Cher Public

Divine intervention

"When my enemies stop hissing, I shall know I'm slipping."

“When my enemies stop hissing, I shall know I’m slipping.”

The second half of Warner Classics’ Maria Callas Live Remastered set represents the years 1954 to 1964 in the career of La Divina. 

A 214-page booklet includes essays new and old, along with many photographs. Documentation for each of the 20 operas includes a complete list of her appearances in that role, with dates, theaters, and colleagues, along with limited information about original sources used for remastering. As in part one, I comment on each performance and its historical importance, with reference to sound quality as far as I am able to compare and/or remember.

Callas’ first production with Luchino Visconti was Spontini’s La Vestale, which opened the 1954 Scala season. If you only know her studio recording of the arias (I had a brief love affair with “Tu che invoco”), which are perfect for the long line of her sculpted singing, you’ve heard the best of the Norma-precursor score. Franco Corelli’s ardent Licinio and Ebe Stignani’s stentorian Grand Vestal are of interest. Callas stands up to Nicola Rossi-Lemeni’s thunderous High Priest with both defiant declamation and limpid lyricism to conclude Act Two, but in general the set suffers from distortion in the loud passages.

Maddalena has little to do in the tenor-dominated Andrea Chénier, but in this performance (January 8, 1955) Callas’s dramatic contributions—from the frivolous chirping of the spoiled aristocrat of Act One to the passionate cries of a reckless lover—are vocally driven and always strikingly apt, showing no sign that the role was leaned in haste.

The multi-colored and poignant aria “La mamma morta” provokes prolonged cheers (some said jeers, as half the house was apparently calling for Tebaldi). Votto digs into the score, the La Scala orchestra sounds superb, and all roles are strongly cast. Mario del Monaco is in stupendous form (Votto eventually gives up trying to continue after “Un dì all’azzurro spazio,” so prolonged and noisy are the bravos), although not as poetic and inspired, perhaps, as Franco Corelli.

For the iconic March 5, 1955 Sonnambula—the soprano (with Leonard Bernstein’s guidance) sounding as fragile and lovely as her ballerina looks in another Visconti production—the engineers returned to “an analog source preserved in excellent condition” (about all the detail we ever get in this set) and we are treated to a sparkling, arrestingly immediate capture of this perfect performance.

Callas so firmly stamped “Ah! Non credea mirarti” on my psyche that it’s always been a chore to listen to anyone else. Here time stops as the slow tempo creates a truly trance-like state for soprano and audience alike. Taken as a whole, the performance finds her light and confident (“Come per me sereno” and “Sovra il sen”), using a concentrated, internalized sound that seems to hover in the air for the sleepwalking scenes. Cesare Valletti’s adorable and buoyant Elvino is an ideal partner in this recording that never gets old.

Yet another legendary night in the theater was the September 29, 1955 Lucia di Lamermoor with the La Scala troupe in Berlin under the baton of Herbert von Karajan. Again, the remastering restores a roominess and clarity to the sound, where Karajan provides solidity and import to many of Donizetti’s oom-pa-pa moments, and orchestral introductions, particularly before “Tombe degli avi miei,” are sumptuously played.

By mid-century Lucia had become a canary showcase, making Callas’ infusion of drama and complexity into the character of historical importance. She shows Lucia’s full-blooded Scottish side in her no-nonsense delivery of “Regnava,” and prevents the mad scene from becoming a circus. She avoids spooky colors when noting “il fantasma,” and voices “Alfin son tua” with simple tenderness. “Del ciel clemente” is a marvel of pianissimo from everyone (including the audience), and the cadenza features easy legatos, staccatos, fortes, and pianos.

Di Stefano is an ideal partner here, having already sung Edgardo to Callas’s first Lucia in 1952 (Mexico City), the next year in Florence and Genoa, and several times in this Scala production. He curses the supposedly unfaithful Lucia with long-breathed lines, and adds rhythmic intensity to the encore of the Sextet.

Callas sang Anna Bolena only 12 times, but her exquisite voicing of the title role and her deeply felt characterization—helped by Gianandrea Gavazzeni’s conducting and Luchino Visconti’s production—are well-known to fans. The remastered sound is vivid (the orchestra sounds particularly good), and the presence of Giulietta Simonato adds considerably to the vocal and dramatic heat.

The confrontation duet between Anne and Jane Seymour, King Henry’s new love interest, featured on an old HRE LP that I wore out, and the mezzo’s sturdy yet voluptuous singing brings out the best in Callas’s competitiveness, including a joint high C at the duet’s conclusion. I never tire of hearing Callas’s “Giudici? ad Anna?,” with its combination of impetuousness and terror, along with some real-life imperiousness, or her determined broadening of the line before launching the first act finale, “Ah! segnata è la mia sorte,” its quick pace further tightened at the stretto, with the soprano’s top D ringing out thrillingly.

The female chorus gets a nice round of applause for their expressive and committed singing to set up the final scene, which is a thing of utter beauty and vocal control from Callas. “Al dolce guidami” in particular, even with its slightly miscalculation at the top of one chromatic line, is delicately laced in stunning sound, perfectly poised in time and space.

Who will appreciate the 1957 recording of Ifigenia en Tauride from La Scala? If you like Gluck, you won’t enjoy conductor Nino Sanzogno’s leaden and ponderous performance, and Callas lovers will be disappointed with her constricted and compromised sound, as well as the glassy quality retained in the remastering. Fiorenza Cossotto’s brief, last-act Dea ex machina appearance as Diana is of interest, but otherwise the cast is dull and the performance not much more than dutiful. Giulini captured the nobility of Gluck’s writing for the above-mentioned Alceste, but otherwise Gluck and the Italian company proved a poor fit.

Throughout the fabled Lisbon Traviata Callas’s voice sounds light and bright, the opposite of the unnatural, bottled-up Ifigenia timbre. Here she sounds buoyant and sweet, with the vibrato under control (and she does control it–just listen to her intensify the vibrato as she crescendos “esser amata amando”). “Sempre libera” concludes with a decent, if small, E Flat in alt.

But it’s the seasoned interpretation that still stuns the listener, with countless fine touches. The courtesan is ever present, not just in the opening soirée, but in her gracious, laughing reaction to Flora’s party invitation and even on her deathbed, in a lightly flirtatious exchange with the doctor.

Alfredo Kraus partners Callas at the highest level of vocalism and dramatic presentation. The exchanges of “Libiamo” sound like an actual conversation, as he sings “amore” vigorously, and she reacts as a coquette. Their interaction is immediately arresting. Kraus begins “Un dì felice” quite slowly, the high notes easy and full, and there is almost a physical caress in the “Croce delizia” section.

When Alfredo reappears under Violetta’s window Kraus brings his handsome high C to the offstage repeat, and throughout the performance he brings as many vocal colors to the drama as La Divina herself. I love the thoughtful serious he brings to the pacing of the recit before “Dei miei bollenti spiriti,” and the soft, compelling way he highlights the day she said “vivere.”

Mario Sereni’s Germont is better than I remembered, though Callas dominates their exchange with her imperious address (“Donna son io”) that quickly turns to terror (“Non sapete quale affetto”). She voices the word “pure” (“Dite alla giovane”) wistfully, but sounds already dead as she awaits instructions (“Imponete”) for dismissing Alfredo. The final act—especially Kraus’s ardent and youthful “Parigi, o cara” and Callas’s long fermata before “Gran Dio! Morir si giovine”—is unsurpassed in pathos, tenderness, and regret.

Much of Callas’s bel canto pioneering was done in a vacuum. She was lucky in finding musical partners like Serafin, Karajan and Bernstein, but the soprano’s vocal colleagues were rarely up to her level of technical mastery, style, interpretation, and depth of expression. That is definitely the case in this 1959 Pirata from Carnegie Hall. If any of you were there, please weigh in.

The orchestra and chorus sound splendid in the opening storm and shipwreck scene, but Callas begins uncomfortably, using her default stentorian voice and taking high notes a bit wide. She relaxes somewhat for the aria and ensemble that close the first scene (“Sventurata, anch’io deliro”), but much of the singing sounds muzzled, as if the sound were stuck in her cheeks.

There is some lovely singing in the ensemble “Parlati ancor per poco,” and throughout the second act, but the score is distorted as the tenor and baritone parts have been rewritten and heavily cut. (Does anyone know how much of the role Corelli sang with Callas in the earlier Scala production?)

By the final scene, Callas is in full command of her melancholy, internalized and hypnotically expressive sound. The recitative and lyrical aria, “Col sorriso d’innocenza,” are perfectly spun on a thread of sound. This scene, with its cabaletta cleverly ornamented, was part of a “Maria Callas in America” cassette that I treasured, and she used the aria often in concert, with or without reference to any particular “palco funesto.”

After disagreements with management, Callas returned to La Scala to open the 1960 season with Donizetti’s rarity, Poliuto. Prolonged applause at the soprano’s first appearance must have bolstered her confidence, as did having Franco Corelli play her husband in the larger title role, and Ettore Bastianini as the persecuting Roman ruler Severo.

Compared to the relatively recent Myto reissue, we get some additional clarity, particularly in ensembles and orchestral underpinning in the new set, but I see no need to replace that set if you already own it. If you want my copy, or the earlier set from Virtuoso, just let me know.

The soprano is in fine form and her command of the style is palpable. She traces the first act’s “Di quai soave lagrime” easily, and brings her customary verve to the short scene-ending “Perchè di stolto giubilo.” Highlights of the Act Two confrontation scene with Severo are Bastianini’s nobly phrased “Il più lieto” and his pleas that Paolina admit her love for him, followed by Callas’s touching “Quest’alma è troppo debole.” Poliuto misinterprets the moment and Corelli’s expressive “Sfolgorò divino raggio” is both moving and thrilling.

The well-known January 1964 Tosca from Covent Garden was La Divina’s first opera production in 18 months, the work providing a sort of safe-conduct through her increasingly painful personal life. Warner’s set includes 3 blu-ray discs of concerts (Paris 1958, Hamburg 1959 and 1962, and London 1962 and 1964), as those appearances along with aria recordings served as her artistic outlets during this time. [Editor’s note: Though the image quality on these discs is not appreciably changed from previous releases, I do hear some subtle improvements in audio quality, less noise and a bit more space around the sound. – Your Own JJ]

Zeffirelli’s sensational production, Tito Gobbi’s massively evil Scarpia, and a reportedly gigantic fee were additional draws, and the televised Act Two from this production offers vivid proof of at least the first two.

What a pleasure to revisit Gobbi’s work here, growling his first lines, as if he can’t be bothered to “sing,” sneering and twisting the little ornament on “pregar,” (“you pious ladies tread the boards, then come to church to “pray”). He knows just when to sing and when to snarl (“Già, mi dicon venal” is utterly vile), and his musicality is everywhere evident. Once past Renato Cioni’s nasal and bright timbre (perhaps it’s the remastered sound) and clumsy musicianship, he proves a serviceable, even sensitive, Cavaradossi.

Callas’s performance is all temperament, quick anger at the blond Madonna, blind rage during the offstage torturing of Mario, contained self-pity during a quiet, swiftly-moving “Vissi d’arte,” and shouting commands at the dying Scarpia. Her screams and sobs at the discovery of Mario’s death never fail to provide chills. The voice has clearly deteriorated, though high notes are passably managed and the score provides plenty of hiding places. What comes through is her utter command of the role and her connection to the drama.

What a short time from the 1949 Nabucco to this 1964 Tosca, but how overflowing with La Divina’s genius, where imagination and instinct contended with technical skill and gripping drama, all in front of us!

Maria Callas: The Live Recordings (42CD/3BD)
is on sale at for $105.98

  • Camille

    Well, first of all--job well done and considering the vast scope of things, much is included in this condensation of the œuvre at hand. Reams will be written, no doubt, in attendance to this momentous release, but who has the time for all that?

    Personally, I am most disappointed to hear that not even the sound engineers could improve that Ifigenia in Tauride, as it is pretty dismal to listen to on my ancient tape and I’d been hoping for them to create a small miracle. Supposing they could not substitute conductors, though!

    Similar to yourself, I’ve had a long love affair with all the Vestale arias, (well with Spontini in general), and would have loved to pick up the entirely of La Vestale as well, but hesitate. I may still, all for the love of Franco! The ‘Lisbon Traviata‘ is another I’m interested in, as the sound in the original I found quite off-putting, especially in the first act. If Kraus is that good, I’ll go for that one as well.

    The Sonnambula is, then, an entirely separate performance from the one on EMI? Which of the two would you estimate more highly? Grazie tanto!

    • Judith Malafronte

      The EMI is from 1957, right? I had that on cassette. It’s Votto, so that’s NOT a plus, and as I recall, there are several unnecessary cuts. I don’t even remember what Nicola Monti sounds like. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

      • Camille

        Oh don’t worry about it — and you don’t remember Nicola Monti because I don’t remember Nicola Monti, because he is not that memorable.

        Cesare Valletti is going to be better in any event. It’s only…I don’t ordinarily listen to her Amina. It’s only in the “Ah! non credea mirarti!” that I consider her timbre totally and uniquely appropriate; probably the best of many Aminas. I’m afraid the Sutherland and even the Scotto/Venezia version I would prefer otherwise.

        • Daniel Swick

          Yes!! Monti has a yawny tenorino sound. Blawwwwwww. And Callas is glorious in the music BUT I find myself wanting Sutherland or…wait for it… Sills. Go figure!

          • Camille

            That descriptive phrase “yawny tenorino sound” has been turning around in my imagination for a couple days. I don’t know quite what it means, I only know I love it as description.

            • Daniel Swick

              I think of it as a tone that is modest and lovely provided very little pressure is applied…think a tenor Graziella Sciutti. As for “yawny” I am referring to the top of the voice where in lieu of a full supported tone he just kind of does a slightly reenforced falsetto that sounds an awful lot like he just woke up from a lovely siesta.
              Listening to the Sonnambula duet now and he is lovely and musical but there isn’t much beyond that and he sounds very dull opposite Callas. I can imagine he was quite fine opposite a voice like Pagliughi’s or Carosio.
              Sutherland of course got Gedda for her broadcast Amina. He, like Krauss, had a voice that I had to learn to love BUT he matches Sutherland trill for trill in their duet and it’s mighty impressive.

            • Camille

              Graziella Sciutti has always been Tweety Bird, to my ears. She apparently made a career as an opera director, and just as well I’ve thought.

              She could be, in certain roles and at times, very effective with her little chirping bursts. Was she on a Rondine? She would have been a perfect Lisette, e.g. Did I hear her warble her way through Norina? I think so but have no clear memory.

              Yes, those thrill-trills of THAT broadcast of Sonnambua, there’s nothing like it!!

              Oh, did you, too, have to learn to love Kraus? I didn’t care for him at ALL when I first heard him but a tenor boyfriend of mine played his songs obsessively and little by little, well, I finally GOT IT. It was not love at first hearing, like FRANCO!!!!! Or GEDDA!! OR JUSSI!!!!!!!

              ‘yawny tenorino sound’—you should have it copyrighted.

            • Daniel Swick

              She did Norina on record…not the voice I want for the part. She was Zerlina on the famed Giulini DG and somehow it works. Was she Lisette on the Moffo Rondine? Seems likely.

        • Nelly della Vittoria

          One of the benefits of the 1955 is the slightly more complete version of the “Son geloso del zefiro errante” duet, in which Valletti actually sings (!) or approximates some of the trills along with Callas (there are — 14? — in the soprano line) and it’s a really ecstatic reading of the scene, if not the most delicate.

        • Dan Patterson

          I liked Monti a better on the Sutherland recording, and he has more to do there, I think. There wasn’t a large selection of bel canto tenors in those days. Unlike today, where we have some real mastersingers to choose from.

          • Camille

            Oh, so THAT’s where I heard him--thanks! I knew that I knew him from somewhere but haven’t seen or listened to that recording in over thirty years now—-he was okay but nothing compared to mi querido amorcito lindo Javier Camarena!

            Anyway, it was Sutherland’s recording and it hardly even mattered if Casper the Ghost were singing the Elvino….

            • CKurwenal

              I actually think Monti ruins the Sutherland studio Sonnambula. That’s a set where I’d only bother to listen to her arias, these days.

      • I find that Callas had to manipulate her sound too much for Amina. Yes, she sounded girlish and innocent but it also sounds a bit manufactured. Of course, her mastery of Bellini is always worth hearing and the final scene is wonderful. The advantage of the 1957 performance is her breath-taking cadenza in between verses of “Ah, non giunge”.

        • Daniel Swick

          I wouldn’t want to be without those chromatic scales at the end of “sovra e’il sen”. They’re staggering. Seriously.

          • Judith Malafronte

            Her chromatics are perfection. I don’t think people practice them much any more, although they are in all the 19th c treatises and exercise books.

        • Judith Malafronte

          And the scale that diminuendos perfectly all the way up! She leaves Votto in the dust several times. And I know what you mean about manufactured sound. I feel more like it’s a demure “Well, I can also do this….” That Walküre/Puritani week back in 1949 must have had a lasting effect on her, no?

        • southerndoc1

          Michael Scott said that the diminuendo on the high E flat, which she also did in the studio performance, was unprecedented in recorded history.Can anyone contradict this?

          • Luvtennis


            • CKurwenal

              Gruberova would have been hard pressed to have preceded Callas, in that particular party trick.

            • Luvtennis

              I read his post differently. I thought he meant ALL recorded history. ????

        • Luvtennis

          I really believe that she did her voice no favors when she started using that “voce infantile(?)”. Yes, it was quite compelling in some respects, but I often wondered whether it led to the wiry, unsteady top that so often plagued her singing during the ’55-58 time period.

          BTW, wonderful review, Judith!

          What shame that the Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, Cherubini operas are performed in such corrupt editions. Maria apparently believed that all the foreshortening of the cadential passages and repeats was a good thing dramatically, but I hate how it distorts the musical elements of those works.

          FYI, I strongly recommend Sutherland’s first studio Lucia and Puritani recordings, along with the AOS Sonnambula as counterweights! God, what singing and so much more of the music is given, particularly the Puritani.

          • I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting Sutherland’s first Puritani. The second one is a great recording, with Bonynge and Pavarotti never better. And there are no cuts and the score sounds so much better for it. Sutherland does some great singing but the tone is only intermittently in prime condition.

            When it comes to the young innocent bel canto heroines — Lucia, Amina, Elvira — I tend to favour Sutherland or Sills (though I’ve only heard the latter complete as Elvira). I prefer a youthful sound with more bloom on top. Callas’s tone doesn’t always work for me in these roles, not withstanding the girlish voice she employs as Amina. Her Elvira is pregnant with emotion even before Arturo leaves her.

            • Luvtennis

              Kashie -- don’t hesitate. That first Puritani is vastly underrated, probably because of Pierre Duval -- not ideal -- but better than you might think. As for her, well…just listen to the “Vieni al Tempio!!”

            • OK, thanks, LuvT. What about the live recording with Kraus?

            • Luvtennis

              Lol! Which soprano? Which opera? And I must confess to preferring Kraus in French music.

            • Sorry, I meant Sutherland with Kraus. But I see now that it’s only a highlights disc. I imagine Kraus being a very good fit for Arturo.

            • Dan Patterson

              Kashania, that Sutherland/Kraus Puritani highlights is excellent. Her first studio Puritani is also very worthwhile. A reviewer at the time, Conrad L. Osborne, opined that “to hear Sutherland sing the ornamented reprise of ‘Vien, diletto’ is to forgive all her sins.” There are things Callas brings to it that Sutherland just doesn’t have, but by and large, I think Sutherland wins the Puritani competition.

            • Today’s conversation on parterre is turning out rather expensively for me. LOL Thanks for your comments. I’ll add it to my list.

            • rapt

              Love Sutherland’s final rondo in that first recording! To be honest, I haven’t heard the second recording, but her re-recordings of other works (e.g., the aria from I Masnadieri), while tremendously impressive, never duplicate for me the out-of-this-world quality of the first versions.

            • Camille

              If you do get that early Puritani, kashania, let me give you a warning about Pierre Duval. He’s a spoiler. Listen to her parts and ditch the rest. It was the end of my early Sutherlandia phase, having been through even the stupefying Alcina without having taken a breath. Something about Duval was just too much to take.

              After that, I discovered the astounding Caballé disc (with the equally astounding eyeliner — she took the dare from Callas and drew lines even longer!), and of course, that new girl in town, the delectable Signora Freni, so fresh and ingenuously ingenuish.

              Thinking back, I dunno when or how I discovered Leonie Rysanek—-probably on the radio, for I had a dim realization in 1976 when I walked into War Memorial Opera House that I would hear a “pretty good mittel’Europäische dramatic Soprano” that night. THAT night!

              That was the night I learned not to put my faith in recordings and go live as much as humanly possible. Two different things, and don’t think, all you smart kids out there, that Youtube is just as good or the same. It ain’t.

              So, in the end, that Puritani was the first link in a long chain of events that taught me two things: don’t worship a diva, and don’t ever trust recordings. And always, whenever you can, go live.

            • Merci bien, Camille chere.

              I will keep an eye out for that early Sutherland Puritani if I find a good deal. And I will likely focus on her parts mostly once I’ve listened to the whole thing.

              And then there’s the Muti/Caballe/Kraus recording which I also have on my list.

              What did Leonie sing on THAT night?

            • Camille

              Oh. That was THE night, when I finally saw and heard on stage the thing I’m always on the lookout for: magic.

              It was Sieglinde in Die Walküre, along with the Siegmund of Jon Vickers. At her first phrase “Ein fremder Mann…”,
              I just froze. It was like being electrocuted. I can’t explain why or how. There was also Vickers “Wälse!”, which seemed to stop the world and hold it on its axis.

              I’ve had a moment like that with piccola Renata and a couple with Great Glam Dame Gwyn and once in a concert with Caballé. Seen Sutherland twice as a young woman and once twenty years later and as much as I loved her as a young person, it was a royal buzzkill. She’s best heard on recordings--for the most part--and some of them can’t be topped. The high E in alt she interpolates into the “Bel raggio lusinghier” is still the most spectacular sound to me, after more than fifty years. Cose dall’altre mondo!!

              I’m so sorry never to have heard Callas or Tebaldi live: Big Renata because she had that warm, mother’s milk-like golden spinning sound with that mezza voce that could knock out the walls, and Callas--she, for the magic, what else?

              P.S. — me and Monsieur Camille have always wanted Jessye to sing Erda as we both feel she would have been TREMENDOUS in the role and really turning it into a pivotal moment, unlike most od them,
              who come and blare and blimp on down back into the earth. Not Jessye!! She woulda scared SCHEITE outta old Wanderin’ Wotan and we’d have had little doubt as to the provenance of them Valkyries. It’s always like—“who the hell is this loud bunch of broads and where did THEY come from?” when they show up, or, it is for me.

            • Lucky you to have experienced Vickers/Rysanek as the Wälsung twins (or in any of their great roles, really).

              Jessye was so good at the kind of music Wagner gave Erda. Not just the alto tessitura, with which she would have had no problem, but the delivery of that noble, stop-time music.

              I can see why she didn’t do it on stage. She only did lead roles. But how wonderful it would have been had she done it for Levine’s studio Ring. She already had “her role” — Sieglinde — but an Erda from her would’ve really distinguished that set. Oh well.

            • Camille

              “Her Elvira is pregnant with emotion even before Arturo leaves her.”

              Maybe she is, in fact and indeed, enceinte!!!
              Horrors! No wonder she looses her biscotti!

    • Luvtennis

      I think Anna should consider La Vestale. It would suit her current voice.

  • Many thanks for this great follow-up.

    I’ve been toying whether to buy this since I own so many of the performances. But seeing that the blu-rays are also included in this relatively value-priced set, I think I will take the plunge.

    I have the EMI recording of the Berlin Lucia. Obviously, Callas knew how to sing Donizetti and her Mad Scene is utter magic, but I’ve never liked Callas’s tone in the role, preferring a more conventionally beautiful voice with more bloom on top. The improved sound here is a draw.

    And thank you for highlighting Alfredo’s Alfredo. Kraus has rarely been more exciting my view.

    • Judith Malafronte

      Kraus took my breath away on this listening. Isn’t it great when that happens?

      • Indeed. Especially when you’ve heard as much opera as we all have.

        Kraus preserved his voice so well, singing high Cs almost till his dying days, that it’s easy to forget what he sounded like in his youth. The voice sounded much more vibrant and he was capable of some vigorous singing.

        • He was nearly 60 when I saw him sing Tonio opposite June Anderson.

          • Camille

            Your comment provoked my curiosity for I heard Kraus in the summer of 1989 (my one and only performance of his) in Prospect Park singing Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor. [according to the Met Archives it was on June 24, 1989], So, he was exactly five months shy of 62.

            Although the voice timbre was certainly not what it had once been, and neither had I expected it to be, he still sang like the champ he always was, with that infinite finesse and liquid legato. I loved him, nasal twang and all, and he was to me ‘El Caballero del Canto’, holding on to his customary professionalism and aplomb n this role for which he has had few peers.
            (Pace Pavarotti).

            As someone very elegantly said on a Youtube page, and I paraphrase:
            ‘he was on the stage what he was in his life: a great gentleman’. To that I would like to gently say — amen.

            • Judith Malafronte

              Long ago I sang Ariodante in a wig that had previously been worn by him. His name was still inside it and I didn’t let them remove it.

            • Camille

              Must have helped with the ‘head’ tones!! Beato te!

    • Dan Patterson

      I think I know what you mean, Kashania, about Callas and Lucia, but over the years I’ve come to prefer her second studio recording to her first, though the deterioration is often too apparent. Likewise, one of my favorite of all live Callas performances is the Met Lucia, where she ducks the high notes and generally sounds under the weather. Somehow, her magic convinces me. Those performances are horribly cut, inexcusably so by today’s standards, but they’re still among my favorites.

      • Even if I don’t find Callas’s voice ideal for Lucia, I think her Mad Scene was absolute magic — truly time-stopping. And I should add that I generally idolize the woman. She’s my most frequent go to soprano for much of the 19th century Italian rep, from bel canto to Verdi to verismo.

  • Elsewhere1010

    My set arrived today… sorry, I have to go now.

  • fletcher

    Any insight on why they went with the Lisbon Traviata rather than the Covent Garden one? People supposedly have Strong Opinions about these two (I don’t).

    • Yige Li

      I have no insight, but only guess: I remember reading EMI (now Warner) got their original material for Lisbon Traviata from two sources, one from the local radio station, another from a tape Kraus owned. It means, for this recording, they do have the best material to work on. Maybe that’s not the case for ROH Traviata.

      (BTW, did you really mean Lisbon 1958 vs. ROH 1958? I have always thought it is Lisbon 1958 vs. La Scala 1955. I, being the minority, prefer La Scala 1955. And, there’re also people prefer La Scala 1956.)

      • fletcher

        Yes to the 58s. Like I said, I don’t have a strong opinion and I honestly haven’t listened to them back to back for a fair comparison; but I really like Valletti. As someone mentioned, all of this series is now up on streaming services so I’ll give the Lisbon another go.

        • CKurwenal

          I like the London ’58 best as well, because of Valletti. Callas is great in all of the available Travs with her (except perhaps the studio Cetra, in which I find her bit more present and correct, as opposed to magical) but I’ve never loved Kraus’s slightly bawly sound, and Di Stefano is always a singer I’ve put up with to listen to her, rather than one I’ve ever liked much in his own right (ditto Gobbi).

    • I’m with Fletcher, most people don’t mention London 1958 but I find it the most compelling performance.

  • Dan Patterson

    I wish someone would explain Amazon’s pricing to me. I pre-ordered this set, and when it was shipped, was charged $63.59, which is a bargain any way you look at it. But the price a day later is listed at $105. Go figure. Pre-ordering seems to pay off.

    • Dan Patterson

      Excellent reviews, and much appreciated. I was hoping for great news on VESTALE and IFIGENIA, but what is, is. I especially love VESTALE and remember, in the mid-60s, buying a reel to reel tape of it from my first “pirate.” Since I had the old Cetra recording with libretto, I was able to follow it pretty well.

      One last thing. I think Warners have done signal service in remastering and packaging this set except for one thing -- a CD-ROM of the libretti, as was included in the Callas Complete Studio Recordings release, would have been a really nice addition.

      • Judith Malafronte

        I was also confused about the pricing. When *I* looked last week, it was about $80 to pre-order.

        Libretti are nice to have. Really, I would have liked a master list of the works, venue, and year. That could have been on the table of contents in the booklet, which only lists the work title.

        • Dan Patterson

          I agree, more documentation about sources, particularly the audio sources, would have been nice.

  • jamesblackmgt

    Am slightly surprised that they didn’t include the 1957 Ballo (and if they were being completist why not go the whole hog and include

    • Dan Patterson

      Alceste is included in the new set. See part 1 of the review. What I’ve been secretly hoping for for fifty years are teh rumored recordings of Walkiria and Tristano. Yeah, dream on!

      • jamesblackmgt

        So it is. Was reading at speed and conflated the Glucks. Makes the absence of Ballo even stranger….

  • Ivy Lin

    Thanks for this wonderful series of reviews! This was a great read.
    I’m a little disappointed that the Traviata they chose was the 1958 Lisbon instead of the 1955 La Scala, which, IMO, was Callas’s finest live recording of La Traviata. Also wish they’d included an Il Trovatore. My favorite is the one from Mexico City.
    She completely changes what I htink about Leonora. This “D’amore sull’ali rosee sounds not like a quiet introspective reverie but a primal scream of pain:

    • I love the La Scala Traviata and I’ve never heard a better “Sempre libera”. Aside from nailing the E-flat at teh end, she gives the most determined rendition of the aria I’ve ever heard. This is a woman who is brimming with emotion after her encounter with Alfredo and determined to prove to herself that she doesn’t care about love.

      Others may know the reason why, but that performance never seems to get an improved-sound release. MYTO has released a great number of live Callas performances in improved sound but not that one. And it has also been left out of this Warner release.

  • CCorwinNYC

    Brava, diva! Part two is even better! An enormous task done with insight and concision. Now I can’t wait to read your review of the 108-CD “Solti in Chicago” set that also came out yesterday.

    • Judith Malafronte


  • Chad Marcel

    This box is already up on Spotify. I’m listening to the 1952 NORMA and I don’t hear any improvement in the sound. I think Warner just released older issues with new packaging. I’m glad I didn’t spend good money on this set. Besides, there are only “select” live performances in this set. If someone is going to release The Live Recordings of Callas Box Set, release EVERY one. Just my opinion -- maybe I’m just grumpy this morning.

    • Dan Patterson

      I suspect there will be a “second volume” to this release. There’s so much out there still. The other Mexican performances, a couple of Trovatores, Ballo, no doubt others I don’t remember offhand.

      • Dan Patterson

        Plus several more performances of Norma, including a couple of really great ones and the last stabs at the role in the mid-60s.

    • Armerjacquino

      It doesn’t really seem fair to judge sound quality via compressed internet audio.

      • fletcher

        Just curious -- do you rip CDs and listen to lossless files? I’m a big fan of streaming as it exponentially increases one’s library (hello, thirty-five different Nozzes) and the quality thing doesn’t bother me (yet) but I worry I’ve just become accustomed to low-res audio.

        • Armerjacquino

          No, I don’t- I stream a lot too but would never think I was in a position to judge the sound quality of a recording from a streamed version.

          • I listen to lossless files on my iPad but it quite severely limits the number of complete operas you can keep on it at any one time. I rotate them. But of course young friends think it’s quaintly old-fashioned -- or downright fogeyish -- still to buy CDs.

            • Armerjacquino

              A lot of vinyl-buying happening now. Give it 20 years and buying CDs will be achingly hipster.

            • fletcher

              I’ll buy CDs for oddball live recordings from Opera Depot or things that are really hard to find (I think the Christie Médée was the last one…) or check them out at the library if I want to read the liner notes (Solti’s notes on his Carmen are very good, for instance). Otherwise the advantages of streaming for accumulating a large “library” are too overwhelming. I use Google Play (comes with the advantage of no ads on YouTube) -- I really wish they’d offer a premium package, since I’d pay more to stream higher quality audio.

            • I don’t listen enough at home to need a large “library”.

    • CKurwenal

      I haven’t listened to the Norma yet -- just the Lucia and half of the Macbeth, but I can report substantial improvements to the sound quality on those 2.


    Saddest story of a diva……


    2:58..ANYONE who wants to hear what she was.even for 5 years…Here it is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Cicciabella

    What a gargantuan task, Judith, dispatched clearly and succinctly. Thank you, and I hope you had loads of fun listening and writing.

    • Judith Malafronte

      Thank you so much. Oh yes, I had fun! Dear La Cieca is getting tired of me thanking her.

  • ChesterS

    Thanks for the follow-up review! These are also available on HDTracks as 44.1kHz/24bit files. $12.78 per opera or $113.58 for all the files. Prices good until 09/21.

  • Maria Callas in my life
    On the occasion of the 40 years since we so sadly lost Maria Calllas, I wish to offer my comments on her from my experience.
    Opning night, Oct.29,1956. What expectations! Callas,DelMonaco,Barbieri,Siepi. Out she comes and I hear this non-descript absolutely lousy voice. WHAT? Remember, there were no Mexico pirates…it was disaster, as was Lucia (where she got Enzo Sordello fired after his high note follolwing her crack on the broadcast0 and a Tosca I hated.
    Maybe I might have forgotten some good things, but all I recall is that I hated her! However, 1958 Lucia was different. Big,rich tone and ONE NOTE I recall, the D in the duet with Enrico (not like 1956) that was so brilliant that I remarked, “ I know what she was!” No E flats, but I do recall I loved it and also the Traviata,with no details recalled.
    EMI recordings were a different tale and the Cetra Gioconda. Magnificent! Despite a big wobble on the C, the Trovatore “Tu vedrai” is a perfect example of “plunging in to an aria with a thrill of a lifetime!.
    One day in the late 60’s, we were at a party with Boyajian,Plishka,Gratale,etc. and someone said, “I have an Aida where she takes E flat!” What? There is live stuff? Well, they put on this awfully sounding end of Aida act two with a barely heard but resonant E flat!!!! GOD!!!!!! She did that? There are live tapes????? Beverly once said, “I’d rather have 5 years of Callas than 25 of me.”(I think she said that). Well, little by little the Mexico and RAI tapes from 1950-1955 emerged, and NOTHNG perhaps EVER did we hear that kind of greatness!
    It was not as refined as the later tapes, where the wobble was unlistenable, despite the great artistry, but so what! She scoooops up to that Rigoletto E flat w.Campolonghi;she interpolates E flat at the end of the Traviata Gambling Scene; she takes the E flat at the end of Caro nome (forgetting lots of words in the opera). Then, “cleaned up” came that Aida E flat, and my adored Vespri ‘In alto mare,”etc. Therefore the 1950-1955 (plus the 1949 Proch Variations) are examples of something HISTORICAL (and hysterical…in the sense that it made us nuts!)
    Was she mean?Was it so much publicity? She was a perfectionist and maybe she was champagne over Tebaldi’s “Coca cola,”(as the rumor says), but what a genius! I laugh at the (true) story of her making an excuse to run back to the hotel (no VCR’s) to watch “I love Lucy” and to get upset at that Lucy skit when the mass production line overflows wth Lucie and Ethel going nuts! The artistry remained, but the 1960 Poliuto,as an example, is so wobbly, it makes Corelli sound wobbly with her, and exposed top notes (Cenerentola finale) are to me unlistenable, so I rarely listen to Callas after the 60’s.
    Like her imitator, Suliotis, and Anna Moffo, the great Callas’ voice deteriorated very rapidly, but we do have the genius of the woman, the style, the feeling, and if we try to “compensate” for really terribly exposed top notes, we do realize what she was, but it just was not long enough!
    Imagine her as Elektra and Lucrezia Borgia and perhaps every role in the repertory. She did once audition for a Met Fidelio early on, and when asked to do Vanessa, she said that the great role was Erika,not Vanessa.
    What a sad ending to one of the greatest singers ever! Well, despite the later recordings, we do know what she was for even a short time. Bless her memory! She continues to thrill millions!

    • Dan Patterson

      Thanks for sharing these memories. I only saw her once, on her final recital tour with DiStefano, in Cincinnati. It was a bit sad, but I was glad to have been there. Sometimes, with Callas, you have to listen to the intention behind the singing. Yes, those notes do wobble, but what meaning and drama she conveyed. The reckless and thrilling singing of her younger years couldn’t last long, I guess. But the musicality remained, and grew.

      • Camille

        Not SOMEtimes, but a LOT of the times, one must listen to that all-critical factor--
        l’intenzione!!! Quite right, Mr P.!

    • Camille

      Zinka augusta--

      Thank you so much for standing testament to Callas, as you saw and heard her and as it unfolded. It’s a lot similar to what I’ve heard from other first-hand accounts.

      There are not a lot of you guys left standing now to give us an idea of her; it’s one thing to hear a singer in a recording or on a television, but the only true way of knowing a voice is to experience it live in an acoustical space, the better or best one possible.

      So, thanks for the memories.

    • agh1

      I have followed this discussion with great interest, since my library of operatic recordings is an extremely limited one. I was, however, fortunate enough to have heard Callas in a number of roles between 1953 and 1964 -- and also once found myself standing beside her in the foyer at an ROH rehearsal and being struck by how small -- and in a way ordinary -- she seemed off-stage. i attended two of the 1958 ROH Traviata performances and these for me were her two most impressive ones. Neither was note perfect -- but between them we got a marvellous vocal performance. However, what made them so great was not only the sounds that one would hear in a recording but the marvellous acting and reacting on stage. Although always extremely impresive, particularly when singing opposite Stignani in Norma, perhaps the vocal performance which thrilled me most was when she sang Elvira’s mad scene at a Covent Garden gala. I agree with the comments made about Monti (who partnered her when I heard her Amina) and Valletti. I thought the latter was a finer tenor, although I only heard each of them on the occasions I have mentioned.

      I cannot recall anyone writing about her ROH performances of Medea with Vickers, Carlyle, Zaccaria and the young Cossotto,.conducted by Rescigno. Do any recordings exist?

      • rapt

        The recording apparently does exist--Ardoin discusses it in The Callas Legacy.

      • Yige Li
        • agh1

          Thanks. Oddly enough the opening night’s performance left me somewhat disappointed -- whether it was the work, the singing or just the way I was feeling, I do not know. I had a ticket for another performance but a friend who had never heard Callas persuaded me to give it to him. Perhaps it would have all clicked had I given it a second go.To forego a Callas performance, and one with Vickers -- probably my all time favourite -- seems very odd in retrospect.

        • Camille

          Is this the ONLY recording which features Vickers?

          If that is so, I’ve had it in highlights for years now—and where did that one go????? And have always LOVED the pair of them. She pushes the envelope just as far as it can go!!! Now this is the Medea I’d like to have in its entirety.

          • Yige Li

            No. Both Dallas 1958 and Scala 1961 have Vickers in the cast. Usually, Dallas 1958 is considered the best performance but unfortunately with horrible recording. And I believe the ROH 1959 one is the best recorded live Medea of Callas.

            • Camille

              Aha. I wonder which it was I had--impossible to trace. I’ll go check online. I remember Cossotto singing “Solo un pianto”, in most affecting manner. Was it Rossi Lemeni?

              Thanks for your input. I should really get that recording again!

      • Camille

        Mr/Mme agh,
        As always, thank you for your recollections. You have reminded me of something: there was an exhibition some years ago of the personal wardrobe of la Callas, here in New York City, and specifically held in the (then) New York State Theatre lobby, on the seond floor, I believe it was. Surely,
        Many other parterrians must have visited there.

        What I most got out of ogling la Divina’s wardrobe was that, INDEED, she seemed rather medium to small framed a figure and somehow—-I got a startling insightful sense of her vulnerability as a woman. For as an artist she was a giantess, or so she seems to us. In reality, she must have been quite fragile, most delicate and sensitive and the dichotomy between the huge public profile she and its projected force into the public psyche--and--the “little Maria” (as Jon Vickers called her) must have been a wrenching strain on her psyche--coupled with all the rest that went into her tumultuous life.

        I’ve always been glad to have made the effort to have seen this exhibit as, since then I’ve experienced a great deal more understanding of and sympathy for her. She may have been the divine emissary of Santa Cecilia (one of her given names as it were), but she was, like any of the rest of us, made of mortal flesh, and must have paid a heavy, heavy tax on her divinity.

  • Camille

    I’d better ask this before the thread goes cold: all this time I’ve been travelling under the assumption that it would be possible to buy CDs individually --is that indeed the case? I sure don’t want to hear Champagne singing Coca-Cola’s Maddalena in Andrea Chenier!!!

    • Dan Patterson

      I spot checked several on Amazon, and they are available individually, at about $4 per disc. I’m sure glad I pre-ordered the whole set. It was shipped and charged at $63.59 ($1.42 per disc) the day of release and the next day is at $105 ($2.33 per disc). Go figure. I’ve been very happy with the remastered studio recordings set Warners put out a couple of years ago, so I figured I’d take a chance on this, and I’m glad I did. What riches!

      • Camille

        Thank you, Mr. P., I appreciate it as I have no intention of buying the entire enchilada. I already operate a Home for Unwed Opera Scores, Books CDs and Books, and we have little room for more orphans.

      • They are available individually? Hmmm…

    • You know, after reading this, I pulled out my Opera D’Oro release of the Andrea Chenier and listened to the fourth act. MdM and Callas are both simply blazing.

  • Daniel Swick
    A little late and the voice shows it but the singing is really special…the way she makes the middle section work and sound so logical and musical… supreme.

  • Kedem Frühling Horowitz Berger

    Great review. I just got the set and some performances are vastly enhanced -- the Vespri, Bolena and Macbeth for example. Some gaping chasms here -- there is simply no complete Callas live set without the 1952 Trovatore, the 1955 Traviata or the 1957 Ballo. I really hope the live recitals will be forthcoming. My absolutes faves are the 1958 Amsterdam (in ultimate voice for this period and the best Pirata finale of them all) and the 1957 Dallas rehearsal -- the repertoire was sheer murder and the musicianship is patrician, even when she marks (or perhaps because she marks).