Callas and Fiorilla II

1950 was an epic year in Maria Callas’s career. According to Frank Hamilton's invaluable chronologies, at one point, in the space of six days (between February 23 and 28), she sang two performances each of Norma and Tristan und Isolde. She was twenty-six years old.

In October, shortly after singing Tosca two evenings in a row and a month before she undertook Kundry in Parsifal, Callas sang the florid comic rôle of Fiorilla in Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia in Rome, an excerpt from which appears above. In 1949, of course, she had won fame for singing Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and Elvira in I puritani in quick succession.

In her ghostwritten 1957 memoirs, Callas recalled the 1950 Turco performances:
While I was preparing myself under the direction of Maestro [Gianandrea] Gavazzeni in Rome to interpret this difficult opera, I had the opportunity to know better Luchino Visconti, who had previously complimented me. I remember my surprise at seeing a man of his distinction sit in attentively at almost all of the rehearsals, which lasted a minimum of three or four hours—and we rehearsed twice a day.
We will never know for sure whether the exploits of Callas’s early years in Italy hastened her vocal decline, but one thing is certain: Her unrelenting activities in 1950 (including a strenuous Mexican season) took their toll on her health. She was forced to withdraw from several high-profile engagements at the end of the year because of an attack of jaundice.

Earlier posts include music from Parsifal and an excerpt from Callas’s 1954 EMI recording of Il Turco in Italia.

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