November 4, 2008 has been the happiest day of my life so far. I did not think that the United States would elect a black President in my lifetime.

(While I know that it makes for bad karma, I take joy in the purple rage that President Barack Obama—cool, intelligent, magnanimous—stirs up in racists and mouth-breathers. And it’s true: Pretty much all of the people vexed by President Obama are filthy racist cockroaches.)

Along with his many other virtues, President Obama is a Maria Callas fan. He said of his iPod:
I’ve got Jay-Z on there. I’ve got Frank Sinatra on there. I’ve got Maria Callas on there
Hail to the Chief!


You like Callas, you really like Callas

In the past month, lovely Internauts from some three dozen nations and every continent (except Antarctica) have visited Re-visioning Callas, to wit:
Venezuela, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, the Russian Federation, Portugal, Poland, the Philipines, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Namibia, Mexico, Macedonia, Latvia, the Republic of Korea, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Hungary, Greece, Germany, France, Egypt, Denmark, Costa Rica, China, Chile, Canada, Bulgaria, Brazil, Belgium, Azerbaijan, Austria, Australia, Argentina…
Thank you for your visits, and please drop by again soon!

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Callas and Dacia Maraini II

Here is another excerpt from Maria Callas’s interview (c. 1969) with Dacia Maraini.
May I ask you something: Do you consider yourself a fortunate woman?

I feel privileged because I’ve had an extraordinary destiny. I am a creature of destiny. Destiny chose me and wanted me thus. I stand outside of myself and watch my life from without. I see myself clearly, and I see others.

As a woman I consider myself unfortunate because I have neither a man’s affection nor the love of children.

Do you feel nostalgia for your childhood?

No. Because it was not a happy childhood.
The sound clip is from Maria Callas’s 1954 recital, Puccini Heroines.

Read other entries relating to Maria Callas and Dacia Maraini.

Read other entries featuring the music of Puccini.


Callas in La Wally

Maria Callas may have had ulterior motives in September 1954 when she recorded “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from Alfredo Catalani’s La Wally.

According to Frank Hamilton’s superb performance annals and indices, this 1954 session marked the only time that Callas sang this aria. Why then? Perhaps because, in December 1953, Renata Tebaldi had opened the La Scala season in… La Wally. By including “Ebben?” and other late Ottocento selections alongside florid arias by Verdi, Rossini, Meyerbeer, and Delibes, Callas may have wished to show that her voice embraced Tebaldi’s repertoire and so much more.

This is mere speculation on my part. It is entirely possible that EMI wished to cash in on the recent Scala opening by including this aria, or that Tullio Serafin commended this chestnut to his protégée. In any event, Callas gives a performance of exquisite melancholy. Her haunting interpretation supposedly inspired, in part, Diva, the 1981 film by Jean-Jacques Beineix.

(Incidentally, while researching this post, I learned that Diva was issued on DVD in the United States in faux stereo, without Beineix’s knowledge or aproval.)

The photo is from late 1954, showing Callas rehearsing Spontini’s La vestale at La Scala.


Maria Callas as Armida

Dr. Robert Seletsky, a distinguished musical scholar, questions the attribution to Maria Callas of a “revival of forgotten repertoire and the performance traditions that accompanied it.”

He notes that many of the works cited to bolster this assertion (including Il Turco in Italia, Il pirata, and Anna Bolena) had been produced in the twentieth century before Callas took them up. He also takes issue with Callas’s “inauthentic” (modernist) approach to early Ottocento opera, entailing cuts, minimal ornamentation, and the interpolation of harmonically disfiguring tonic and dominant high notes.

In Seletsky’s view, Rossini’s Armida, which Callas sang under Tullio Serafin at the 1952 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, can be deemed “the only true Callas ‘revival.’” This YouTube clip, in wretched sound, brings us from that 1952 revival the opera’s most celebrated number,“D’amore al dolce impero.” Callas sings with staggering verve and audacity, and many critics believe that the recording documents one of the greatest nights in her career.

Callas returned to “D’amore al dolce impero” in a 1954 RAI concert and reportedly attempted a studio recording of it in 1960, though to the best of my knowledge no trace of it survives. In recent years, the aria has been taken up by Renée Fleming, Joyce di Donato (on disc only, for now), and others.

Related posts: Maria Callas in music by Rossini


Maria Callas as Dalila

Maria Callas recorded “Printemps qui commence ” and two other arias from Saint-Saën’s Samson et Dalila in 1961.

There is little to say about this performance; one simply wonders at its silken, sensuous elegance. Like many, I find it regrettable that Callas did not explore (at least on disc) the rôle of Dalida in its entirety, Berlioz’s Didon and Cassandre, Valentine in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots (offered to her by La Scala), and other so-called Falcon rôles.

I posted a few months ago Callas’s recording of “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix.” It was not released until after her death because she struggles to support her lowest phrases. But, again, what a radiantly sexy performance she gives!

By the way, bonne fête nationale to French friends and readers. Vive la France!


Not Callas but Carlo Bergonzi

Carlo Bergonzi, a great tenor and a great musician, was born on July 13, 1924, making him about half a year younger than Maria Callas.

Bergonzi sang only three times with Callas, twice in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the Metropolitan Opera in 1958, and in the 1964 EMI recording of Puccini’s Tosca.

With his manly and effulgent timbre, aristocratic phrasing, and heartfelt warmth, Bergonzi was one of the very greatest singers of the twentieth century. Among tenors, only Aureliano Pertile matches him as an interpreter of Verdi.

This performance of “Che gelida manina” is from the complete 1958 recording of Puccini’s La bohème led by Tullio Serafin. Years ago, I heard a program on French radio during which panelists compared performances of this aria. Following this rendition, there was a long silence, after which someone remarked, awestruck, C’est Rodolphe. The hosts played this recording twice more, marvelling at its magical beauty.

Buon compleanno, carissimo Maestro, e grazie per le infinite bellezze che Lei ci ha regalato.


Maria Callas’s funeral

This very elegiac clip shows still images of Maria Callas and, in the last forty seconds or so, film of her funeral at the Greek Orthodox church (cathedral?) on the rue Georges-Bizet in Paris.

The music, I believe, is “In trutina” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which was composed roughly ten years after Maria Callas was born.

Late Callas?

This clip purports to reproduce Maria Callas’s singing in 1976, just over a year before she died. If the date is correct, I believe that her accompanist is Jeffrey Tate. The piece, incomplete, is Beethoven’s concert aria “Ah, perfido!”

Callas’s singing here, while not at the level of her great years, is vastly superior to what it was in the unlistenable Philips recordings of 1972 and the tour with di Stefano.

There is a recording supposedly of a practice session in 1977 which, again, finds Callas in relatively free and imposing voice. (That recording was kicking around YouTube, but I am unable to locate it now.)

If these snippets are accurately dated, then perhaps Tito Gobbi was right when he said that Callas never lost her voice, only her nerve.

What do you think? I find it hard to believe that the gasping, monumentally insecure Callas of the early 1970s could reclaim this much voice—but, again, Callas and many of her associates maintained that, to the end, she could sing well without the pressure of an audience.


Maria Callas, the mute singer

Pier Paolo Pasolini: The man who didn’t make Maria Callas sing…

It wasn’t his choice to take part in the great masquerade that transforms a woman into a female transvestite. In the case of opera singers, this masquerade is so powerful that it can ultimately destroy these (apparently cherished) live marionettes. It wasn’t his choice as a homosexual. In the world of opera, there swirls around divas a world of men who “adore” women, all the more and all the better when they are no longer women, but masks...

The singer, finally mute and yet shown, in her violence and her life. The singer finally set free from her song.
Catherine Clément, “La Cantatrice muette ou le maître chanteur démasqué”
Catherine Clément, the French philosopher and novelist, seems to inspire extreme reactions. Her beautiful screed, Opera: Or the Undoing of Women, is a fundamental, must-read text for me, yet scholarly friends for whom I have the deepest respect dismiss it as rot.

(OT, but please bear with me: For more than ten years, I have been looking for an English-language publisher for my translation of Clément’s beautiful novel La Señora, based on the life of Doña Gracia Nasi.)

Clément’s 1980 essay on Callas and Pier Paolo Pasolini, “The Mute Singer; or, the Master Singer Unmasked,” is brief and difficult. The title riffs on Eugène Ionesco’s “anti-play,” The Bald Soprano.

By not making (forcing) Callas to sing in his Medea film, Pasolini, in Clément’s view, avoided the “trap,” the “blackmail” (chantage), inflicted on her by others. In the French-speaking world, this is a familiar theme: Pierre-Jean Rémy, in Callas, une vie (1978), presented the soprano as a victim “forced” to sing first by her mother, then by Meneghini, and so forth.

Incidentally, the issue of Callas and film, Callas in film, is rich and filled with ironies. In Medea, her only feature, Callas not only does not sing but is actually mute for long stretches. Zeffirelli’s Callas Forever shows the soprano mourning her voice, trying (and failing) to bring it back to life. In Fellini’s E la nave va, the dead soprano’s voice is heard only when her ashes are scattered over the sea—as if her voice were being swallowed up by the depths along with her earthly remains.

And then there is the thorny issue, explored by Michal Grover-Friedlander and others, of dubbing. In contrast to French and Anglo-American films, Italian films (even those for Italian audiences) are often dubbed, evincing a blithe attitude toward the “integrity” of voice and person. It is a practice ultimately rejected by the fictional Callas in Callas Forever. In life, though, the Rome Opera's insistence that “nobody can double (dub) Callas” created mayhem for the soprano. (“To dub” and “to double” are the same word in Italian; “nobody can double Callas” are words that Callas cited, with bitterness, a decade after the 1958 Rome Norma fracas.)

There is more to be said, but it is 39°C today, and I need a nap. Back at you real soon.


Cesare Siepi, 1923 – 2010

Opera blogs and Tweeps are reporting that Cesare Siepi has passed away. He was 87 years old (born in 1923, like Maria Callas).

Though Siepi was a regular at Rudolf Bing’s Metropolitan Opera, he sang with Maria Callas some two dozen times, starting in 1948, with four performances as Padre Guardiano in Verdi’s La forza del destino, through the 1958 revival of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena at La Scala.

Like Callas, Siepi was a versatile musician: In 1949 alone, he sang Gurnemanz to her Kundry in Wagner’s Parsifal and Erode to her Erodiade the younger in Stradella’s San Giovanni Battista.

A handsome man of noble bearing, Siepi was a gifted actor with a plush, ringing voice. His Salzburg Don Giovanni (under Wilhelm Furtwängler) is available on DVD. He was also a supreme Verdian, an arresting Mefistofele in Boito’s opera, and an admired recitalist and interpreter of popular songs in several languages.

A singer’s singer, Siepi was a rôle model for Ferruccio Furlanetto, one of today’s great basses, and for many other younger artists.

According to Wikipedia, Siepi sang professionally into the 1980s and perhaps later.

This musical excerpt is from a 1951 recording of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem led by Arturo Toscanini.