THE ETERNAL MARIA CALLAS • Maria Callas (sop); Gabriele Santini, cond;1 Georges Sebastian, cond;2 Nicola Rescigno, cond;3 Georges Prêtres, cond;4 Carlo Felice Cillario, cond;5 Paris Op O & Ch;6 North German RSO;7 RoyalRead more Op House O, Covent Garden;8 ORTF O;9 RAI O & Ch, Roma;10 Various interviewers • EMI 00720 (DVD: 146:00)
BELLINI Norma: Casta diva.1,10 Il pirata: Col sorriso d’innocenza.3,7 La sonnambula: Ah, non credea mirarti.4,9 VERDI Il trovatore: Vanne! Lasciami… D’amor sull’ali rosee…Miserere.2,6 Don Carlo: Tu che le vanità.3,7 Don Carlo: O don fatale.4,7 ROSSINI Il barbiere di Siviglia: Una voca poco fa.2,6 MASSENET Le Cid: Pleurez, mes yeux.4,7 Manon: Adieu, notre petite table.4,9 BIZET Carmen: Habanera; Séguedille.4,7 PUCCINI Tosca: Vissi d’arte.5,8 Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro4,9
Drawn in all but one instance from material issued previously on DVD by EMI, this video tribute to Maria Callas, marking the 30th anniversary of her death in September 1977, does its job for the most part strikingly well. In fact, there’s one item—a film of Callas singing “Casta diva” from an RAI-Rome New Year’s Eve telecast at 9 p.m. on December 31, 1957—that may in itself warrant your purchase of this DVD. Missing from the chronology of filmed performances in the final edition of John Ardoin’s The Callas Legacy (4th edition; Amadeus Press, 1995), and missing also from some of the “complete” performance chronologies elsewhere in the Callas literature, it appears here, “for the first time on DVD,” as a “special bonus feature”—one that I’d never previously encountered in any format. In his book Maria Meneghini Callas (Northeastern University Press, 1992), Michael Scott writes that this was “one of the first Eurovision Telecasts,” that it was “transmitted throughout western Europe,” and that only the aria proper (which is to say, the cavatina) was included, without the introductory recitative or cabaletta. So that answers the question of whether more footage might be lurking elsewhere. A dress rehearsal for the complete opera had taken place earlier the same day; but the first performance of the run, on January 2, 1958, at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera, had to be curtailed when Callas withdrew after the first act due to illness. (Anita Cerquetti filled in for the remaining three performances.) Yes, this was the time of Callas’s infamous “Rome walkout,” perhaps the most notorious scandal of her career. Yet for this brief telecast, and despite some health-related concerns in the preceding few days, there was clearly no significant problem. This is a historic document.
Subtitled in English, French, and German, the DVD as a whole has three main components—a brief documentary film about Callas’s life; excerpts from several televised interviews; and the performance footage detailed in the headnote above. Given its brevity (it runs just 12 minutes), the film on Callas’s life—culled, with a new voice-over narrative, from the full-length 1987 documentary, Callas: Life & Art—gives such short shrift to the soprano’s artistry and career that the strongest impressions are unfortunately made by the accounts of her professional and personal difficulties. But this is more than offset by the wealth of performance footage, which, besides the excerpts from Callas’s televised concerts, also includes “Vissi d’arte” from the 1964 Covent Garden telecast of Tosca, act II. Worth singling out are the three beautifully sung, mesmerizingly expressive arias telecast from the ORTF studios in 1965—during a run of difficult Normas at the Opéra (in fact the last Normas of her career)—which demonstrate how, under studio conditions, and free of onstage pressures, Callas could still work her unique magic.
The interview footage—about 16 minutes drawn from the 1968 television interviews (totaling 90 minutes) with Lord Harewood; three and a half minutes from a 10-minute, June 1964 French-language interview with the “television presenter” Bernard Gavoty; and the last 18 minutes of an hour-long program, “L’Invitée du dimanche,” from April 1969—encompass an engrossing range of topics, among them Callas’s thoughts on specific roles (Anna Bolena, Violetta, Norma, Medea, Isolde, Carmen, and Tosca); the difficulties brought by fame; differences in her approach to bel canto and verismo; the role of the artist; her efforts to rebuild her voice late in her career, and the prospect of retirement from the stage.
For those wanting to read more about this material: I wrote up the EMI DVDs of “Callas: Life & Art,” and of the television interviews with Lord Harewood (“The Callas Conversations,” also including a 1965 television interview with Bernard Gavoty and the three arias telecast at that time—which is to say, the same arias that close the performance footage on the disc being reviewed now), in Fanfare 28:5 for May/June 2005, pp. 301-2. My review of the complete “L’Invitée du dimanche” (on “The Callas Conversations, Volume II, which also includes the complete 1964 Bernard Gavoty interview, and newsreel footage of Callas rehearsing the recitative to “Casta diva” while preparing the Paris Norma staged for her that year by Zeffirelli) was in Fanfare 31:2 for November/December 2007, pp. 351–352.
In short, as mentioned at the start, this commemorative DVD does its job quite well. Many or most Callas fans will likely have much or most of this material; but anyone seeking a compact, absorbing introduction to what made Callas Callas could do much worse than starting here. And then there’s that “special bonus feature,” which may have some readers already planning their purchase.
A disappointmentMay 8, 2012By BURTON A JONES, JR. (Manvel, TX)See All My Reviews"The vocal portions of this recording are really substandard for professional recordings and program notes are nonexistent. You would need to be a true Callas fan to enjoy this. Skip the bonus items."Report Abuse