CALLAS (1923 - 1977) -- HER BEST RECORDINGS IN GOOD SOUND
Tue, 5 Aug 2003 07:00:08 +0100, [poster #2] wrote:
about the best recording of Callas (in a complete opera) live or not? I love her
Serafin, Corelli and Christa Ludwig and find it hard to believe the booklet in
the CD that said that she was no longer at her best. The sound quality is excellent
in this. But another, earlier recording (can't remember which one)of her, which
I listened to in a record shop, had such poor sound quality that I couldn't ignore
the hissing tinnyness. So which one, in your opinion, gives good sound quality
and good singing.
[poster #1] Best? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm
'53 Tosca with de Sabata (and di Stefano and
Gobbi) - maybe the best anything ever. For Normas,
there are two live ones from 1955 - I'll probably prefer the Milano one over the
one from Rome.
[Geof. Riggs] Not only would I certainly agree that the Milano one (Dec. 7th of
that year) is the best Norma in terms of Callas
herself, I truly feel that that "live" Milano Norma
is the finest example of Callas's artistry anywhere on disc! Sometimes overlooked
is Callas's consistently successful collaborations with the producer/director
of that production, Margherita Wallmann. Wallmann also directs the Bernstein Medea
(from Dec. '53) and the Gavazzeni Ballo in maschera (Dec.
'57), both performances where Callas's singing radiates similar confidence. I
don't regard that as a coincidence, and I look on a proper study of Wallmann's
directing style as long overdue.
though Callas is certainly at her peak in the Wallmann Norma,
this performance is not the best-recorded example of her peak singing, and [poster
#2] asked for the best-recorded example of her artistry -- when at her best. That
Wallmann Norma is reasonably listenable, IMO
-- certainly faaaaar more listenable than either of the Visconti Traviatas
or some of the Mexico material or the Nabucco
(goodness knows) or any one of a number of other really poor issues -- but there
is still one bad patch of static in this Norma
right as Norma is poised to slay her children in Act II, Scene 1.
though Callas tends not to be quite so energized in the studio as on stage, most
of the stage documents -- at least during her prime -- tend not to be in as good
sound as the studio products. This means that, if one wants her in state-of-the-art-sound
and in prime voice, one has to choose among the studio recordings made during
her prime. In addition, one (sometimes) has to do a balancing act between her
peak form and adequate sound. In the following summary, I have numbered in sequence,
from #1. on, those studio sets I consider the best amalgam of responsible engineering
and consistently assured singing. Letters A to D represent her chief vocal phases
throughout her career.
Her voice is at its fullest and most powerful, though not -- quite -- its most
immacculately controlled, from 1947 (still the 78 era) to the first half of 1953
(early LP era and still mono). There are few documents from this phase that are
really well-engineered, IMO.
The few exceptions include an EMI
Lucia, made in Feb. '53, opposite Di Stefano
and Gobbi, with Serafin conducting.
There is also her EMI
Puritani, made in March '53, also w/Di
Stefano. This probably gives the best-recorded sound picture available of the
Callas voice during this period, IMO. Even here, though, the high-lying phrases
closing Act I are too closely miked, and there is some distortion.
Then the voice gets thinner but gains in focus, legato, flexibility and diction
while being (occasionally) unsure on top, though not always, from the second half
of '53 (early LP/mono period) to the first half of '56 (still LP/mono). Although
less consistent than in A), she is, when at her best here, a greater singer, IMO,
than earlier. Thus, there are, IMO, both poorer examples of her singing here than
earlier and certain ones that are somewhat greater as well. A prime example of
the latter is her Autumn '55 Lucia when compared
to her Feb. '53 recording. Yes, her tone is fuller in Feb. '53, but her control
over pitch, flexibility, breath, diction, so much more, is surprisingly better
in Autumn '55. And yet her Feb. '53 recording is already quite fine! At the same
time, her "live" '51 Aida is preferable
in most ways, IMO, to her Serafin Aida from
'55, even though the latter is better recorded. So you never can tell.
is such an up/down pattern to her singing now that mini-phases occur within the
the '53/54 season, the voice gets slimmer -- somewhat -- as she herself starts
losing considerable weight during a drastic dieting regime. But while the voice
is getting slimmer, the control grows more astonishing than ever. And it's still
essentially a dramatic soprano sound when fully extended.
It's from this season (mid-August, '53) that we have the classic De
Sabata Tosca made for EMI that [poster
#1] cites here.
Almost as good, IMO, is her EMI
made during the same season. She herself is somewhat stronger in the Cavalleria,
but I now find the Pagliacci (she never did
Nedda on stage), as a totality, the most satisfying Pagliacci
in the catalogue, not least because of Di Stefano's surprisingly strong Canio
(he wasn't really the spinto the role needs, yet he copes admirably, IMO), Gobbi's
indelible Tonio and Serafin's superb leadership. (Real stars like Panerai and
Monti in the smaller roles certainly don't hurt!) This is a case of the whole
being greater than the sum of its parts -- and its parts are hardly bad.
highlight among her "live" Scala broadcasts also comes from this season:
a blazing Medea in December, conducted by
and directed by Margherita Wallmann. Callas
is untiring, fearless and inspired here, displaying the utmost control throughout
an arduous evening. As this performance makes clear, she is still an authentic
dramatic soprano at this point. However, as "live" recordings go, though
the sound is hardly bad here, it does not entirely compete with any of the studio
products from EMI (what with a spot of distortion at the conclusion of Act II,
and so on).
[poster #2] might also be interested in the earlier
EMI Norma that, like the Pagliacci,
comes from the tail end of this season. If [poster #2] enjoys the Corelli/EMI
Norma, s/he should be truly enthralled with
Callas here, where Callas is in much better voice. No, Callas does not plumb the
depths of the Wallmann Norma, but her singing
is considerably surer than in the set [poster #2] already enjoys, and I find her
interpretation just as exciting in its way as in the EMI/Corelli set, despite
the fact that no interpretation is as all-encompassing as that heard with Wallmann.
[poster #2] should also be aware that the Pollione on this '54 EMI Norma
is not as satisfying as Corelli in the stereo set.
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-- FROM COMEDY TO TRAGEDY
CARUSO (1873 - 1921) -- A BRIEF APPRECIATION
CORELLI (1921 - 2003) -- RECOLLECTIONS AND REFLECTIONS
CARLOS -- RANDOM JOTTINGS
TENOR AND RICHARD WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES
ROBERT MERRILL (1917 - 2004)
NORMA -- TRADITIONS LOST AND RESTORED
ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES
OF OPERA IN MINIATURE
TAUBER (1891 - 1948) -- A BRIEF APPRECIATION
IN LA TRAVIATA
OVERVIEW OF TRISTAN ON CD
TROVATORE ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES