A disparate set of ramblings from a gay man who has been around, and done most things, I've been an actor, singer, dancer and model, and now I'm a writer and tantric masseur. As I get older, there's one tenet I live by. If you want to do something, then do it, because tomorrow may be too late.
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Tuesday, 8 December 2015
Callas's first complete opera recording
Callas’s first ever complete studio recording was made for
the Italian firm Cetra in 1952, before she had signed with EMI. The role of
Gioconda had furnished her with her Italian debut in 1947, and was the occasion
she met two of the most important men in her life, her mentor Tullio Serafin
and her future husband Battista Meneghini. Paradoxically she would make her
second recording of the opera at the time of her affair with Onassis, and when
she was separating from Meneghini.
Callas in ger Italian debut as Gioconda at the Verona Arena
When Callas recorded La
Gioconda for Cetra she was still a large lady and at her vocal peak. It was
recorded just a couple of months before she made her spectacular debut at
Covent Garden in Norma and shortly
before her only series of performances as Lady Macbeth at La Scala, a role one
wishes had figured more in her career. She then went on to sing Gioconda at La
Scala, her last performances in the role until the EMI recording in 1959.
Given the sheer animal power and massive, freewheeling
brilliance she could command at this stage in her career, you would think this
Cetra recording would, in all but matters of sound, win hands down over the
later one, recorded seven years after when her vocal powers were failing, but
I’m not sure it’s that simple, and, whilst listening to this one, there were
quite a few passages where I found myself hankering after the later recording.
True, the singing is often magnificent, and it is easy to be swept away by the
coruscating force of her delivery, but I find myself missing some of the
refinements she has made by the time of the second recording. This may be a controversial
opinion, but this one seems to me to be a series of thrilling highlights,
whereas the characterisation on the EMI set feels more of a piece, with a
cumulative power I don’t get here, for all the added security of her voice; and
actually there are certain, purely vocal moments, she manages better on EMI
than she does on Cetra (the pitfalls of Ah
come t’amo, the E un di leggiadre
section from Suicidio, the whole of
the section after she gives Laura the sleeping draught, for instance).
As against that, I should also state that her performance of
Suicidio here completely floored me
when I first heard it. I had no idea a female voice, a soprano at that, could
sing with such passion, could have such powerful chest notes. It was absolutely
staggering and one of the things that first turned me on to the genius of
Callas in the first place. If I later got to know the opera better from the EMI
recording and place that at a slightly higher level of achievement, it is none
the less a close-run thing.
The Warner engineers have done a great job of the
re-mastering and it sounds much better than I remember it from my previous CDs,
though obviously not so good as the stereo EMI set. One also misses the greater
refinement of the La Scala orchestra and chorus.
At La Scala in 1952
As for her colleagues, it is largely a case of swings and
roundabouts. Barbieri is a much more positive presence than the young Cossotto
as Laura, but none of the men on either of the sets are particularly good.
Ferraro on EMI isn’t very subtle, but he certainly makes a pleasanter sound
than the awful Poggi. Honours are about equal between Silveri and Cappuccilli,
Neri and Vinco. Votto’s conducting isn’t much different in the two sets, and
remains some of his best work on disc.
One thing is for sure, Callas as Gioconda is an absolute
must, and, regardless of any reservations surrounding her colleagues or
recording quality, eclipses every other performance of the role on disc.