Available on 15 September 2017
Commemorating the 40th anniversary of her death in Paris, Warner Classics presents the Maria Callas Live Remastered Edition: a deluxe 42-CD box set (also available as a digital download and on streaming platforms) drawing together the great soprano’s live opera and recital recordings, with the invaluable inclusion of 12 roles she never recorded in the studio. These 20 complete operas and five filmed recitals on Blu-ray have been newly remastered from the highest quality source material, with the cutting-edge technology of Studio Art et Son in Paris.
Maria Callas Live captures in sumptuous sound the very heart of Callas’ artistry: it is on the stages of the world’s great opera houses and concert halls that the Maria Callas legend came to life. Thanks to faithful remastering, listeners can hear these performances in greater clarity than ever before, with many of the recordings restored to achieve unprecedented immediacy and authenticity. In the best preserved cases, the voice is heard in all its splendor and dramatic potency as if truly seeing La Divina perform live.
The landmark box set contains a richly-illustrated 200-page book with a chapter dedicated to each role sung by Callas in these recordings. The cover art of each opera album in the collection presents an iconic photo of the soprano in the corresponding performance. The edition has been developed in collaboration with the Maria Callas estate.
Napoli, 20 December1949
The temperament-filled role of Abigaille in Nabucco is notorious for its extreme vocal demands, but the young Callas – just 26 when she performed the role at Naples’ Teatro San Carlo – conquers it confidently and commandingly. Her astonishing capacities for both barnstorming power and intricate delicacy are called into play in this, her earliest live recording of a complete opera. These performances at one of Italy’s most celebrated opera houses represent the only occasion Callas sang the role of Abigaille on stage.
Roma, 20-21 November 1950
In her early years as a dramatic soprano, Callas sang three Wagner roles: Isolde, Brünnhilde (Die Walküre) and Kundry in Parsifal. This performance of Wagner’s final opera, recorded for Italian state radio late in 1950, became her farewell to the composer. Although only 26 at the time, she showed a deep understanding of the complex and tortured character of Kundry, a mythical woman who is hundreds of years old. The previous year, while singing Isolde in Venice, Callas had been encouraged by the conductor Tullio Serafin to take on the coloratura role of Elvira in I puritani at very short notice; it set a new and decisive direction for her career.
Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani
Firenze, 26 May1951
I vespri siciliani, originally conceived as a grand opéra for Paris, is one of Verdi’s most ambitious works, and the multi-faceted central role of Elena is one his most demanding: Callas is one of the few sopranos who have encompassed its vocal and dramatic diversity. This performance – conducted by Erich Kleiber and with Boris Christoff as the Sicilian activist Procida – took place in Florence in Spring 1951. Just over six months later, Callas opened the season at La Scala in the same opera. I vespri siciliani also served for her sole foray into directing opera, for the opening of the new Teatro Regio in Turin in 1973.
México, 3 July 1951
Aida held an important place in the earlier years of Callas’s career, and in 1950 it brought her debut at La Scala, Milan, the theatre where she soon became reigning diva. That same year, she sang the role of the Ethiopian princess in Mexico City, arousing near-hysteria among the audience (and anger in the competitive tenor singing Radamès) by interpolating astupendous top E flat at the end of the Triumphal Scene, which closes Act II of the opera. She repeated the feat on her return to Mexico the following year, when this live recording was made. This time, the Radamès was the celebrated, heroic-voiced Italian, Mario del Monaco, while the Mexican mezzo-soprano Oralia Domínguez made an opulent Amneris and Giuseppe Taddei, one of the leading Italian baritones of his time, sang a powerful Amonasro.
Firenze, 26 April 1952
Rossini is a pillar of bel canto opera, but he was less central to Callas’s art and career than Bellini and Donizetti. She performed two of his comic works – Il barbiere di Siviglia and Il turco in Italia – and in 1952, with her mentor Tullio Serafin conducting, took the title role in the dramatic Armida. The opera had not been seen for many years and even today remains a rare visitor to the world’s opera houses. It is notable both for the virtuosity and stamina required of the star soprano and for the presence of no fewer than five tenors. Callas’ achievement as the enchantress is nothing less than spectacular, particularly in the mesmerising rondo aria ‘D’amore al dolce impero’.
México, 17 June 1952
Callas only sang Gilda in Rigoletto twice on stage, in Mexico City in 1952, and this recording was taken from the first of those performances. She brought tonal substance and deep interpretative insight to a role that had sometimes been treated by light-voiced sopranos as an opportunity for coloratura display. Gilda’s father, Rigoletto himself, is sung by Piero Campolonghi, an Italian baritone closely associated with the role, while Giuseppe di Stefano, is the dashing, but unscrupulous Duke of Mantua. He partnered Callas frequently during her career – on stage, in the recording studio and on a final concert tour of Europe, North America and Japan in 1974.
London, 18 November 1952
Bellini’s Norma is an epic and multi-faceted role, often considered the ultimate vocal challenge for an operatic soprano. Callas sang it on stage 92 times, more often than any other heroine, and her achievement casts a long shadow: more than 50 years after her last performance in the role (Paris, 1965) she remains the point of reference for any soprano who aspires to it. It was in 1952, as Norma, that she made her debut at London’s Royal Opera House, the theatre that witnessed her final operatic appearance 13 years later. In the famous duets that Norma shares with her fellow druid priestess, Adalgisa, Callas is partnered by another superlative singer, Ebe Stignani, the greatest Italian mezzo-soprano of her era. Taking the small role of Norma’s servant Clotilde is a singer who in 1952 was destined for great things, and for the role of Norma... (Joan Sutherland)
Milano, 7 December1952
This live recording of Macbeth perpetuates Callas’ interpretation of a role that she only sang in one run of performances, at La Scala in 1952. There were plans for her to repeat it at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1959, but they failed to come to fruition. Her dark, but flexible tone, her on-stage magnetism and her command of dramatic nuance made her unforgettable as Shakespeare’s fatally ambitious Scottish noblewoman. The following year, Callas was to collaborate again with the great conductor Victor de Sabata, when she made her first recording of Tosca, a landmark in the Warner Classics catalogue.
Milano, 10 December 1953
The character of Medea became closely associated with Maria Callas. In 1969, several years after she had left the opera stage, she even played the betrayed and finally infanticidal sorceress in a film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Her second run of appearances in Cherubini’s opera was at La Scala in 1953 with Leonard Bernstein conducting. He later described her as “a power station” in the role, and soprano and conductor did indeed strike sparks off each other in the theatre: this performance is incandescent. In 1962, Medea brought Callas’s her final appearances at La Scala, the opera house that in the 1950s had become her artistic home.
Milano, 4 April 1954
Alceste, in 1954, was the first of two Gluck operas that Callas sang at La Scala, followed three years later by an Italian version of Iphigénie en Tauride. It was in the 1953-54 season that she rose to become ‘Queen of La Scala’, also singing Medea. Elisabetta (Don Carlo) and Giulia (La Vestale) at the Milanese theatre. Her conductor for Alceste was Carlo Maria Giulini. Describing Callas in the role of the Ancient Greek queen who is prepared to sacrifice herself so that her husband may live, he said: “[She] was opera incarnate – absolute harmony between word, music and action … In all my years in the opera house I have never known an artist like Callas. Hers is no fabricated legend: she truly did have something different.”
Spontini: La Vestale
Milano, 7 December 1954
The central character in La Vestale, as in Norma, is a priestess who transgresses her holy vows for love. Spontini’s nobly-conceived opera, composed for Paris in the Napoleonic era, brought Callas’ first collaboration on a new production with the great director Luchino Visconti, who described her as “the greatest tragedienne since Duse” (Eleonora Duse, 1858–1924, the legendary Italian actress). Callas was joined in the cast by Franco Corelli and Ebe Stignani, and Arturo Toscanini was amember of the audience that witnessed her triumph in the role of Giulia at the first night at La Scala.
Giordano: Andrea Chénier
Milano, 8 January 1955
While Puccini’s Tosca became closely identified with Callas, she appeared only rarely in other post-Verdi operas once she had risen to fame. She learned the role of Maddalena in Andrea Chénier at short notice for a production at La Scala: Verdi’s Il trovatore had been planned, but the star tenor Mario del Monaco engineered a change to Giordano’s red-blooded drama of the French revolution. This recording captures the thrill of a first night at Italy’s most famous opera house, and Callas traces her character’s development – from a spoiled young aristocrat to a self-sacrificing woman in love – in gripping and moving detail.
Bellini: La Sonnambula
Milano, 5 March 1955
The La Scala production of La sonnambula in 1955 united three towering artistic personalities: Callas, Leonard Bernstein and Luchino Visconti. The excitement is palpable in this recording of its first night. Visually, it was of a stylised, Romantic beauty, with Callas presented like a classical ballerina. Aurally, Callas, supported at every turn by Bernstein’s alert and flexible conducting, portrays Bellini’s gentle heroine with exquisite empathy, creating a hushed, other-worldly atmosphere when Amina sings as she sleep-walks, and bursting with joy and relief in a blaze of coloratura in the opera’s final moments.
Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Berlin, 29 September 1955
Lucia di Lammermoor – like La sonnambula – had become associated with light-voiced sopranos, so when Callas took onthe title role in the early 1950s she proved revelatory with her combination of visceral power, technical refinement and interpretative insight. In 1955, she and the La Scala company visited Berlin to perform Lucia and the result was what the Germans call a ‘Sternstunde’ – a shining hour. It brought her together with another musical titan, Herbert von Karajan, andthe results were phenomenal, the more so for a cast that also included the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano, the baritone Rolando Panerai and the bass Nicola Zaccaria.
Donizetti: Anna Bolena
Milano, 14 April 1957
Callas’s Anna Bolena at La Scala in 1957 was one of the absolute highlights of her extraordinary career. The performances brought new life to a bel canto opera that had long fallen out of favour. The central role was ideally suited to her talents andshe once again had Luchino Visconti as her director. Anna’s rival, Giovanna Seymour, was sung by one Callas’s most trusted colleagues, the superb mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato. The conductor, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, described the production as “a complete revelation of what I have always felt should be the ideal collaboration between stage and music”.
Gluck: Ifigenia in Tauride
Milano, 1 June 1957
The music of the 18th century did not figure strongly in Callas’s repertoire. The only Mozart role she sang was Konstanze, in an Italian version of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, an opera that contrasts strongly with the roughly contemporary Iphigénie en Tauride (here, at La Scala in 1957, Ifigenia in Tauride). In this taut drama of a priestess called upon to sacrifice her own brother, Gluck favours unadorned vocal lines and discreet intensity of expression. As ever, Callas judges the style with apparently instinctive precision, interpreting with the utmost eloquence. At the last minute, the happy outcome of the opera is determined by Diana, the dea ex machina, sung here by a young mezzo-soprano on her way to a major career, Fiorenza Cossotto.
Verdi: La traviata
Lisboa, 27 March1958
Callas sang La traviata more frequently than any other opera, apart from Norma. She performed it over 60 times between 1951 and 1958, most famously in Luchino Visconti’s production at La Scala in 1955/56. Her only studio recording of the role was made in 1953, but by the time she performed it in Lisbon in 1958, she had become still closer to the character; the critic John Steane wrote that the final act of her interpretation at the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos is “the culmination of the great singing actress’s art”. Callas’s Alfredo is a tenor renowned for his elegance and sensitivity, Alfredo Kraus and his father is sung by the Italian baritone Mario Sereni, long a mainstay of the Metropolitan Opera. Later in 1958, in Dallas, Callas gave her last-ever performance of Violetta.
Bellini: Il Pirata
New York, 27 January 1959
The titular character of Bellini’s Il pirata is not the tenor, Gualtiero, but the soprano, Imogene, who leaves the most powerful impression, thanks above all to her lengthy and dramatic closing scena. Il pirata had fallen into obscurity before it was revived for Callas at La Scala in May 1958. She went on to make a studio recording of the final scene a few months later and early in 1959 starred in this concert performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Collaborating with one of her favourite conductors, Nicola Rescigno, she electrified the audience with singing of inimitable poetry and theatrical power.
Milano, 7 December 1960
Donizetti’s rarely-performed Poliuto, based on a play by the great French dramatist Corneille, opened La Scala’s season in 1960 and marked Callas’s return to the iconic Milanese theatre after an absence of two seasons. The opera is set in Armenia at the time of the Roman Empire and Callas sings the role of Paolina, torn between loyalty to her husband Severo and love for Poliuto, a Christian convert. The principal male roles are taken by two Italian singers who are worthy partners for Callas: the magnificent baritone Ettore Bastianini and Franco Corelli, considered by many to be the greatest Italian tenor of his time.
London, 24 January 1964
There are obvious parallels between Tosca – the passionate, but vulnerable Roman diva – and Maria Callas. ‘Vissi d’arte’ (Ilived for art), the character’s moving Act II aria, has acquired a particular symbolism since the soprano’s death in 1977. Tosca was the last opera that Callas performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It afforded her a triumphant return to the opera stage after an absence of nearly 18 months. Scarpia was sung by her beloved colleague Tito Gobbi, another natural stage animal, and the sumptuous production was by Franco Zeffirelli. As the critic John Warrack wrote: “Insum, this was one of those precious occasions when the disparate parts of opera mysteriously fuse into the total experience we always await.”
The Best of Maria Callas Live
The passion and charisma of Maria Callas, performing live on the stages of the world’s greatest opera houses and concert halls, can now be experienced as never before – thanks to new audio remastering from the best available sources. These are performances that played a crucial part in creating the legend of Callas, La Divina, and which keep her thrilling art very much alive.