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CALLAS, MARIA In Concert. London Covent Garden 1962 & 1964, Hamburg 1959 & 1962, Paris Toujours 1958. Warner Classics 3Blu-Rays

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Callas Maria In Concert London Paris Hamburg Warner Classics 3Blu-Rays

Callas in Concert in London, Hamburg & Paris

Toujours (Paris 1958)
Callas made her belated Paris debut with this concert at the sumptuous Paris Opéra – now known as the Palais Garnier – in 1958. It was a major social event, attended by le tout Paris, and Callas appeared on the famous stage wearing her most elegant couture and a million dollars’ worth of jewellery. She opened with Norma’s ‘Casta diva’, which was followed by Leonora’s plaintive aria and the gripping ‘Miserere’ from Act IV of Il trovatore, before she lightened the mood with ‘Una voce poco fa’ from Il barbiere di Siviglia. The second half of the evening offered a staged version of Act II of Tosca, for which Callas was joined by her familiar and brilliant sparring partner, Tito Gobbi, as Scarpia and the Australian-born tenor Albert Lance as Cavaradossi, The conductor was Georges Sébastian. Paris became the last city in which Callas appeared in a new operatic production (Norma, 1965) and she died, aged just 53, in her apartment in its elegant 16th arrondissement in 1977.

Callas in Concert (Hamburg 1959 & 1962)
Callas’s only operatic appearances in Germany were Lucia di Lammermoor, with Karajan conducting, in Berlin in 1955, and La sonnambula in Cologne in 1957, but in both 1959 and 1962 she made concert tours of the country, visiting Hamburg twice. The video recordings of her concerts in the city showcase her in a dazzling variety of Italian and French repertoire for both soprano and mezzo-soprano: three contrasting Verdi roles (Lady Macbeth, Elvira from Ernani and Elisabetta from Don Carlo); Imogene from Bellini’s Il pirata; Giulia from La vestale; Chimène from Massenet’s Le Cid; Verdi’s most explosively dramatic aria for mezzo-soprano – Eboli’s ‘On don fatale’ from Don Carlo; Carmen’s seductive Habanera and Seguédille and, from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Angelina’s final rondo, which magically combines modest charm and sparkling virtuosity.

Callas at Covent Garden (London 1962 & 1964)
Callas first appeared at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1952, as Norma. It became the scene for her last-ever operatic appearance: in June 1965, in a Zeffirelli production of Tosca that had been mounted for her the previous year. This Blu-ray disc includes Act 2 of that production, recorded in February 1964. Callas is joined by that Scarpia of Scarpias, Tito Gobbi, and, as Cavaradossi, the dynamic tenor Renato Cioni. The conductor is Carlo Felice Cilliario. This disc also contains extracts from a gala concert given two years earlier at Covent Garden. Callas performs Elisabetta’s magnificent Act V aria from Don Carlo (recalling a role she sang at La Scala in 1955) and the Habanera and Seguédille from Carmen, evoking one of the great might-have-beens of operatic history, since she never sang the entire role of Carmen on stage.

Maria Callas (soprano)

Maria Callas was born to a Greek family in New York in 1923. Her vocal training took place in Athens, where her teacher was the coloratura soprano Elvira de Hidalgo, who had sung with Enrico Caruso and Feodor Chaliapin. After early performances in Greece, Callas’ international career was launched in 1947 when she performed the title role in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda at the Arena di Verona in Italy.
Her voice defied simple classification and her artistic range was extraordinary. In her early twenties she sang such heavy dramatic roles as Gioconda, Turandot, Brünnhilde and Isolde, but over the course of her career her most famous roles came to be: Bellini’s Norma and Amina (La sonnambula); Verdi’s Violetta (La traviata); Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Anna Bolena, Cherubini’s Medea and Puccini’s Tosca. Though her timbre was not always conventionally beautiful, Callas’ musicianship and phrasing were in a class of their own. She brought characters to vivid life with her skill in colouring her tone and making insightful use of the text. She is credited with changing the history of opera: by placing a perhaps unprecedented emphasis on musical integrity and dramatic truth, and by transforming perceptions – and reviving the fortunes – of the bel canto repertoire, particularly Bellini and Donizetti.

The 1950s marked the height of Callas’ career. Its base lay in the opera houses of Italy, and she became the prima donna assoluta of Milan’s legendary La Scala – notably in the productions of Luchino Visconti – but her operatic appearances also encompassed London’s Royal Opera House, the New York Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opéra, the Vienna State Opera, and the opera houses of Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Lisbon, and, in the early 1950s, Mexico City, São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.

From 1959, when she started a life-changing love affair with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, her performing career slowed down and her voice became more fragile. Her final stage performances came in 1965, when she was only 42. There were many plans for a return to the stage – and for further complete recordings – but they never reached fruition, though in 1974 she gave a series of concerts in Europe, North America and Japan with the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano; he had partnered her frequently in the opera house and in the studio, not least in the 1953 La Scala Tosca under Victor de Sabata, considered a landmark in recording history. Callas died alone in her Paris apartment in September 1977.

Warner Classics 3Blu-Rays 0190295804206

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