Maria Callas sings Verdi

On Saturday, 9 October, Giuseppe Verdi turns 197 years young. (Actually, it seems that he was born on 10 October but, as Marcello Conati reports, Verdi himself always celebrated his birthday on 9 October.) This week’s posts, then, will be devoted to music by Verdi.

Maria Callas scored an historic triumph in Verdi’s Macbeth at La Scala in 1952 but never again sang the rôle of Lady Macbeth. About two years earlier, she had sung an audition for Toscanini for a Macbeth that was to have been staged in Busseto, but because of the maestro’s great age and fragile health, that production never came to be. (Some say, though, that Toscanini’s admiration for Callas finally led Antonio Ghiringhelli to offer her a proper contract at La Scala.)

Macbeth was also at the center of two Callas “scandals” of the late 1950s: The dispute with Rudolf Bing that eventually led to his firing her from the Met; and her troubles with Kurt Herbert Adler and the San Francisco Opera. The supposed Macbeth curse does seem to have pursued Callas!

Maria Callas recorded Lady Macbeth’s three great scenes under Nicola Rescigno in 1958, and they are among her finest recordings. Lady Macbeth’s entry in 1958 is less monumental in terms of vocal tone, perhaps, than the 1952 Scala pirate, but it is fiercer, with lashing attacks and a more propulsive quality than Callas had mustered earlier.

Some of the credit for this must go to Nicola Rescigno. I’ve said it before: He was a much underrated maestro, not at the level of a Muti or a Toscanini (who is?), but a sensitive and honorable musician.

Hear Maria Callas in other music by Verdi, including video of this same aria sung in concert.

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