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Happy birthday, Maria!


Charlie
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Charlie!!! I can't believe it either!!! Furthermore, I can't believe that I totally missed it as well!! So once again Charlie comes through with flying colors... and to those not in the know it is Maria Callas of whom were are speaking... Yes! The Devine one... La Divina!

 

In any event, no matter what you thought of her voice and of her as a person, she most definitely revolutionized opera... and due to her efforts the world of opera was forever changed. Still, there will never be another like she was. The career was short... an intensely glowing meteor if there ever was one that shot across the operatic firmament in a blaze of glory. It is amazing how while others have faded into the distance she still capivates, disturbs, and arouses the whole gamut of emotions whenever her name is mentioned... and often passionate emotions at that. That alone is testimony to her greatness...

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I can't believe that no one here has mentioned that today is La Divina's 90th birthday. And, boy, does that make me feel old.

 

I listened to the Lisbon Traviata and the Cologne 1957 Sonnambula in celebration! Her way with the Italian words was unbelievably expressive, especially in these early live recordings when she had not yet begun to have vocal problems. An amazing and revolutionary artist!!!

 

TruHart1 :cool:

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I am traveling, but I just checked my iPod. I fortunately do have the Cologne Sonnambula on it... I will start listening now! Excellent choice!

 

WG,

 

Her ‘Ah, non credea’ in this performance is my favorite interpretation of that aria and just one of the most beautiful ever preserved on any recording!

 

TruHart1 :cool:

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TH... I just finished listening to that "Ah! Non credea" and if one wants to know what constitutes a true legato that is as good an example as any. (Her recording of the final scene of Anna Bolena is another.) Plus the many shadings throughout the performance where she reduces her sound to a thin shimmer that fades into nothingness are masterful.

 

However, for me the highlight of the recording are the trills in the duet "Son geloso" which are executed to absolute perfection. I dare say that those trills are among the most perfectly executed in the history of recorded sound.

IMG_0933_Sig_crop_46x20.jpg "Take it like a man!"
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TH...However, for me the highlight of the recording are the trills in the duet "Son geloso" which are executed to absolute perfection. I dare say that those trills are among the most perfectly executed in the history of recorded sound.

 

I agree, WG, perfect trills are quite rare. La Divina in her prime, Sutherland at the beginning of her career and Marilyn Horne are the only ladies I can recall in my lifetime with a “perfect” trill. Unfortunately, as age and vocal problems crept in, the perfection was often lost. Still, it is amazing when a perfect trill is executed!

 

TruHart1 :cool:

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I totally agree about Sutherland and Horne... and to mention two more prime examples of trills from La Divina... The trills from the last scene in Anna Bolena in both the aria and cabaletta... Then the trills in Norma at the words, "Adalgisa fia punita nelle fiamme perirà"... there's fire (fiamme) in them there trills... Simply thrilling!

IMG_0933_Sig_crop_46x20.jpg "Take it like a man!"
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I totally agree about Sutherland and Horne... and to mention two more prime examples of trills from La Divina... The trills from the last scene in Anna Bolena in both the aria and cabaletta... Then the trills in Norma at the words, "Adalgisa fia punita nelle fiamme perirà"... there's fire (fiamme) in them there trills... Simply thrilling!

 

Exactly. Trills with fire AND anger too! Simply trilling!!! LOL

 

TruHart1 :cool:

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I'm not sure that I would call Horne's coloratura "machine gun". Bartoli can be machine gun. However, Horne's coloratura had a "macho" quality. That's why she was quite fine as Rossini's Arsace in Semiramide. I never got her Rosina and Cenerentola which always sounded way too masculine to me. Her Isabella in L'Italiana in Algeri worked due to the character's forceful personality. I agree that her trill was not as good as was Sutherland's, but still way above average!

 

In summary, I always admired Horne in her trouser roles... such as Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia and Falliero in Bianca e Falliero to name two more.

 

It always amazes me that many singers never learned how to properly trill and often just ignored trills altogether. Can you imagine if a pianist or violinist did such a thing!!!??? Today singers are mostly making an effort to trill, even if they are not all in the Sutherland/Callas class.

IMG_0933_Sig_crop_46x20.jpg "Take it like a man!"
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A number of years ago I was in Paris with a friend and we decided to go to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, a place I had never visited. It was mid -November and a cool grey day. We visited all the graves of famous people and as it was getting dark and we seemed to be alone we wanted to leave but tried to find the grave of Maria Callas. Out of nowhere this old man appeared and asked in French whose grave we were looking for? We said Maria Callas. He pointed to an above ground mausoleum. We looked to where he pointed and turned to thank him and he was gone. Just disappeared. I don't believe in ghosts but think he might have been one that Maria had hired. We found her spot and almost ran out of the cemetery.

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I would call Bartoli's aspirated, with lots of air in the sound, also uses her jaw to articulate a lot which i don't like, although she can also charm me with her incredibly imaginative musicality and her use of the italian language. Hornes I call machine gun for it's hammered, "martellato" effect. I always found her singing way too butch for anything that was not military gung-ho, and the incessant flatness also bothered me, but to each his own........

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I would call Bartoli's aspirated, with lots of air in the sound, also uses her jaw to articulate a lot which i don't like, although she can also charm me with her incredibly imaginative musicality and her use of the italian language. Hornes I call machine gun for it's hammered, "martellato" effect. I always found her singing way too butch for anything that was not military gung-ho, and the incessant flatness also bothered me, but to each his own........
I think that we are on the same wavelength... just a matter of semantics... butch is the perfect word to describe Horne's vocalism... That's why she will be remembered as Arsace and not Rosina. In fact I would go one step further and call it "il martello pneumatico"... no further translation needed! However, that can describe the generlissimo macho characters that she was best at! As for Bartoli... aspirated is the best way to describe it... and on a good day she can convince me, but not always.
IMG_0933_Sig_crop_46x20.jpg "Take it like a man!"
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To get back on track about La Divina...

 

As Medea London 1959...

 

http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Music/Pix/pictures/2013/12/2/1385981137475/Maria-Callas-Medea-1959-008.jpg

 

A couple of minor inaccuracies aside... it captures the essence of Callas... From 1997 by playwright Terrence McNally:

 

 

 

 

 

Callas: The truth is she was far from perfect

In the fifties, opera-lovers threw vegetables at Maria Callas . Now they only throw superlatives. Funny how people rewrite history, says playwright Terrence McNally

theguardian.com, Monday 5 May 1997 05.38 EDT

It is a brave man who dares criticise Maria Callas these days. In the 20 years since her lonely death in Paris at the age of 54 the American-born Greek soprano has been deified transformed almost beyond recognition from the controversial artist whose appearances were as eagerly awaited by some as they were detested by others.

 

No one detests Callas today, and yet she did not sing a single performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York at which she was not booed, nor did she have the pleasure of ever once reading truly enthusiastic (or intelligent) press there. Even at her debut as Bellini's Norma, an event for which I, a 17-year-old student, had queued for three days for standing room in the highest reaches of the Met, she was booed at the earliest possible moment: a sustained note in the recitative before Norma's first great aria, the celebrated 'Casta Diva.' It's not a particularly important note as these things go, and most audiences don't notice it because most Normas have no difficulty with it, but Callas did. She always did. She did the night of her Metropolitan debut and she was booed for it. She did at each of the subsequent six performances of Norma she sang, and she was booed at every one of them. What did Callas do that so outraged New York audiences? She wobbled.

 

But Callas always wobbled on that particular note. She wobbles on both her EMI recordings of Norma that were made before her Met debut, so the audience that evening of October 26, 1956, had a pretty good idea of what they were in for. No, Callas always wobbled and in my experience she was always punished for it. I heard her hissed at and reviled for an entire performance of Medea at La Scala when her short career was almost over and her never abundant natural vocal resources were running alarmingly low.

 

Since tickets for a Callas performance were always scarce, I presumed the raucous detractors in the audience had fought for them precisely to jeer the wobbles and the frequently disastrous or quickly abandoned high Es and Fs. I remember Callas being bombarded with vegetables as she took her bows after her second New York Norma, a Saturday matinee. Bunches of carrots and heads of cabbage are not sold at the refreshments bar at the Metropolitan.

 

They were flung that afternoon by opera-lovers who knew they were going to fling them before Callas had sung so much as a note. Callas could have been dubbed Sutherland or Caballe that afternoon and she would have been pelted. Callas, the woman, was as detested as her infamous wobble or 'incorrect' separation between her high, middle and low registers. For these audiences, Callas had three voices and none of them pleased.

 

Nor did the woman who told reporters that her mother could throw herself off the roof before her daughter would relieve her of her financial difficulties. Or the soprano who insisted there was simply no comparison between her and her contemporary, Renata Tebaldi. One was champagne the other, Coke. This Callas was considered a 'good' interview by reporters, though all she garnered for herself was a thoroughly 'bad' press. It was not rude or cruel to boo or embarrass such a monstrous woman. The vocal blemishes were physical manifestations of the human flaws within.

To half the audience it seemed that Callas the soprano and Callas the woman received precisely the audience and critical drubbing they deserved. If you're going to be mean to your dear old mum and say disparaging things about other singers, you had better be sure you don't wobble on the first sustained pitch before Casta Diva or have to cut off the climactic high note at the end of the Mad Scene in Lucia Di Lammermoor because what's coming out of your throat at that moment is a scratchy, arid, unpleasant sound.

 

At almost every performance, Callas paid the price for not being a 'perfect' singer. And yet for the rest of the audience (the good people, I want to call them) these human failings were of small importance next to the total accomplishment of Maria Callas herself and a Callas Violetta or Norma in particular. For them, for us, for me, Callas made opera live. She made the notes and words of the great 19th-century Italian Romantic composers and poets sound spontaneous, inevitable, even natural.

 

It was as if she were speaking and not singing, and what she was saying was being said for the very first time. A great actor makes us feel we have never heard 'To be or not to be' before and we become as one with a troubled young prince we know as Hamlet. With a good actor, we mouth the speech silently along with him and congratulate ourselves on how much of it we still remember, but we are always aware that we are watching a Great Moment from a Great Play.

 

Listening to Callas is never such a passive experience. With Callas, you are there as Violetta pleads with Germont or Norma contemplates killing her children. Other sopranos only sing 'Vessi d'arte' in Tosca. Only Callas talks to God. She does this in a voice some found 'beautiful', others not. But apart from the wobble, Callas is very close to perfection. She has true legato and phrases like a master cellist. Trills and coloratura hold no terror for her. She has a voice that is unmistakable after one tone.

 

Today's cookie-cutter voices are not identifiable after an entire act on the radio. She was beautiful on stage. Her acting was minimal in that she did very little (has there ever been a more restrained Tosca, a stiller Norma?), but what she did was make us listen to the music with a new clarity because she made us hear it through her and the character she was playing. Callas made opera mean something again.

Her limitations pale beside her interpretive genius and her intuitive gifts. The entire world should have idolised Callas in her lifetime. The fact that it does so now is ironic. The critics and CD buyers, who were the first to deny her, are now the first to ride the Callas bandwagon. La Divina, the sobriquet, has become a universal truth.

 

But the Callas beloved by one and all and still bigger than the Three Tenors is not the Callas I will take to the grave. I will remember her from her performances and her public masterclasses: that Callas was a fighter. She never retreated. I'm glad I was in the trenches with her. The Golden Age of Callas, the revisionists notwithstanding, was a short and bitter one. All the rest is post-Callas hype. To listen to Callas as a Golden Age Immortal is not to hear her true voice at all.

• Terrence McNally is the author of Master Class, a play about Maria Callas that opens at the Queen's Theatre, London, tomorrow.

Edited by whipped guy
IMG_0933_Sig_crop_46x20.jpg "Take it like a man!"
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When I first encountered Callas recordings in the 1960s, I couldn't understand why some people thought so highly of her. Then I saw the black and white film of her Covent Garden Tosca--only the second act with Tito Gobbi's Scarpia--and in a flash it all became clear to me. Even though I could still hear all the vocal problems in the recordings, I could never listen to her dispassionately after that.

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I ask this question... Did you like the sound of the Callas voice when you first heard it? Charlie seems to imply that he didn't.

 

I certainly did not like it at all. I was 15 and the first Callas recording that I purchased was Rossini's Il Turco in Italia. The recording is from 1954 when Callas was in her prime. I had no idea who she was as I was more intetested in exploring little known Bel Canto operas at the time. I absolutely hated the voice! I listened to the piece twice in the same afternoon. I distinctly remember that it was a cloudy and somewhat rainy day. The recording was made at La Scala and I could not believe that such a prestigous opera company would hire a singer who possessed such an ugly voice.

 

Shoot! I was all of 15... After a year or so of being troubled by her other recordings I finally got it. Roberta Peters sang a smoother sounding Lucia, but Callas was Lucia... and Norma... and even Fiorilla in that recording of Turco!!

IMG_0933_Sig_crop_46x20.jpg "Take it like a man!"
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