Giuseppe Verdi


A weekly Quixotic pursuit for appreciators of opera who don't expect too much, would-be appreciators of opera who don't know what to expect, and those somewhere in-between,
such as your host.

Thrown together in haste every
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Giacomo Puccini

SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 72: Callas Vs. Other Sopranos

                                                 Maria Callas

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 preference. 
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:" 


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 experience." 

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 War (1649)
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 Stefano (below)? 
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.

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.
CALLAS, 1954: 

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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