SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 72:
Callas Vs. Other Sopranos
Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"The Thieving Magpie," by Rossini.
Today, the royal we
will be comparing arias sung by various sopranos with the same arias sung by
Maria Callas. Why? Why not? Perhaps to give some idea of how and why Callas is
so revered. Here is the exquisite, transporting---at times wrenching for the
amount of yearning built into the music---"Tacea la notte placida," from Verdi's
"Il Trovatore," sung by the great, great Leontyne Price. "Trovatore," as I have
undoubtedly said before, has a plot so insane that it has always been largely dismissed as
ridiculous. Nonsense, I say. The more insane the plot, the better suited it is
for opera. Anyhow, listen to Ms. Price (thankfully still with us), and then to
Callas. Both are tremendous in their ways, yet. . .I suspect you will have a
Role: Leonora, a lady-in-waiting for the Princess of Aragon
Setting: The gardens of the palace of Aliferia, Aragon, 1409.
Synopsis: Leonora reveals to her servant Ines that she heard someone serenading
her in the garden. However, when she goes out to see who the troubadour is, she
finds that it is, in fact, a knight in black armor who she had once crowned as
the champion of a tournament. She quickly fell in love with him.
The plot of "Il Trovatore:"
CALLAS: PERFECT IMPERFECTION
University of Southern California professor Tim Page---a great guy, by the
way---says that Callas brought a sense of daring back to opera: She challenged
her audience and never bored it:
"The thing about Callas was there was always a keen dramatic intelligence and a
real sense of harrowing intensity to her singing, which I think made her
extremely special," Page says. "I mean, when you listen to Callas, even after
her voice had started to go, it still tends to be an unforgettable musical
The tender, gripping "Qui la voce...Vien, diletto" from Bellini's "I Puritani.'
Otherwise known as Elvira's mad scene. If you ask me, the madness here is in the
set design. (Though it is kind of fun.) Diana Damrau is the soprano, and she is
great. But she is not Callas (below.)
Role: Elvira Walton, the daughter of Lord Walton
Setting: A hall in the castle near Plymouth, England, during the English Civil
Synopsis: After Giorgio explains to the people in the Castle about Elvira, Bruno
and the people leave. Elvira enters visibly perturbed (and somewhat insane) and
remembers her lover's voice while Riccardo and Giorgio pity her.
In recent years, Sondra Radvanovsky has sung "Vissi d'arte," ("I lived for art")
from Puccini's "Tosca," to great acclaim, and it is well warranted. Give a
listen to this great Metropolitan Opera performance, then watch Maria Callas
(below.) Yes, you're right, it's an unfair comparison.
Role: Floria Tosca, a famous singer
Setting: Scarpia's study
Synopsis: In the midst of an being pressured to have sex with the fiendish
Trump---I mean, Scarpia---in exchange for her beloved's life,Tosca sings of the
two great driving forces in her life: love and music.
Here are Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko, who where
were quite a pair in Puccini's "La Boheme" a few years back (even did a movie
version), with the duet, "O Soave Fanciulla," ("Oh, beautiful girl in the
moonlight.") It's terrific, but does it compare favorably with Callas and Di
Synopsis: It's Christmas Eve in Paris. Neighbors Rodolfo (a poor poet) and Mimi
(a poor seamstress) have just accidentally met, and are falling in love.
MARIA CALLAS AND GIUSEPPE DI STEFANO:
Mirella Freni is the choice of many as the definitive Mimi---ever---in Puccini's
"Boheme." Here is some supporting evidence. With English subtitles. "Mi Chiamano
Mimi" ("My name is Mimi"), from act one. Freni is more delicate, more by the
book than Callas (below.) Which do you prefer?
Setting : Christmas Eve in a room in an attic
Synopsis : After Rodolfo tells her that he has fallen in love with her, he asks
Mimi to tell him something of her. She responds, telling him (among other
things) that her name is Lucia, although she is called Mimi.
CALLAS's reading is characteristically compelling for its emotional commitment:
Here is fearless Anna Netrebko really going to town with "Sempre Libera"
("Always Free" ) from Verdi's "La Traviata." It's a terrific performance, yet it
is dwarfed by a titantic, unbelievable rendering by Callas (below.)
Role: Violetta Valery, a beautiful and wealthy Parisian (courtesan)
Setting: A salon in the house of Violetta after a big party
Synopsis: In the first part of this aria, Violetta muses over the offer of
Alfredo's love and wondering if he is her true love after her numerous flings.
In the second part, she decides not to worry about her problems and, instead,
live only for pleasure and freedom.
CALLAS, in a stupendous rendering before she lost weight, and still had
Wagnerian pipes. One of the comments: "No one has ever or will ever sing like
this. All the trills, scales, everything Verdi wrote is perfectly executed with
a gargantuan voice. It's like an 18 wheeler moving like a Ferrari."
Katia Ricciarelli got a lot of mileage out of portraying the tragic,
self-sacrificing, noble "Liu" in Puccini's "Turandot," and one can see/hear why.
Here is "Signore, Ascolta," from 1983, on stage in Vienna. And after listening
to Callas (below), one can see and hear why Ricciarelli is no competition.
Role: Liú, a slave girl
Setting: The streets of Peking
Synopsis: Liú, Calaf, and Timur are in the midst of a processional to the
execution of the Prince of Persia who attempted to win the Princess Turandot by
answering three riddles. If he had given the correct answers, he would have
married the Princess, but the price for incorrectly answering them was death.
During the processional, Calaf catches a glimpse of Turandot, falls in love with
her immediately, and decides to attempt to answer the three riddles. Liú sings
this aria to beg him not to risk his life for the Princess.
Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo in the muy fabuloso duet, "Ah, che la morte
ognora. . .Miserere" from Verdi's "Il Trovatore." ("Ah, how slow death. . .Have
mercy. . .") Great Callas live footage at bottom.
Go here and search for "morte ognora:"
Manrico’s army has been defeated and he and Azucena are being held captive in di
Luna’s castle. Leonora has escaped with Ruiz, Manrico’s lieutenant, and comes to
the prison. She knows that he is condemned to death and prays for his salvation
(“D’amor sull’ali rosee”). The troubador’s voice is heard from inside the
castle. When di Luna appears and orders the execution of both Manrico and
Azucena at sunrise, Leonora offers herself to the count in return for her
lover’s life, but secretly takes a slow poison to cheat di Luna of his prize.
Inside the prison, Manrico tries to comfort Azucena, who is terrified by visions
of the stake and the fire that await her. He lulls her with memories of their
former freedom and happiness (Duet: “Ai nostri monti”). Leonora rushes in to
tell Manrico that he is saved, urging him to escape. He understands what she has
done and furiously denounces her, refusing di Luna’s mercy. But the poison is
already taking effect. Leonora dies in his arms. Di Luna enters the cell in time
to witness her death. He sends Manrico to his execution. Azucena cries out that
her mother is avenged: di Luna has killed his own brother.
CALLAS (With English subtitles):
In our final "compare and contrast" with Maria Callas, here is (first) Spanish
soprano Pilar Lorengar singing "In quelle trine morbide" from Puccini's "Manon
Lescaut." "In those soft lace curtains. . ." Callas's rendition follows (below),
and it is utterly riveting.
Setting: Geronte’s house, Paris, France, 18th century
Synopsis: Remembering Des Grieux’s love, Manon is not sure she made the right
decision to live with Geronte. Even with the luxury she has, there is something
that chills her soul.
It’s true, it’s true! I left him
without a word of farewell, without a kiss!
(She looks around and her gaze falls upon the alcove.)
In those soft lace hangings,
in that gilt alcove
there is a silence, a mortal chill –
there is a silence,
a coldness that turns me to ice!
And I who was accustomed
to a voluptuous caress
of ardent lips and passionate arms
now have something quite different.
Oh, my humble dwelling,
you again appear before me –
cheerful, secluded, white-walled,
like a sweet dream of peace and love!
About Ms. Lorengar:
CALLAS, in a performance that arrests from the first notes:
Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
"What a lovely thing is a sunny day. . ."
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