Maria Callas, The One And Only – Maria Callas, soprano/ various orchestras and conductors – EMI

by | Oct 19, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Maria Callas, The One And Only – Maria Callas, soprano/ Various orchestras and conductors – EMI 0946 3 96341 2 5 (2 Discs), 157 mins. ****:

There are many fine collections of Maria Callas’ work out there, but this new two-disc set from EMI may be the best of the available bunch. The set is organized really well, with disc one presenting an excellent cross-section of her classic monaural recordings; disc two is devoted to her stereo offerings, and it’s really interesting to compare and contrast the performances between the two periods. And only one of the set’s selections is sourced from a live recording; so many Callas collections focus too heavily on live performances, and while these may be artistically superior with significant historical value, the recorded sound is often quite inferior. Those who might be a bit squeamish with mono classical sources have little need for concern; these are among the finest recordings of their vintage I’ve had the pleasure to come across, and the orchestra and Maria Callas are both offered in full-bodied sound with minimal distractions imparted by the recordings. This is a disc for those who are mostly interested in hearing Maria Callas, in her prime, in uniformly superb sound.

The two discs also offer an interesting survey of her work, and the accompanying liner notes offer a great deal of insight into her personal preferences. She obviously relishes the aria from Gianni Schicchi, along with two thrilling arias from La Boheme. The program then continues to include many of her bread-and-butter roles that made her a worldwide superstar and cultural icon, including selections from Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, Rigoletto and La Traviata. Disc one closes with selections from her bel canto work represented by Bellini and Donizetti.

The second disc opens with one of her most famous moments from Bellini’s Norma, the incredible Casta Diva. There are further offerings from Rossini and Verdi (including a show-stopping Ritorna vincitor! from Verdi’s Aida), and then we shift gears into another area where Callas refused live performances – French repertory. Late in her career, after having been scorned by Aristotle Onassis, she retreated to Paris, and disc two concentrates heavily on that phase of her career. While she did not perform the French repertory live, she made many fine studio recordings. The arias from Bizet’s Carmen with Georges Pretre conducting the National Theatre Opera Orchestra of Paris are alone worth the price of this entire set, and it’s been said that Maria Callas was offered a king’s ransom to perform Carmen live – and flatly refused!

This disc also offers EMIs OPENDISC feature, which promises computer access to bonus material, but is really just a link to an EMI website with a variety of release information, video, picture galleries and links to other interesting websites. While I didn’t find a whole lot of value added by OPENDISC, I did get a ton of enjoyment from the overall package. If you’re looking for an introduction to the art of Maria Callas, you’d be hard pressed to find a better survey in such superb sound. Very highly recommended. [The first OPENDISC CD I just auditioned played perfectly well on my CD and DVD players but in my two Macs it caused a dropout of the music every several seconds…Ed.]

– Tom Gibbs

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