Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 - 1835)
Norma (1831) [154:37]
Norma - Maria Callas (soprano)
Pollione - Mario Del Monaco (tenor)
Adalgisa - Giulietta Simionato (mezzo)
Oroveso - Nicola Zaccaria (bass)
Flavio - Giuseppe Zampieri (tenor)
Clotilde - Rina Carturan (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala/Antonino Votto
rec. live, 7 December 1955, La Scala, Milan. XR Ambient Stereo
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO 083 [78:15 + 76:14]
Pristine Sound Engineer Andrew Rose tells us in the liner-notes that his research into which Callas Norma to re-master indicated that this live 1955 performance was the best candidate - and I agree with him. The RAI broadcast from earlier the same year is also estimable and in similar sound; it has the same two principals and the advantage of Serafin’s more flexible conducting over the rather staid Votto. It must also be said that the great Ebe Stignani was by that stage of her career rather mature for the youthful Adalgisa and Giulietta Simionata’s impassioned singing is more apt. Zaccaria is also marginally preferable over Modesti as Oroveso.
Rose tells us that his investigations revealed that the tapes of both this and that RAI performance were sharp. He has corrected this fault with the result that the voices sound fuller, richer and altogether easier on the ear. Flutter has been removed and individual sound strands emerge more cleanly and better differentiated instead of melding into the familiar orchestral mush. Following practice of previous issues, Rose has resorted to substituting the overture missing from the original recording with that from the RAI broadcast and no-one is likely to complain or hear any difference. The Pristine “Ambient Stereo” treatment also lends added presence to the rather thin, scratchy sound whose relative inadequacy is more noticeable in purely orchestral rather than vocal passages. This will never be an aural treat but the Pristine re-mastering has given us the best we are ever going to hear.
As I remarked in my previous review of the IDIS double CD featuring a compilation of ten versions of Callas singing “Casta Diva” over ten years, she was amazingly consistent during that period. This recording comes slap-bang in the middle of the decade and finds her in excellent voice, worthily partnered by the heroic Del Monaco.
As the years go by it is increasingly apparent that we shall not hear the likes of either Callas or Del Monaco again. Even if their emphatic and even stentorian delivery is sometimes rather removed from what we might expect from a quintessential bel canto opera we hear great delicacy and some lovely divisions from Callas in her big arias.
There will always be some flap and wobble even in her finest recordings but these flaws are negligible alongside her peerless ability to inflect the music with unforgettable intensity and pathos. I retain an affection for Callas’s last studio, stereo recording for EMI where not only is the whole enterprise lent glamour by the presence of Corelli and Ludwig but also we finally hear her in good sound at a point where despite the supposed decline in her voice over the previous decade she is in fact still sounding very good indeed. However, the recording under discussion remains the finest memorial to her most famous role.  

Ralph Moore

This recording remains the finest memorial to her most famous role.