Notes and Editorial Reviews
Throughout, Callas keeps her sights selflessly on the material at hand, leaving us with this lasting message: the singer's calling is embodied in the performer's honesty, integrity, devotion to standards, and service to the art.
Recently I read that Maria Callas is the second-best-selling artist in EMI's catalog (after Itzhak Perlman, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in third place). Certainly the company has had no qualms about reissuing its Callas material in a bewildering variety of recombinations, so the recent spate of repackagings is in no way surprising, especially considering the Broadway success of Terrence McNally's new play, Master Class, and the holiday gift-giving season with which the present releases coincided. EMI issued the three-disc Callas at Juilliard originally in 1987, at full price; it was remaindered a year or so after that, and then disappeared. The present release is virtually identical to the original, but for its new catalog number and English-only annotations (which make for a smaller booklet). The presentation is straightforward. Each master class excerpt—drawn from tapes of the soprano's classes at Miliard in the fall of 1971 and winter of 1972—is followed by Callas's own recording of the music under discussion, except in those instances—Leonore's “Abscheulicher!,“ Rigoletto's “Cortigiani,“ and Eboli's Veil Song—where no such recording exists. The set begins with Callas's 1953 test recording for EMI of “Non mi dir“ and ends with Callas's closing remarks to her students. Throughout the master class excerpts, the soprano keeps her sights selflessly on the material at hand: the music on the page, enunciation of and fidelity to the text, a variety of interpretive issues, aspects of musical/historical style, and, ultimately—and here's the lasting message—the singer's calling, as embodied in the performer's honesty, integrity, devotion to standards, and service to the art. Even in the case of music she'd obviously never have performed herself—Rigoletto's “Cortigiani“—Callas's ideas and instructions are clear and precise. Throughout the classes she does a certain amount of singing herself, by way of demonstration, encouragement, and support—much of it riveting, even given the deteriorated condition of her voice at that time. (The set is worth having just for what we get of her Rigoletto.)
As to the students, one can only admire Pamela Hebert's courage in bringing “Casta diva“ to this particular teacher at all. (She and mezzo-soprano Sheila Nadler, who works on Eboli's Veil Song, are the only two among the students whose names I recognize.) Space precludes my saying more about this set, so I'll finish by expressing the hope that more from the forty-odd hours of material taped at these classes might be made available in future. The booklet includes an introductory essay by Jon Ardoin (“Learning from Callas“), brief introductions placing each musical number in the context of Callas' career, and texts and translations.
I can't say whether EMI reissued Callas atJuilliard with Terrence McNally's Master Class in mind, but there's no doubt whatsoever about the disc bearing that title, which also has Zoe Caldwell's profile on the cover with Callas as a shadow figure in the background. (Even then, just to be sure, the words “inspired by the Broadway play“ appear under the title.) Put simply, this is a selling-piece for the theater-lobby crowd. It's shabbily presented, and full-price besides! The notes excerpt McNally's gushy preface to Ardoin's The Callas Legacy (followed by a phone number for those wanting to order the book); beyond that, there are no texts at all, just a listing of EMI's Callas discography. Two of the selections—“Ah, non credea“ and “Vieni! t'affretta“—represent music used in McNally's play. But anyone really interested in the classes—and in sorting out fact from stage fiction—will be much better off with the three-disc Callas at Juilliard.
-- Marc Mandel, FANFARE [3/1996]
This set includes excerpts of master classes by Maria Callas at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. It also includes a track (1 minute, 47 seconds) titled "Callas' Farewell to the Students" recorded in March, 1972.