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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Vissi díarte: The Puccini Love Songs
sung by Maria Callas
CD1 [76:25]
Manon Lescaut (1893)
1.  In quelle trine morbide [2:21]
2.  Oh, saro la piu bella [8:21]
3.  Sola, perduta, abbandonata [5:06]
With Giuseppe di Stefano (Des Grieux), Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tulio Serafin, 1959
La BohŤme (1896)
4.  Si. Mi chiamano Mimi [4:56]
5.  Ehi! Rodolfo!... O soave fanciulla [4:49]
6.  Donde lieta usci [3:20]
7.  Dunque e proprio finita? [5:50]
8.  Sono andati? [9:59]
With Anna Moffo, Giuseppe di Stefano, Rolando Panerai, Manuel Spatafora, Nicola Zaccaria, Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Antonino Votto, 1958
Tosca (1900)
9.      Mario! Mario! Mario!... Son qui [12:12]
10.  Mario! Mario! [6:18]
11.  Vissi díarte [4:16]
12.  Senti, líora e vicina [3:25]
With Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Victor de Sabata, 1953
Suor Angelica (1918)
13.  Senza mamma [5:37]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Tulio Serafin (date unspecified)
CD 2 [75:50]
Madama Butterfly (1904)
1. Quanto cielo! [3:01]
2.  Viene la sera [14:19]
3.  Un bel di vedremo [4:42]
4.  E questo? E questo? [5:57]
5.  Una nave da Guerra [7:44]
6.  Con onor muore [5:21]
With Lucia Danelli, Nicolai Gedda, Mario Boriello, Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Herbert von Karajan, 1955
Gianni Schicchi (1918)
7.  O mio babbino caro [2:35]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Tulio Serafin (date unspecified)
Turandot (1924)
8.  Signore, ascolta [2:32]
9.  In questa reggia [6:20]
10.  Straniero, ascolta! [11:06]
11.  Tu, che di gel sei cinta [2:48]
12.  Del primo pianto [8:37]
Maria Callas (soprano)
Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tulio Serafin (9, 10, 12), 1958
Philharmonia Orchestra/Tulio Serafin (8, 11)
EMI CLASSICS 2161022
[76:25 + 75:50]

 

Experience Classicsonline


EMI have marked the Puccini anniversary with a re-release of Callasís complete Puccini studio recordings. For those who donít want to go that far we have this two-disc set of highlights which should be enough to keep most people happy. Itís in mono sound throughout, and it shows both the best and worst of Callas in full flow. There is very little here in the way of vocal beauty, but plenty of dramatic truth.

Most of the recordings are taken from the complete sets she recorded with La Scala in the 1950s, and these are supplemented with extracts from a studio recital she did with Serafin and the Philharmonia, so with Turandot we hear her as both the ice princess and as Liu. These recordings have long been classics and it is good to get bite-size chunks from them in this manageable form. Generally speaking the earlier the recording the better we find Callasís voice, so the classic 1953 Tosca shines as brightly as ever. Callas remains a mass of contradictions throughout: her entry in Act 1 and the subsequent love duet show her as the jealous harpy and the affectionate lover who melts at Cavaradossiís tender words. Vissi díarte is tender and moving, while at the same time revealing Toscaís coiled tension. Di Stefano is also on his best form here, the voice exhibiting lyrical warmth and even a willingness to shade down his timbre. Gobbiís assumption of Scarpia remains the most rounded on record. This was long before he embodied the role for Zeffirelli in 1964, but we can see him clearly in our mindsí eye: it is a shame that all we hear of him is the brief scene with Tosca in the church in Act 1.

Callas is also wonderful as Cio-Cio San. She makes the young girlís innocence remarkably believable in Act 1, even if it is a little difficult to imagine her as a 15-year old. She is full of rapt wonder at her entrance, while the love duet is full of tingling erotic anticipation. Gedda is also a superb Pinkerton here, his tone matching Callasí at every turn. Callas matures into the self-deluding but strong young woman of Act 2 with a poignant Un bel di, and a defiant Che tuo madre dovra. Her extraordinary acting is evident in the suicide scene, and she is helped here as elsewhere by Karajanís masterful control of the orchestra and his shaping of the scene to convey a horrible inevitability to the whole story.

Callas is somewhat less convincing as Mimi. She cannot really sum up the innocence and naivety of the character, with a somewhat steely Mi chiamano Mimi, though her death scene is tremendously moving, even if di Stefano mars it with his stentorian weeping. Her tone was beginning to lose its shine by 1958 and we can detect the beginnings of a wobble in her higher notes. Unfortunately these are all too prominent in Manon Lescaut, especially in the Act 2 duet which can be somewhat taxing to listen to at times. In quelle trine morbide sounds shrill and somewhat strained, though to her credit she uses exactly these qualities to make the death scene all the more compelling.

Her imperious nature works very well indeed as Turandot, and her vocal difficulties seem not to have bothered her for the complete studio recording. She commands every scene in which she appears: In questa reggia holds no terrors for this princess and she dominates Eugenio Fernandiís Calaf in the riddle scene. Going from this to her studio portrayal of Liu is a bit of a jolt, but she even manages some pianissimo tenderness for Signore ascolta. From her recital, Senza mamma is beautifully moving though O mio babbino caro isnít alluring enough.

Callas was undoubtedly an exceptional artist, probably one of the best Puccini interpreters of the 20th century, but this set is probably more for those who know that already rather than those new to Puccini looking for somewhere to start. In spite of its re-mastering the mono sound still feels limited, and Callasís dominating character isnít well suited to all the roles here. Nevertheless, itís a fitting tribute to a great artist, and, with reservation, itíll do nicely as a souvenir of Puccini too.

Simon Thompson 

 


 


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