Maria Callas, high dramatic soprano

It has come to my attention that young voice students don’t know who Callas was. This posting is an attempt to set that straight for, in some opinions, mine included, she was the greatest musician of the 20th century. I will not go too much into her biography. So many documentaries and biographies have been written about her. I will present clips from youtube that were made when she was heavy. She lost about 80 lbs. between 1953 and 1954. This weight loss had an effect on this voice, and this effect is palpable. I will therefore concentrate on recordings made when she was heavy.

One thing that I would like to note from the outset is that Callas was called a spinto soprano. She sang Wagner and the high dramatic roles in the Italian repertory. I think that she was truly a high dramatic soprano. However, even with her dramatic voice, Callas brought back the Bel Canto repertory. How did she do this? Her teacher at the Athens Conservatory was Elvira de Hidalgo, a colaratura soprano who was trained in the Bel Canto techniques. And this is the way in which she trained Callas, making Callas keep a heavy voice light. De Hidalgo made Callas what she later became.

And one final note.  Callas was terribly nearsighted.  She wore thick glasses and had glaucoma, which can happen to very nearsighted people.  Yet, she never wore glasses on the stage.  This means that she was nearly blind and could never see the conductor.  She did everything by ear.

I am going to begin with Ebben ne andrò lontana from Catalani’s La Wally. If I am not mistaken, this recording comes from Callas’s first studio recording in 1949. I dislike this aria intensely, and Callas is the only person, I think, who can sing it. It is a famous aria, and I think that the opera is done just so that the soprano can sing this aria.

Ebben! Ne andrò lontana, Wally’s aria from La Wally

Ebben! Ne andrò lontana
Come va l’eco pia campana,
Là fra la neve bianca;
Là fra le nubi d’ôr;
Laddóve la speranza, la speranza
È rimpianto, è rimpianto, è dolor!!

O della madre mia casa gioconda
La Wally ne andrà da te, da te!
Lontana assai, e forse a te,
E forse a te, non farà mai più ritorno,
Nè più la rivedrai!
Mai più, mai più!

Ne andrò sola e lontana,
Là, fra la neve bianca, n’andrò,
N’andrò sola e lontana
E fra le nubi d’ôr!

Ebben! Ne andrò lontana

Well then! I shall go far away
In the same way that the echo of the pious church-bell fades away,
There among in the white snow;
There among the golden clouds,
Where hope, hope
Is really regret, regret, and is sorrowful!

O from my mother’s joyous house
La Wally will go away from you, from you!
Far enough away and perhaps will nevermore
return to you ,
Nevermore shall I see you again!
Nevermore, nevermore!

I shall go alone and far away
There among in the white snow, I shall go away;
I shall go alone and far away
And among the golden clouds!

Verdi wrote two impossible, dramatic arias: the letter scene and following “viene! t’affreta” from Macbeto; and Abigaile’s “Anchi’io dischiuso” from Nabucco. Callas sang both, and they are extremely difficult arias. Here is the latter part of the letter scene from Macbeto

Vieni! t’affretta!
Accendere ti vo’ quel freddo core!
L’audace impresa a compiere
Io ti darò valore. .
Di Scozia a te promettono
Le profetesse il trono…
Che tardi?
Accetta il dono, ascendivi a regnar.

Duncano sara qui?
Qui? Qui la notte?
Or tutti sorgete,
ministri infernali,
Che al sangue incorate,
spingete i mortali!
Tu, notte, ne avvolgi
di tenebre immota.
Qual petto percota
non vegga il pugnal

Come! Hurry!
I will light your cold heart!
I will make you able
to complete the bold undertaking
The witches promise you
the Scottish throne…
What are you waiting for?
Accept this gift! Ascend it and reign!

Duncan will be here?
Here? Spend the night here?
Arise, all the
agents of hell
that rouse mortals
to bloody acts!
You, night, wrap us
In motionless darkness.
Let the dagger not see
which breast it strikes.

This was Callas’s big break in Italy.

Suicidio!, La Gioconda’s aria from La Gioconda

Suicidio!… – In questi
fieri momenti
tu sol mi resti,
e il cor mi tenti.
Ultima voce
del mio destino,
ultima croce
del mio cammin.
E un dì leggiadre
volavan l’ore,
perdei la madre,
perdei l’amore,
vinsi l’infausta
gelosa febre!
or piombo esausta
fra le tenèbre!
Tocco alla mèta…
domando al cielo
di dormir queta
dentro l’avel…

Suicide! La Gioconda’s aria from La Gioconda

Suicide!…
In these proud moments
you alone remain for me,
and my heart tempts me.
Last words
of my fate,
last cross
of my journey.
And one day
the hours fly away,
I lost my mother,
I lost love,
I won the fatal
burning jealousy!
Now worn out move
between the shadows!
Touch the goal…
I ask heaven
to let me sleep peacefully
in the tomb…

Now, Bel Canto.  This is “Ah, non credea mirarti . . .Ah, no giunge” from La Sonnambula by Bellini.  The role is Amina, and as she sings this aria, she is sleep walking.  Listen to what Callas does to her voice to express this.

Ah, non credea mirarti
si presto estinto, o fiore;
passasti al par d’amore,
che un giorno sol(o) duro.

Potria novel vigore
il pianto mio recarti
ma ravvivar l’amore
il pianto mio, ah no, non puo.

Ah, non giunge uman pensiero
al contento ond’io son piena:
a miei sensi io credo appena;
tu m’affida o mio tesor.

Ah, mi abbraccia, e sempre insieme,
sempre uniti in una speme,
della terra, in cui viviamo
ci formiamo un ciel d’amor.

Oh, I didn’t believe that I would see you
so quickly extinct, flowers;
you have passed away like love
that only lasted one day.

Could my tears bring you
new life
but cannot revive love
o no, cannot.

Ah, human thought does not reach
to the wave of contentment of which I am full:
In my feelings I can hardly believe
you assure me, o my treasure.

Ah, embrace me, and always together,
always united in a single hope,
of the world, in which we live
we will make a heaven of love.

This is from Traviata in Mexico City. There is a very famous pirate recording of Callas singing Aida in Mexico City in 1951. In this Aida, I think that she became angry with the tenor, and in the triumphal scene, she interpolated an Eb. I’m sure that you can find this recording on youtube if you are interested.

È strano / Ah, fors’è lui / Sempre libera

È strano! È strano!
in core scolpiti ho quegli accenti!
Sarìa per me sventura un serio amore?
Che risolvi, o turbata anima mia?
Null’uomo ancora t’accendeva.
Oh, gioia
ch’io non conobbi
esser amata amando!
E sdegnarla poss’io
per l’aride follie dei viver mio?

[Aria:]
Ah, fors’è lui che l’anima
solinga ne’ tumulti
godea sovente pingere
de’ suoi colori occulti.
Lui, che modesto e vigile
all’egre soglie ascese,
e nuova febbre accese
destandomi all’amor!
A quell’amor ch’è palpito
dell’universo intero
misterioso, altero
croce e delizia al cor.

Follie! Delirio vano è questo!
Povera donna, sola, abbandonata
in questo popoloso deserto
che appellano Parigi
che spero or’più?
Che far degg’io?
Gioire!
Di voluttà ne’ vortici perir!
Gioir’!

Sempre libera degg’io
folleggiare di gioia in gioia
vo’ che scorra il viver mio
pei sentieri del piacer
nasca il giorno, o il giorno muoia
sempre lieta ne’ ritrovi
a diletti sempre nuovi
dee volare il mio pensier

È strano / Ah, Fors’è lui / Sempre libera

How strange! How strange!
I have these words engraved in my heart!
Would a serious love be a misfortune for me?
What’s your decision, oh troubled soul of mine?
No man has set you on fire before
Oh what joy
I didn’t know
being loved, loving!
And could I reject it
out of the barren insanity of my life?

[Aria:]
Ah, perhaps he’s the one whom
my soul lonely in tumult, loved
to imagine in secrecy.
Watchful though I never knew it
He came here when I was sick
and lit up a new fever
arousing my love!
Which is the breathe of
the whole universe,
mysterious and lofty
cross and ecstasy of my heart

Madness! This is a futile delirium!
Poor woman, alone, lost
in this crowded desert
that’s called Paris
what do I hope for now on?
What must I do?
Revel!
Revel in the whirlpool of pleasure!
Revel!

Forever free
passing madly from joy to joy
My life’s course shall be
through paths of pleasure
day in and day out
always happy in gay places
among always new delights
my thoughts should fly.

Callas

Maria Callas, original name Maria Cecilia Sophia Anna Kalogeropoulos, (born December 2, 1923, New York, New York, U.S.—died September 16, 1977, Paris, France), American-born Greek operatic soprano who revived classical coloratura roles in the mid-20th century with her lyrical and dramatic versatility.

Callas was the daughter of Greek immigrants and early developed an interest in singing. Accompanied by her mother, she left the United States in 1937 to study at the Athens Conservatory with soprano Elvira de Hidalgo. She sang locally in Cavalleria rusticana and Boccaccio and returned to the United States in 1945.

Her career began in earnest in August 1947, when she appeared in Verona in La Gioconda. Soon, under the tutoring of conductor Tullio Serafin, she made debuts in Venice, Turin, and Florence. In 1949 she first appeared in Rome, Buenos Aires, and Naples and in 1950 in Mexico City. Her powerful soprano voice, capable of sustaining both lyric and coloratura roles, was intensely dramatic; combined with her strong sense of theater and her scrupulously high artistic standards, it took her quickly to the forefront of contemporary opera talent. Her abilities made possible the revival of 19th-century bel canto works, notably those of Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti, that had long been dropped from standard repertoires.

Callas made her debut at the prestigious La Scala in Milan in 1950, singing in I Vespri siciliani. In 1952 she appeared at Covent Garden, London. Her American debut took place in November 1954 at Chicago’s Lyric Opera in the title role of Norma, a performance she repeated before a record audience at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Callas’s recordings were enthusiastically received, and she was one of the most popular singers of the period. Her much-publicized volatile temperament resulted in several protracted feuds with rivals and managers.

After a final operatic performance as Tosca at Covent Garden (July 1965), Callas made the film Medea (1969). In 1966 she became a Greek citizen and relinquished her U.S. citizenship. She taught master classes in opera at Juilliard (1972) before a last U.S. and European concert tour (1973–74). By the time of her retirement, she had performed more than 40 different roles and had recorded more than 20 complete operas.