Maria Callas At Covent Garden
Her legacy is established as one of the most revered and recognized opera stars of the 20th century. The contributions of Maria Callas (1923 - 1977) in bringing opera awareness to the mainstream are duly noted, though not always in the positive. Many of her performances are considered benchmarks in opera history, but they are equally balanced by her vocal inconsistencies and the publicity surrounding her offstage behavior, both in her personal life and in her relationships with companies during her (relatively) short life.
Warner Classics has added to her audio archives by releasing a double CD and DVD package of Callas’ work at London’s prestigious Covent Garden. The first disc features the diva in a live performance of excerpts from Bellini’s "Norma," recorded in the 1952, that represents her debut at the Royal Opera House. Skeptics abounded prior to her appearance, but Callas delivered, along with mezzo-soprano Ebe Stignani as Adalgisa, to give the audience the performance for which they had hoped.
The second disc features Callas alone, singing Verdi’s "Tu che le vanità" from "Don Carlo" in 1962, alongside over an hour of extracts from her 1964 performance in Puccini’s "Tosca." The Verdi allows us to hear all that made Callas so loved and targeted. The singer’s interpretation skills were unmatched among her colleagues; she sang every note with a purpose that drew in all listeners. However, her sound drew criticism for its occasional weariness and extensive timbre shift across the different ranges. By these later performances, she had already undergone her scandal as a married woman fawning for the wealthy Aristotle Onassis, and the questions of commitment to her craft in her later life were valid.
The DVD is from a subsequent live taping of "Tosca," made in 1964. Though once again, her ability to bring sympathy and understanding to her character is undeniable, the live taping of Act II is overshadowed by the powerful portrayals of her co-stars. Tito Gobbi is mesmerizing as the evil Scarpia, and Renato Cioni draws the audience into his anger over being betrayed by Callas’ Tosca.
The quality of the black and white DVD is adequate, and the Verdi and Bellini segments are in mono, but the package is an informative keepsake, with detailed liner notes, of two different periods in the mythical life of this opera superstar.
"Maria Callas: At Covent Garden (1962 & 1964)"
CD, DVD and Digital formats