all this, exhaustion and considerable vocal unevenness is the order of the day.
are still occasional mini-phases where she catches the "spirit", and
the results are perfectly exciting. But such mini-phases are briefer and more
fleeting than ever.
they do include a brief surge of strength in late '57/early '58 when she tops
her earlier Ballo in maschera of the recording
studio with, again, a Wallmann staging at La Scala, in Dec. '57. Here, although
the clarity of the instrument is not what it is in the Bolena
or the EMI Barbiere, her top is still in pretty
good control, and one feels she finally achieves what she wants to in this opera,
a feeling her studio outing does not give me, frankly. Yes, the studio Ballo
is better recorded, but this "live" Ballo
is clear enough to be enjoyable enough to qualify as my personal favorite of all
in the catalogue, since both Di Stefano in the principal role and Bastianini happen
to be in superb form as well. Also in December, we have the most compelling video
document extant of her artistry: a telecast of a "Casta Diva" sung at
a RAI studio. Although there are one or two somewhat abrasive sounds here, this
is, for the most part just as compelling as the "live" Ballo
a couple of weeks before.
We are especially lucky to have this filmed document of Callas in an excerpt from
one of her most celebrated roles, sung pretty near peak form for those years.
around this time, she finally achieves, in early '58, the triumph at the Met that
had eluded her in '56 -- "I can't believe it finally happened", Sir
Rudolf Bing said the evening she triumphed in Traviata.
Unfortunately, SFAIK, not one Met performance from these fleeting days of triumph
survives, only the pallid '56 Met Lucia cited
earlier. But an accomplished Traviata from
Lisbon does survive from around this time. It's been released by EMI in so-so
sound and also features Alfredo Kraus. A much better sounding release direct from
Lisbon radio's own archives was issued briefly by RDP, and this source is now
available on PEARL.
in the same season, a hostile Scala audience, furious with her for having walked
out, badly indisposed, after the first act of a Rome Norma
that January, was ready to boo her off the stage when she returned for a repeat
of her most arduous role, Anna Bolena! They were ready to let her have it at the
slightest sign of vocal mishap. Callas under the microscope in her most terrifying
role! Miraculously, nothing went wrong, the first act proceeded without vocal
mishap, the second act was positively inspired, and, wonder of wonders, the audience
exploded with enthusiasm at the end after having been ready to lynch her! I sometimes
think of this moment, where Callas sang successfully her most difficult role before
a completely hostile audience, as her last real hurrah at La Scala. Yes, she appeared
in a few more Scala revivals after this, but this kind of unequivocal triumph
was never hers again. From now on, at least at La Scala, it was only the occasional
not a note survives of this '58 Bolena (so
we are fortunate we have her opening in the role in early '57), nor is there a
single commercial recording of any kind whatsoever during this late '57/early
next commercial recording is not until September of '58. At this time, she makes
two recital discs: an LP of Verdi arias, followed by an LP of bel canto Mad Scenes.
I find the Verdi disc another spotty affair, although it includes an effective
enough "La luce langue" from the second act of Verdi's Macbeth.
Scenes disc is something else again. It comprises Imogene's closing scena
from Bellini's Il Pirata, Ophelie's Mad Scene
from Thomas's Hamlet -- and, finally, her
only commercial documentation of her Anna Bolena:
the entire closing scene and possibly the thirty most difficult minutes
of singing in Callas's entire repertoire. Her achievement in this Bolena
scene is not quite as authoritative as her rendition at the close of her early
'57 performance at La Scala (the first time she sang it). But it still shows greatness,
IMO. Best of all, this recital was made in stereo.
LP is the harbinger and the only commercially recorded souvenir of a now typically
brief but strong mini-phase extending into January of '59.
late '58, her singing withstands successfully the stress of numerous interviews
and phone calls in the wake of being fired from the Met. We can hear this heartening
resilience in a "live" Medea (somewhat
distantly recorded) with Jon Vickers, where, on the very day of her firing(!),
she is on top of her game for the most part, even though there are some slight
signs of fatigue (not egregious) in her last scene.
warmup problems take away somewhat from her Gala debut at the Paris Opera that
December and an otherwise successful Pirata
at Carnegie Hall the following January. But, for both evenings, once she really
gets going in the second half, she is again worth hearing.
second half of the Paris Gala consists of a fully staged Tosca
Act II, which was fortunately televised and is the second most satisfactory video
document we have of her. The sound, as with so many "live" documents,
is not exactly splendid...........but this is at least listenable enough to afford
one an aural/visual experience of Callas's artistry that comes close to what experiencing
her in the hall must have been like. It is not quite as incendescent as that RAI
"Casta Diva", but it is important for preserving Callas in full costume
acting up a storm with her eminent colleague, Tito Gobbi. This is available on
an EMI DVD.
non-commercially-recorded January Pirata at
Carnegie Hall is distinguished by a strong reading of Imogene's confrontation
with her husband and the final Mad Scene -- all in the second and final act, be
it noted. After that evening, uncertainty again.
coda to this overall phase C comes in the summer of 1959.
making an equivocal Lucia recording in stereo
earlier that year, she embarked on a concert tour through Europe and a few Medeas
at Covent Garden. Then, at a concert in Amsterdam in July, she momentarily found
her youth again. Somehow, in the midst of divorce proceedings (Meneghini, her
husband, was out and Aristotle Onassis was in), she appears to have held on to
this temporary resurgence, at least if we go by......
Gioconda made two months later (Sept.
5 - 10). Here, though without the full voice or the full control of '55/'56, she
still maintains basic vocal discipline in this demanding dramatic soprano role.
And she does more than that in the last act. Here, one has the feeling -- as at
the Wallmann Ballo -- that everything she
wants to apply to this music is called on successfully. She has an image in her
mind of how the music should go, and that image seems faithfully and thoroughly
rendered on disc. If the repeat Bolena in
1958 in front of an angry mob can be considered Callas's last true hurrah at La
Scala, then the last act of this Gioconda
is arguably Callas's last hurrah in the recording studio. Callas herself fully
understood the significance this recording had and particularly the autumnal value
of that final act: "It's all there for anyone who cares to understand or
wishes to know what I was about." This Gioconda, her Mad Scenes disc
from the year before, and the studio Barbiere from '57 are probably the
most useful introductions to her artistry, if one is restricting oneself to stereo.
Finally, in the closing years of her career, we have an even darker, but even
less malleable, instrument, the top almost always uncertain, the register shifts
more pronounced than ever, the diction particularly occluded. Now, even the flexibility
is affected and the pitch more unsure than ever. This phase extends from 1960
to her farewell from the operatic stage in
1965 when she was only 41 years old
(she was to go on an extended concert tour with Di Stefano during the early 1970s).
well-recorded LPs, all in stereo, were made during these years, and in fact her
complete Carmen is quite strong (recorded
in 1964) as an artistic achievement as well. But even the Carmen
does not truly match the sense of "dare" and inspiration heard in the
ten recommended items from the 1950s.
[poster #2] and others may find this useful,