Callas in Weber

If I could choose “old” operas to dust off and revive, I might put Weber’s Oberon and Der Freischütz at the top of the list. Through the middle of last century, they were well represented on disc and occasionally staged, and then… nothing. A shame, for they are grand, roiling works that give us a taste of German Romantic opera before Wagner.

Maria Callas sang “Ocean! thou mighty monster” as a young girl and again in the early 1960s. For a developing voice or a worn instrument, this strenuous aria seems a foolhardy choice but, again, Weber’s music was part of the mainstream repertoire in those years.

Callas sang a Freischütz aria in 1938, at her first public concert in Greece. She returned to Weber’s music throughout her Greek years and in 1950 and 1951 concerts in Italy. She took up “Ocean!” for a London appearance in 1962 and for EMI sessions in 1962, 1963, and 1964.

The text to “Ocean!” can be found here. Some have praised Callas for her fine English enunciation in this aria, but as far as I’m concerned, she may as well be singing in Etruscan. (Incidentally, did you know that Callas, in her Greek years, sang Dido’s lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as well as “On Wenlock Edge” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, both in English?)

I do not know the precise date of this recording (1962–64). Callas is in portentous form, though her high notes are a trial, more or less screams. Still, to quote Bruce Burroughs, a writer sometimes hostile to Callas: “By some mysterious alchemy she was even able to demonstrate how music she could not sing well should ideally be sung.”

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