Callas in Parsifal

Maria Callas sang the rôle of Kundry in Richard Wagner’s Parsifal five times in 1949 and 1950. It was in this opera that she first caught the attention of Luchino Visconti. He recalled:
The first time I saw Maria was when she was still enormous. She was half naked in the second act, covered with yards and yards of transparent chiffon—a marvellous temptress, like an odalisque… Every night she sang I secured a certain box and shouted like a mad fanatic when she took her bows. I sent her flowers. She was beautiful but fat on stage, commanding—her gestures thrilled you.
Renata Scotto laughed at the fat, graceless Callas before attending Parsifal but then, à la Kundry, was thunderstruck. “Little by little this voice had all the nature in it—the forest and the magic castle and hatred that is love. And little by little she not fat with bad skin and rich-husband-asleep-in-the-corner; she witch who burn you by standing there.”

As you can hear, Kundry was an extraordinarily congenial rôle for Callas. By some accounts, she was scheduled to sing it at La Scala in 1956 instead of Giordano’s Fedora.

As it happens, Marianne Brandt, who sang Kundry in the second performance of Parsifal in 1882, studied under Pauline Viardot. Brandt’s repertoire included Le Prophète, Lucrezia Borgia, La Favorite, Il trovatore, and other operas requiring a superb command of florid music.

Wagner is supremely ill-served by barkers, shouters, and vocalists lacking the musical polish (and elemental sensuality) of a Callas. She observed, correctly, “Wagner could never hurt your voice, if you know how to sing well.”

No comments:

Post a Comment