Callas as Lucia II

1952 was a glorious year in Maria Callas’s career. She opened the La Scala season as Lady Macbeth (left), her second consecutive opening night, and also made her London début.

Throughout the year, she kept up a punishing pace and triumphed in some of the most challenging music written for the female voice, including Verdi (Vespri, Macbeth, Traviata, and Rigoletto), Mozart (Entführung), Rossini (Armida), and Bellini (Norma and Puritani).

In 1952, she also sang for the first time in her professional career a rôle that would become one of her greatest achievements: Donizetti’s Lucia.

Callas sang the Mad Scene in a RAI radio concert in February, then undertook her first staged Lucia in Mexico City in June.

The following excerpt is taken from that Mexico City run. A few notes:
  • Lucia’s mad scene here is a virtual duet (with the siffleur).
  • After she withdrew from the stage, Callas remarked, possibly of this very performance: “Absolutely sure, beautiful top notes and all that, but it was not yet the rôle.”
  • She also told Walter Legge that in her younger days, she had sung “like a wildcat.”
I think that Callas’s self-assessment is accurate. While her vocalism in this performance is dazzling, there is an athletic, exhibitionistic quality to it, particularly in “Spargi d’amaro pianto.” To me, she sounds more the local favorite living up to her billing of soprano assoluto, and less the dangerous, deranged bride of Lammermoor.

That said, there is much to enjoy here, in this “germ” of the supreme Lucia that Callas would become.

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