently, with pure and almost floaty tone.

Favorite moments are Callas’s handling of “trema pei figli tuoi” in soft and menacing tones rather than a shout, and the high D concluding the trio, which she holds onto even after the orchestra has resolved the chord. The duets with Stignani are white-hot, although once again Callas shows a colleague (in “Mira, o Norma”) how a verse could have been sung more musically.

Callas opened the 1952 season at La Scala with five performances of Macbeth, her first and last complete portrayal of Verdi’s ambitious and tormented Lady. With the exception of some very poor sound in the a cappella section of the Act One finale (“Schiudi, inferno”) and a bit of Banquo’s assassination, the restoration is superb.

Even if you know the arias from other live and studio recordings, this reissue—the soprano’s only complete recording of the opera—is a must-have for the chance to hear the “in-between” moments of dramatic imagination in Lady’s interactions with Macbeth, although Enzo Mascherini is imprecise and a bit weepy in the title role.

Victor de Sabata leads a full-bodied, thrillingly paced performance, showing the La Scala orchestra (but not so much the chorus) to great effect. Callas’s weirdly sing-song reading of the letter has been much commented upon, but the rest of the opening scene is hair-raising. De Sabata holds back the tempo of “Vieni! t’affretta!” making the soprano work hard, but the effect—deliberate and purposeful—is just right.

She avoids spooky melodrama at the realization that the king has placed himself directly in the hands of the murderous couple (“Duncano sarà qui? Qui la notte?”) but does manage a creepy quietness to begin the incantatory cabaletta “Or tutti sorgete,” growing to a massive high B. The duet “Fatal mia donna” shows once again Callas’s impeccable musicianship, as she uses the quick staccatos and the turn to the major key both to mock and to reassure her irresolute husband.

The second act’s “La luce langue” is performed as a meditation in one long crescendo, culminating in another blazing high B. For the drinking song, de Sabata again chooses a deliberate pace. All the more puzzling, then, is his rushed and ineffective handling of the sleepwalking scene. Callas has no time for her special mournful colorings or her heart-breaking way of suspending the sound in this rush to the finish, but she manages to float the high D-flat perfectly (having tried out the note in full voice at the end of Act One). Italo Tajo’s Banco is worth noting, but the Macduff and Malcolm are run-of-the-mill.

Again, from Warner Classics, contrasting the 1997 EMI remastering vs. the new mastering of this 2017 set:

Callas sang Cherubini’s Medea in ten different runs between 1953 and 1962, the recording here representing the December 1953 performances from La Scala, when conductor Leonard Bernstein had learned the work in a matter of days. The sound is exemplary, although what sounds like crickets in Neris’s Act Two aria is just squeaking of electronics.

I must confess to a dislike of the piece (perhaps Lachner’s anachronistic recitatives, or Cherubini’s “Gluck but not Gluck” style), and have always been troubled by Callas’s vocal extremes in this work—taking the chest voice very high, and an overall harsh recklessness. Of note is Fedora Barbieri’s massively sung Neris, and the way both Bernstein and Callas invest the classical style with blood and guts music-making.

I am more drawn to Alceste (the real Gluck), and to the nobility and classicism of Callas’s portrayal of the self-sacrificing heroine, a role she sang only four times, in April of 1954. Her partnership with conductor Carlo Maria Giulini makes up for poor sound quality, a hybrid version of the score, and an over-eager prompter. From her entrance, Callas’s singing is noble, womanly, and warm, confidently soaring over the plucked strings of the first aria, “O Dei, del mio fato,” then gentle and serious for the invocation, “O Apollo immortal.”

Throughout the performance, her singing is beautifully expressive, with sculpted lines and long breath. “Divinità infernal” glows with intensity and determination. The second act “A’ vostri lai” begins sweetly, then grows to climax at the pitiable line “Del mio destin più rio destin non è.” In Act Three Alceste and her husband Admeto each volunteer to die for the other and, while Renato Gavarini yells his role, conductor Giulini proves a perfect partner to Callas, in the imploring “O funesta Dea implacabile” and the tender “Vivi, e guarda,” with her affecting use of portamento.

In the second installment of this review, we will rejoin Callas at the beginning of the pivotal 1954-1955 season.

Maria Callas: The Live Recordings (42CD/3BD)
is on sale at Amazon.com for $63.59

  • CCorwinNYC

    Superbly done. Eager to read part 2.

  • Porgy Amor

    I must admit a preference for Giulietta Simionato as Amneris, whose sweet, more womanly sound (along with a major memory lapse in the judgment scene) is heard on the 1950 Mexico City Aida. The drawbacks of that performance, of course, are Baum’s Radames and conductor Guido Picco.

    One can also get Callas and Simionato in the London ’53, where Neri’s Ramfis is another big draw, and I think this recording gives a better representation of Barbirolli as an opera conductor than do his late-in-life EMI studio sets. But there, again, there is Baum to put up with. We have heard worse Rada-messes, especially lately, but he is not good. The future Mrs. Bonynge is the Priestess.

    Echoing Christopher’s comment: Nicely done, Judith. It’s tough to do justice to many performances within one piece, and you achieved this.

  • dirkva

    What a treat this review is! My favorite line: “. . . an early Callas recording in which the listener doesn’t need to skip the parts she’s not in.”

  • Opera Teen

    Brava, Judy! Love these. Can’t wait for part II! Here’s a question I have: What was the nature of the creation of these type of “live recordings?” Is this Warner Classic’s co-opting of a bootleg somebody made from the audience? Or was this a Warner-supervised venture from the beginning? How do these type of recordings (publicly released, widely circulated, live recordings) come to be, as opposed to pirate recordings of singers like Gencer?

    • La Cieca

      If I recall correctly, all these performances originated as broadcasts of live performances. (The Parsifal is slightly different as it was originally done as a radio performance.)

      Probably because a lot of these performances were sold on LP without copyright clearance, the chain of ownership of the original sound recordings is not very clear. Most of them, I think, were airchecks intended for archival purposes.

      The reason Warner Classics can present these recordings now is that (IIRC) in the EU the copyright on any sort of sound recording expires after 50 years. By remastering and digitizing , Warner Classic creates what is considered for legal purposes a new sound recording that can by copyrighted.

      Again if I recall correctly, the technology for making a full “in-house” did not not become available until around 1960. There are a couple of later Callas performances that were documented using that technology, including I think a Norma or two from Paris. None of that material is included in this set.

      • CCorwinNYC

        I’m far from a Callas expert but I believe the Dallas Rehearsal from 1957 and the Medea also from Dallas 1958 are both “in-house” recordings and the Carnegie Pirata (included here) as well.

        • La Cieca

          The Pirata as I understand it was recorded with professional equipment, though I don’t know whether it was done furtively or as an archival document for Carnegie Hall.

      • simonelvladtepes

        Exactly. That’s why I don’t understand the statement in the review: “even though in many cases the producers went back to original analog recordings. ” -- what “original analog recordings”? They didn’t even try to get access to the best sources (the BJR archive that Pablo D. Berruti is still sitting on in Buenos Aires). So this is another of many attempts at digital wizardry to improve the sound, and not the last. How does the Vespri compare for example with the Testament release, which is actually from the original tapes?

        • Judith Malafronte

          I’ve tried in vain to get more information about the statements made in the accompanying booklet about having used original analog recordings. Maybe these are industry secrets?
          IDK. Sorry!

          • simonelvladtepes

            No problem, I’m not trying to get on your case. There are no secrets, the statements made in the accompanying booklet about having used original analog recordings are bogus.

            • La Cieca

              Prove it.

          • Camille

            Secrets of the Incas, more likely.

            Not to worry, Madame Malafronte, who puts a buona fronte to a hard job, which is to review the matters at hand, as presented, and that you’ve done more than well.

          • Daniel Swick

            You know you’re an opera queen when you read “I’ve tried in vain” as “I’ve tried in vaaaaaan”.

        • Camille

          Thanks for bringing this matter up, Vlad the Fearless, as I was wondering about all this.

          Of course, Warner Classics is going to claim whatever it takes to sell this latest in what is a long line of attempts to clean up Callas’s act, and since she is still, 40 years after her sad and premature demise, a cash cow for these companies, unique, or nearly so in all the world, the amazing instigator of the entire belcanto craze that I grew up in and absolutely loved.

          What I would be most excited about, though is an air check of the Venetian Isolde. Such exists, or not? Now THAT would have my credit card out in two seconds flat.

          • simonelvladtepes

            Venice or Genoa (with Lorenz)?

            • Camille

              Genova? Did she also sing it there, because if so, I had forgotten. Either one, actually, although the Venetian one is that which most interests me.

              Someone, somewhere is sitting on it, I know it. Perhaps if we collectively offered him/her/it the Cobra Chewells, we could induce it out of them. In the meantime, I won’t hold my breath.

              About the Brunhilda, I don’t think I care that much, but based upon the way she sings the Kundry, with such care and so roundly and with a beautiful tone, I’d love to hear the Isotta.

              Vain espoirs!

            • Dan Patterson

              You and I both! I’m sure you’ve heard the rumor that Lorenz had a tape of the Genoa performance, but sadly, it has never seen the light of day, if true. I’d love to hear the Walkiria too, of course. Ah, well, what’s a heaven for…

            • Camille

              Oh! I did not know of the Lorenz tape but I would love to hear him as well. There was an air check from Venezia, no? I am so curious as her Kundry is (for me, anyway) so beautifully sung--in a manner the like of which I imaginatively believe Wagner wished (as per his instructions) it to be sung.

              Well, SOMEONE has it--maybe a very jealous Wagnerite who bought it only for Lorenz and Der Meister, someone who doesn’t give a hoot for La Divina and enjoys depriving us all of the pleasure.

            • Dan Patterson

              As I say, it’s just a rumor. A more likely rumor is Carol Fox having destroyed tapes of Callas’ Chicago performances -- Butterly, Puritani, Norma, Trovatore with Bjuoerling, so that the “pirates won’t get them.” The old witch.

            • Camille

              Strega maledetta!!!

        • PATRICK MACK

          If the BJR archives haven’t been converted to digital by now it’s pointless to even refer to them as a source because they are most likely dust. Magnetic tape only has a 30 year life span. Many of the record companies have lost their original master tapes simply to age.

          • simonelvladtepes

            It’s not the first time I’ve come across that statement. I also read that magnetic tape demagnetizes 5% a year. But then how come Testament was able to release the 1955 Bayreuth Keilberth Ring more than half a century later? Or the Callas Vespri from the original tapes ordered by Legge? The Russian label Aquarius discovered at Moscow Radio archives the original tapes from 1951 of a never released studio recording of The Golden Cockerel (cond. Gauk), restored and released it a few years ago after more than 60 years. At any rate the BJR archive is not on tapes but on 16-inch acetate transcription discs, 57 of them.

            • Yige Li

              Well, to be accurate, BJR archives include both acetate transcription discs and reel-to-reel tapes: http://www.divinarecords.com/bjr/bjr_archive.html

              If I understand it correctly, it seems the reel-to-reel is the original, and acetate is kinda 1st-generation transfer from reel-to-reel (this is how I understand the word “transcription”, or they can simply call it “acetate disc”). Consider they video they used as “Sample of digitizing process” is A2D from acetate, I guess maybe now acetate has a better quality? It won’t surprise me as it seems acetate is easier to preserve than reel-*to-reel if just left on the shelf.

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMxWTZvlwXE

            • PATRICK MACK

              You’re asking me to answer questions you can’t but you’re questioning the quality of something you haven’t heard. Am I right?
              There’s a point when you’re just being argumentative for it’s own sake and I think you’ve passed it.

            • simonelvladtepes

              No. I never made any reference to the quality of the recordings, but questioned Warner’s claims that “the producers went back to original analog recordings”. You then stated that “Magnetic tape only has a 30 year life span” and are most likely “dust” thereafter. I pointed out that: 2) If that is the case, then Warner cannot make any claims about accessing original tapes (because they would be dust by now according to you), though I don’t think you meant to make this point, you just didn’t think your argument through. 1) It’s not even true that “Magnetic tape only has a 30 year life span”, as there are many examples that they last more than 50-60 years in excellent sound.

            • PATRICK MACK

              actually I think you proved mine already.

          • B B

            Not true. I possess original open reel tapes recorded off air dating back to 1952 (Not recorded by me but by a late friend) that still play perfectly as when I first heard them 40 years ago.

  • PATRICK MACK

    Damn I was so sorry when this review ended and I discovered it was a two-parter. At least I have something to live for now. Superb work Ms. Malafronte!

    • Camille

      Just think of it as getting one gift at Hannukah and another at Christmas.
      Or Christmas then Kwanzaa. Whatever suits you.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQFBSuMRh8s

    2:55..Despite any flaws..ANYONE who can do this..is a sensation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Daniel Swick

      It really is astonishing to listen as she goes from a growl to glory.

      • Even more astonishing than Rochelle’s erotic journey from Milan to Minsk.

        • Daniel Swick

          Raquel Welch was riveting.

  • Robert Bolyard

    Brava! I cannot wait for part 2~~~

  • Thank you for the wonderful write-up, Judith. Looking forward to part two. I’m torn about this set.

    A year or so ago, I acquired a few live Callas recordings (in some cases, my second purchases of the same performances) on MYTO, which have very good sound. Had I not done that, I’d probably be all over this set. As it is, there are still a few performances here that I don’t own and would love to hear.

    Regarding her Medea, I have the 1958 Dallas performance and I have to say that, as exciting as she is in it, it is the only time when I’ve found her work to be over the top. There’s an awful lot of sneering in it. I’ve never had that experience in hearing her in other angry moments as Norma or Gioconda or Lady M.

    • CKurwenal

      I feel the same about Callas as Medea, Kashania -- for me it crosses the line where it isn’t thrilling, gripping or fun, just not very rewarding listening. Seeing it would have been a different matter, I suppose. It’s the only role in which I don’t love her work.

      • This is one situation where the less-fiery studio recording hits the mark more.

  • Camille

    It’s like Christmas morning and Santa brings you the whole bag of goodies, all for yourself.

    In particular, I’m an admirer of the ’49 Abigaille as It’s my feeling it demonstrates most closely the original timbre of the voice (warmer), and what it was that truly started the whole Callas phenomenom.

    Her Kundry I love for its musicality, something one normally does not experience in this hellish part, except maybe with Crespin? There may be others so capable, but there is also a boatload of shoutin’, screamin’ harpies. The way you describe her singing of the role, Ms Malafronte, is just about exactly as I’ve experienced it as well.

    Reading this I suddenly become aware that I’ve never ever heard the Alceste! Ich muss!

    And finally--love her or hate her--there is NO doubt that Maria Callas is the absolute mistress of winged eyeliner! She set a model that has been everyone’s inspiration--ask Carol Vaness--and can possibly only be equlaed by Audrey Hepburn, doubtless, her own model. Eyeliner is an important part of divaware/wear and I do wish more current day divas would take note!

    Onward and upward with Part Deux!

  • Nelly della Vittoria

    Amid all the squalid Lachner-Cherubini Medea-inspired messes Callas was cast and recorded in, I most often turn to the first and nuttiest, the Florence one with Gui from the same year as the Bernstein, when Callas (and maybe everyone?) had learnt the role seemingly in snack breaks mid-rehearsal in a week. Because it’s the only one that doesn’t make cuts in Vous voyez de vos fils/Dei tuoi figli la madre, dammit.

    • Camille

      “had learnt the role seemingly in snack breaks mid-rehearsal in a week.”

      Laugh du jour. Magnamimous Marshiemark, I, II, et III, rather kindly gave me this recording but still have as yet to get all the way through it. Your mention has now provided me with sufficient impetus, but let me first find a snack, or as they’d say in Firenze, spuntino, a jolly word I’ve always liked.

      • Nelly della Vittoria

        Both Florence and Milan 1953 recordings are also the only two which preserve the massive climactic phrase Spegnete in cor le furie orrende, giusti dei!

        • Camille

          I’m sorry but not sufficiently aware of this phrase, is it at the climactic end of second act, or when?

          I, and a lot of other parterriani, happened to see the French version of this in, when was it?1997, yes I think so, (d0nt tell me you, TOO, were there, NdV!!), with The Opera Quotannis, here in Tully or was it Avery Fisher? Probably Tully. It seems an entirely different work altogether. and was originally, or still is, categorized in the Opéra-comique division (like Carmen); pretty much of a stretch if the only determinative criteria is a part of the work is declaimed, rather than through composed. There exists a recording of that night or should I say “Quel nuit!”

          You probably already know this, just forget it.

          • Médée is certainly considered an opéra comique. I’ve seen it twice in French, both times in Warlikowski’s production, in Brussels, where it wasn’t booed, at any rate when I was there, then in Paris, where it was heckled and booed.

            • Camille

              Why was it booed? The singing?

              Most importantly--did you WALK?

              You inow, inspired by your example, I’ve found a couple of old musical carnets in some musical rubble, and by heaven, I’m going to take notes this season! My memory used to be made of iron but it’s all turned to polenta, and so be it! So, I’m going to use mon aide-mémoire this year. Merci!

            • I think the booing was mostly related to some of Warlikowski’s production decisions, though here (on Parterre) people might think it was also because Nadja Michaels was singing Médée.

              Walk? No, I took the Métro.

            • Camille

              I’m sure Callas would be spinning in her grave at this mess, had she one. Too bad Michael didn’t show up at that Juilliard Master Class with this act So that la Divina could have had her annihilated.

              Awful, just abysmal trash.

            • Camille

              O Götter!!!!! Now I remember The Dread Michael Thing!!!! I tried to watch it and got as far as Acte I and then caved. She was a mess. All those costume changes as a hst trick!!

            • Camille

              Walkout —
              like in Roma at the Norma,
              is what I meant.

              No matter.

            • Heheh. I wouldn’t walk out of a Warlikowski production. I saw this twice.

            • Satisfied

              NPW:

              Speaking of Warlikowki, any reason why the October 19 performance of Don Carlos is so hard to come by? I’ve been scouring the Paris Opera ticket exchange for nearly two months now and it’s the only date that I have yet to see a single ticket available.

              I found a ticketing service that says they have tickets, but they’re based in Australia and am leery of trusting any ticket service outside of France or the US for these tickets.

              I keep hoping that a single ticket will pop up on the exchange and I won’t have to wait outside the theater the night of the opera holding a sign that says “un ticket s’il vous plaît.” :-(

            • To be honest, no idea. But as it’s a weekday, it could be that they have a lot of corporate events that evening. Just guessing.

              The usual thing to write on your sign is “Cherche une place” ;-)

              As Kaufmann is singing (we hope) there will probably be ticket touts at the Métro exits.

            • Satisfied

              Thanks NPW…will keep that language in mind :-)

              Also, are the tickets sold in the metro generally reliable? If you were in my shoes, would you risk a third-party broker service in Australia or just take your chances in Paris the day of the performance (I’m coming from New York) :-/

            • I’ll see if my subscriber number works magic on the website. Highly unlikely…

              Is there no “PM” function on Disqus?

            • Satisfied

              Unfortunately no, but your messages do go to my email!

            • I just meant that in the unlikely event… it would be odd to discuss prices etc in front of uninterested parties.

            • No, no seats available. To answer your question, I think I’d try to see if on the web there were any feedback about the Australian outfit before buying.

          • Nelly della Vittoria

            Oh, sorry, I didn’t complete that. I should have said the climactic phrase of “Del fiero duol che il cor mi frange/ Du trouble affreux qui me devore”!

            I, um, was a bit young in 1997, and also didn’t live in New York, but I’m jealous of your having seen it! I only know the French original from various canned documents (arie e registrazioni integrali) and wish someone would come along our way again who wanted to sing her way through this exhausting score in its original tongue.

            • Camille

              As a matter of fact, that wonderful and enterprising company known as Opera Lafayette saw fit to present the third act of Médée, a year or so ago, both here and in Washington, D.C., their home turf.

              They had a French-speaking protagonist so it went well--forgot her name. They are a very smart group who make up for in intelligence, style, and stagecraft what they may lack in funding. I look forward to seeing them again.

              The Opera Quotannis recording was still out there, the last time I looked. Its protagonist was Phyllis Treigle, daughter of the GREATest Norman. Other than that, you might try Malibran Music for a recording or bits thereof. Oh goodness me, isn’t the Great Gorr on Youtube in some bits? Now, there’s a Médée! What a force that woman was!

  • Nelly della Vittoria

    I’m usually willing to put up with (read: have few standards about) dreadful sound quality, but have spent many years remembering the Kundry as somewhat unlistenable, and have never gone back to it. Was I wrong/crazy?

  • Leontiny

    https://youtu.be/BxJFU_gSTVc
    Here’s a little promo piece featuring one of the audio engineers who talks about the re-mastering processes, finding the correct pitch for inaccurate recording, and the source materials for the project of “ce nouveau miracle artistique”.

    • Camille

      Very interesting and very kind of you to provide us with this little example, so thanks very much, M./Mme. Leontiny.

      As for the example provided of Amina’s “Ah! non credea mirarti!”, indeed the pitch as recorded on the EMI version at the portion sampled, “si presto, estinto”…was indeed a half tone higher than what is written and changed the timbre correspondingly. The engineer seemed to me to be on the up and up. I will listen to whatever else I can hear of it as well.

      If this is, as they say, an adjustment to tampered with pictures (and NOT a tampering with pitches so as to make la Divina sound better), it will indeed be a mitzvah and a worthy effort.

      Thank you again, Leontiny.

    • Yige Li

      Not knowing too much about Oscar Coltellacci. But at least, Cetra LPs are not the generally regarded best release of Callas live recordings. If they were using Cetra vinyls not the source materials (reel-to-reel? acetate? other formats?) Cetra used, then why chose Cetra? There’re plenty of BJR vinyls in quite good condition with reasonable price in the market.

    • Yige Li

      Also one concern about the pitch. I would assume they used A=440 to correct the pitch, right? If so, had it already been a standard at that time to set A=440? If not, what was the value they chose and what evidence supports their decision?

      • Judith Malafronte

        I was very interested in this also. How can we know the exact pitch of the original recording? So what are we trying to match?

        • Yige Li

          Sometimes, the tuning standard was documented, I believe. Also I’ve read it somewhere (don’t remember the exact “where”) about a recording that was originally recorded from air, the engineers analysed the spectrum of the background hiss and noise, then compared it to the radio frequency used to carry the transmission to match. Read once about matching with the electronic power frequency as well. I don’t think this kind of thing can apply to every old recording, but guess sometimes there exist some evidence…

  • Leontiny

    And about that Parsifal recording we all rushed to buy from the pirate record stores as soon as we got word, here is little Renata in conversation with Mrs JC…
    https://www.gramilano.com/2013/12/renata-scotto-maria-callas-greater-us/

    • Dan Patterson

      Leontiny, thanks for sharing that very interesting article!

  • Yige Li

    As these are all familiar performances that many have already owned maybe even more than one releases, I am more interested about the sound quality of this Warner issue. How is Vespri compared to the Testament release; how are Aida, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Medea compared to BJR vinyl; how is Armida compared to the Divina Records release?

    (Surprisingly, I often find it sounds better in those amateur A2D transfer from BJR than official CD released. That almost makes no sense. The only possible reason I can think about is the over-aggressive digital filter used.)

  • It’s true about the spritely tempo in the Sleepwalking scene. Yet, it’s amazing how much expression Callas puts into it, considering the strict musical confines.

  • ChesterS

    Great review! Strange that it doesn’t include the Ballo and a Trovatore.

    • Rick

      Maybe second instalment?

      • Judith Malafronte

        Alas. No Puritani either.

  • hamwater

    Seriously well done, Judith! Fyi to all: The audio is on apple music… all 815 tracks! https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/maria-callas-live-remastered-recordings-1949-1964/id1265586526

    It’s showing the tracks as Apple Music AAC files with 256kbps bit rate and 44.100 kHz sample rate. In the iTunes store, the entire set is $89.99 (it’s included with your subscription if you listen over in apple music) but only states “Mastered for iTunes” in the store rather than showing technical info about the files themselves. As far as I know, if you buy the set of downloads in the store, you own the tracks and can create/burn them to CDs and make your own collections, whereas in apple music you can only save them for offline listening and you do not have access to the tracks themselves (tho you can easily make them into playlists).

    Also fyi: if you’re on a Windows machine, you can install iTunes and have the same access as a Mac/iOS user.