Sunday, 5 October 2014

Verdi Arias III

So I'm continuing backwards though the Callas Remastered set. There never actually was a Verdi Arias Vol III, though one had been planned. Warner here use the cover of an album issued in 1972 of material Callas eventually agreed to have issued. The original album also included the Act I Scena from Il Pirata, but did not include the Il Corsaro arias, Amelia's Morro, ma prima in grazia or Leonora's Tacea la notte placida.

This was actually one of the first Callas LPs I owned, as most of her recorded repertoire had inexplicably been deleted by EMI. I remember I sampled a couple of arias in Windows, the local classical music store in Newcastle, but initially alienated by the harsh sounds I heard coming from the listening booth, I left the shop without buying the disc. However somehow those tones had resonated in my mind's ear, and eventually I went back and bought it. It was a decision I never regretted, as I learned to listen not just to the voice, but what she was doing with it. It also introduced me to some Verdi I'd never heard before, namely the arias from I Lombardi, Attila and I Vespri Siciliani. I knew absolutely then that Verdi was my composer.

Taking first the arias not on that original LP, we find the arias from Il Corasaro recorded in 1969, really remarkably good. Her legato line is better than both Caballe and Norman on the studio recording of the opera, and she unerringly captures the mood of each aria. The Trovatore has some magical moments, but at no place challenges her superb recording with Karajan. Amelia's Morro, ma prima in grazia is very good indeed, with a superb, firm top B leading into a perfectly shaped final cadenza.

Swings and roundabouts on the rest. The tone at the beginning of the I Lombardi aria is indeed somewhat uningratiating, but once past the opening statement, she is in securer form, and molds the line beautifully. Both the Attila and I Vespri Siciilani arias go well, the legato line beautifully held, and with Rescigno conjuring up some gorgeous sounds from the orchestra for the Sospendi o rive section of the Attila aria. I'd sooner here this version than Deutekom's on the complete recording. Amelia's grand Act II Scena is full of passion, drama and fantasy. Though the ascent to top C is hard won, she grandly phrases on and through the note, so that it does not become the focal point of the aria.

The one incontrovertibly great performance on the disc is Aida's Ritorna vincitor. This was not originally planned, but sessions had been getting a bit tense and Callas and the orchestra took a break. During the break Michel Glotz, the recording producer played a performance of Crespin singing the aria, which had been recorded the previous day. Callas was incensed, finding the performance completely antithetical to her sensibilities, lugubrious and slow. "I could hardly get the words out, when I did this with Maestro Serafin." On learning that the parts were still there, she said, "Come on, Nicola, let's do it!" and this is what they did - in one take! As always Callas loved a challenge, and this was as if someone had laid down the gauntlet. Somehow she recovers much of her old security, and the aria is brim full of drama and passion. Just listen to the anguish she pours out in Ah! non fu in terra mai da piĆ¹ crudeli angosce un core affranto, the desperation of Ah, sventurata che dissi?, with the final plea to the Gods heart wrenchingly poignant. This is Callas at her best.

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