Callas: The Dregs

Maria Callas’s 1972 Philips recording of duets with Giuseppe di Stefano has never been commercially released (in The Callas Legacy, John Ardoin deemed the prospect “ghoulish”) but some, maybe all, of the material can be found on YouTube.

I listened to the Otello duet, which I found ghastly. I will say nothing of di Stefano—even in his prime, he is, for me, an unacceptably coarse vocalist—but Callas sounds tentative and adrift. Ardoin wrote of another selection that she “is forced to chop up phrases into small expressive units to breathe and survive.” The same is true of her pitiful work in Desdemona’s Act I music.

In the Forza duet, muscle memory seems to take over, because here and there Callas shapes a phrase or colors a word with some of her old magic. (She recorded Forza for EMI and sang Leonora onstage during her early years in Italy.)

For the record: Ardoin assesses the Forza duet very harshly and judges the selection from Vespri to be the disc’s highlight, relatively speaking. Myself, I don’t know whether I will listen to any more than the Otello and Forza duets.

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