I will not deny it. I am a Callasaholic. I first really learned about opera, well mostly Italian opera, from her recordings. When she arrived on the opera scene in the late 1940s, she revolutionized operatic performance. She attended the Athens Conservatory, where she was taught by Elvira de Hidalgo, a former Spanish Bel Canto singer (“bel canto” means beautiful singing, in Italian), and she was taught correctly, having to master the appropriate Bel Canto exercises. There is a lot of coloratura or fioratura in Bel Canto. You will hear Callas do it. Callas also was aware of the great singers of Bel Canto opera earlier in the century, such as Rosa Ponselle and Claudia Muzio and earlier, Giuditta Pasta and Maria Malibran. It was because of this training that certain operas that hadn’t been heard in decades, only because opera houses lacked the voices to sing them, were resurrected for Callas. There is one other thing of which I would like to remind people. Callas was terribly near-sighted, and she wore very thick glasses. She got glaucoma in later life. She never wore her glasses on stage. This means that she was virtually blind and never could see the conductor. She had to rely on her ears for everything.
I’m going to give you two arias here: one from a Bel Canto opera and one from a Verdi opera. The Bel Canto opera is called La sonnambula, or the the sleepwalker, by Bellini. The character that Callas plays is actually supposed to be sleepwalking for the cavatina,as she sings the it.
The next aria is one of Verdi’s deadliest. Verdi only wrote two dramatic roles, Lady Macbeth, and Abigaile from Nabucco. Callas sang both of these. The aria that I have selected is from a 1952 production of Macbeth. Callas was still a phenomenon at this time, and her ability to navigate this very difficult role is unsurpassed. I picked the early 50’s because beginning in about 1953, Callas lost about 80 lbs, and this changed her voice, But in this aria, she is nothing short of amazing.
There has been so much written about Callas that I am not going to anything in the summary below. If you want to hear more Callas, send me an e-mail.