Callas in La vestale II

Gaspare Spontini’s La vestale (1807), now a rarity, was considered a masterpiece in its day and much admired by Cherubini, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, and Wagner.

La vestale’s story (about a priestess who neglects her duties for love) and its exalted tone make it a kind of mini-Norma. That said, while Norma and Pollione go to their death on the funeral pyre in Bellini’s opera, Giulia (as Vestale’s heroine is known in the Italian translation of this French-language work) is saved and united with her lover when lightning reignites the goddess Vesta’s sacred flame.

Rosa Ponselle famously sang Vestale before undertaking Norma. Maria Callas, instead, sang Norma first and opened the 1954-55 La Scala season, the first after her dramatic weight loss, in Spontini’s opera, which she sang five times.

Earlier this year I posted rehearsal photos and footage of Callas in La vestale. The first clip in that post includes the aria “O nume tutelar.” (You can also hear Rosa Ponselle’s magnificent version of this aria.)

Today, instead, Callas sings the great scena beginning “Tu che invoco con orror.” This is an EMI recording from 1955, and I think it is one of her very greatest—throbbing with emotion, infinitely varied in color and accent, yet patrician in style. Callas performed this scene in concert frequently during the late 1950s.

The still photo you see in the YouTube clip is not from Vestale; instead, it is from a 1961 rehearsal of Cherubini’s Medea at La Scala.

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