Callas and Isolde

Beauty can pierce one like pain.
Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks

Maria Callas set down this recording of Isolde’s Transfiguration from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in November of 1949, a month before she turned 26.

To me, she is the most human and girlish of Isoldes, though her voice also has dark, liquid depths in which one can drown. Only an artist who has come to grips with Bellini can sing Wagner’s music with this degree of mastery. (The converse does not hold true, and this would have pained Wagner.)

Callas portrayed Isolde a dozen times between 1947 and 1950. It was one of her three Wagnerian rôles, along with Kundry in Parsifal and the Walküre Brünnhilde. The Transfiguration remained in her concert repertoire, and she reportedly considered reprising Isolde at La Scala in the early 1960s.

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