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Bellini: Norma / Serafin, Callas, Fillipeschi, Stignani

Release Date: 08/19/1997 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 56271   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Mario FilippeschiRina CavallariNicola Rossi-LemeniMaria Callas,   ... 
Conductor:  Tullio Serafin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala OrchestraMilan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 2 Hours 41 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

"Maria Callas appeared as Norma some 90 times during the course of her career, initially in Florence in 1948 and finally in Paris in 1964 and 1965. “Casta diva,” with recitative and cabaletta, was one of her very first recordings, for Cetra in 1949 (the others being Elvira’s Mad Scene from Puritani, and Isolde’s “Liebestod” sung in Italian). Besides her two studio Normas for EMI—the first from 1954, now reissued in that company’s “Great Recordings of the Century” series; and then the stereo remake from 1960—there are also “live” performances that document her Norma at different stages of her career—early (Mexico City, 1950); not quite so early (London 1952, a performance just recently issued by EMI as the company continues to expand Read more its Callas catalog by adding further “live” performances; see my feature article in this issue); at its height (the June 1955 RAI concert performance given pride of place in the headnote above, and a Scala production in December that same year, of which more below); and late (Paris 1965, excerpts only). Since EMI’s stereo remake first appeared, the relative merits of the two studio sets have been hotly debated. Both are superbly conducted by Tullio Serafin. Both Adalgisas—Ebe Stignani in 1954, Christa Ludwig in 1960 (a particularly interesting casting choice on the part of producer Walter Legge)—are very fine (Stignani, to some listeners, being arguably more stylish than the non-Italian Ludwig). And both Orovesos—Nicola Rossi-Lemeni in 1954, Nicola Zaccaria in 1960—are authoritative enough, even if Rossi-Lemeni’s somewhat wobbly vocalism doesn’t match Zaccaria’s suavity. But in 1954, there’s really nothing to recommend in Mario Filippeschi’s stiff, vocally stolid Pollione (“characterization” is limited to occasional sobbing, whining, or sneering); Franco Corelli in 1960 is far and unquestionably superior in every way. As to Callas herself, one party line has always been that the soprano’s diminished vocal capacity in 1960 is offset by greater interpretive insight; and certainly it’s the interpretive insights that hold one’s ear when the going gets rough from a purely vocal perspective. On the other hand, it’s now pretty well recognized that one of the most remarkable aspects of Callas’s Norma throughout her career (and thankfully we have the various recordings to document this fact) was its interpretive consistency. Yes, certain details do stand out later as more finely honed than before, but certainly there is much more than just prodigious vocalism to be found in EMI’s 1954 set, and, in fact, despite the early vintage, her voice can sometimes sound thick or harsh even here (aspects in turn exacerbated by the studio microphone). So while one may turn to 1960 for more consistently desirable casting and for its stereo sound, one needs the 1954 set, too; and its inclusion as one of EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century” is surely justified, even if only because it first introduced Callas’s Norma to a wide listening public."

-- Fanfare [5/2004]
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Works on This Recording

Norma by Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Mario Filippeschi (Tenor), Rina Cavallari (Mezzo Soprano), Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (Bass),
Maria Callas (Soprano), Ebe Stignani (Mezzo Soprano), Paolo Caroli (Tenor)
Conductor:  Tullio Serafin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1831; Italy 
Date of Recording: 1954 
Venue:  Cinema Metropole, Milan, Italy 
Length: 160 Minutes 33 Secs. 
Language: Italian 

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