Callas in Il barbiere di Siviglia

Maria Callas portrayed Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at La Scala in 1956. It was one of her two comic rôles (along with Fiorilla in Il turco in Italia), and it was the greatest flop of her career.

The production, a revival, was without distinction and under-rehearsed. Carlo Maria Giulini admitted, “I conducted every performance with my head down so I wouldn’t see what was happening on stage.”

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (the Basilio) recalled that Callas was “aggressive, a viper,” and treated Barbiere as a prima donna showcase rather than the ensemble piece that it is.

That said, when Callas recorded the opera for EMI in 1957, she had rethought the rôle of Rosina. As John Ardoin writes, the set finds her both “playful” and “sedate,” and Alceo Galliera (a fine, underrated maestro) conducts with brio.

Callas’s exchanges with Tito Gobbi’s Figaro sparkle with complicity and malizia.

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