Maria Callas in Madama Butterfly

Maria Callas recorded excerpts from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly under Tullio Serafin in 1954 and the complete opera under Herbert van Karajan in 1955, shortly before she undertook the rôle in Chicago.

If you believe that “Nina Foresti” was Maria Callas, she sang a truncated version of “Un bel dì” on the Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour radio show in 1935.

Callas biographers are divided on this point. Some report that she owned up to being Nina, while others cite her saying that she never sang under an assumed name. Nina’s speaking voice does sound vaguely like Callas’s, albeit mature for an 11-year-old girl. Her singing voice, though, is utterly unlike Callas’s. (And when did Callas ever work in the toy department of a large department store?)

In a 1957 interview, Callas described her young voice as “dark, almost black—when I think of it, I think of thick molasses,” a description that does not match Nina’s timbre at all.

Callas also sang music from Butterfly at the Italian Embassy in Athens during World War II. She returned to this excerpt, Cio-Cio San’s death scene, in her 1963 concert tour and taught it at Juilliard and Osaka master classes.

It was after Callas’s last Chicago performance as Cio-Cio San that the infamous incident with the process server took place.

This performance of Butterfly’s death scene seems to me markedly different from the one she gave a year before, something that happens rarely in the Callas discography. Nicolai Gedda sings the rôle of Pinkerton.

Hear Maria Callas in other music by Puccini, and view a snippet of film from her Chicago rehearsals.

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