Notes and Editorial Reviews
Although this performance has been available on "private" labels for years, this is the first time it has been "generally" available; EMI has cleaned up the sound as best it could, but it's still below par. Nonetheless, you can clearly hear the main attraction, which of course is the Maddalena of Maria Callas. Since she never recorded the opera commercially and only sang the role six times, few heard her in the part. As we know, Andrea Chénier is a tenor's opera--he has arias in each of the four acts, two big duets, and is the absolute focus--which probably is why Callas rarely performed it. As it is, she was vaguely tricked into it: the scheduled opera was Trovatore, but a week before, Mario del Monaco announced that he was too indisposed to sing Manrico, so he wanted to substitute Chénier! Being the bigger star (at the time), he got his way. He also knew that Callas didn't know the role and perhaps this was a way of not having to share the limelight with the diva that was beginning to take the world by storm and who always garnered the attention. Never one to be tricked, Callas learned the role in five days, and this is the result.
Maddalena is not a very interesting character, but she has a bunch of emotions that she can express in a big aria ("La mamma morta") and a pair of exciting duets. Callas is in terrific voice throughout, singing in her most straightforward, verismo, no-frills style. At the start of the opera she's just a thoughtless rich girl; her tone darkens and her passions grow as the opera progresses. The big aria is grand indeed, and in the duets she holds her own against the trumpet-like del Monaco (who clearly wasn't even remotely indisposed) with her usual devotion to both text and music. Del Monaco recorded the opera commercially (and a few other versions have floated around from time to time) and there are no surprises here. As suggested, he's in glorious voice, albeit at one volume level throughout. The normally tedious baritone Aldo Protti sings the servant/big-shot revolutionary Gérard brilliantly, with just the right snarl and ringing tone. Antonino Votto keeps the action moving. If you love Callas, this is self-recommending.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com