Callas in Norma III

This is (for now?) the earliest known footage of Maria Callas on stage. It shows her with Franco Corelli, Elena Nicolai, and Boris Christoff in Bellini’s Norma, which opened the season at Trieste’s Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in November 1953. Antonino Votto conducted.

What does the video tell us? First, that production values in provincial, post-war Italy were primitive and, by some feat of anachronistic legerdemain, utterly Monty Python-esque. (Christoff looks very much like the “It’s” man; Flavio and his companions would be right at home in Monty Phython and the Holy Grail; and some of the acting seems to have been inspired by “The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights“.)

Second, it confirms that Callas, as Augusta Oltrabella famously observed, “was an actress in the expression of the music, and not vice versa.” On its own, as pantomime, Callas’s acting was compelling, yes, but not overwhelming. Compare today’s clip with the rehearsal footage from her 1964 Paris Norma. In both, her gestures and expressions are strong and spare—calculated, of course, for the opera house and not for video or film. I do not see a significant difference in her acting from her “fat,” pre-Visconti days and what came later, though I do hear greater refinement in her singing.

What do you think?

See and hear Maria Callas in other selections from Bellini’s Norma.

1 comment:

  1. What a nice footage! It's a pity there are so few videos of Callas.

    I really like her gestures, and I believe that they work perfectly for opera. The problem is that today operatic presentations are judged as they were movies: people are demanding a "realism" that makes no sense in this context.

    Opera is the realm of larger-than-life (more or less as Gary Schmidgall said), so I believe that the gestures, the acting, the interpretation should be bigger, higher, more exaggerated - not necessarily in a kitsch way, but in a "aethereal" one. (Well, that's how I think while singing, and probably other singers think the same. :-D)

    I'll watch Norma live for the first time on October 8th, at Theatro São Pedro, in São Paulo. It'll be difficult not to remember Callas, but the soprano - Maria Pia Piscitelli - is excellent. Have you ever listened to anything sung by her?