Music and Vision homepage



DAVID WILKINS listens to one of the
legends of the 20th Century


EMI   7243 5 20653 2 5

Record Box


Callas compilations continue to appear both on the mainstream labels and on the pirates and 'cheapos' that you can find in supermarkets and suchlike outlets. I would rate this one - of 15 essential tracks remastered at Abbey Road from original EMI recordings - very highly indeed.

Maria Callas was, first and foremost, a superlative dramatic singer. She would hardly be a first choice for beauty of tone (especially at the raw top end of her range) or for beguiling vocal grace and delicacy. For imagination and sheer engagement, though, she is unrivalled.

Like most admirers who have tried to retain a sense of proportion, I have had my periods of apostasy when Tebaldi, Caballé and Joan Sutherland may seem to have had more to say to me. Listening anew to these transfers, however, I find myself as astonished and moved as ever.

The compilation is, as usual, geared towards the tear-jerking end of the repertoire with a long-spun 'Vissi d'arte' and an exquisitely affecting 'O mio babbino caro' making their ubiquitous appearances. There is 'Addio, del passato' from the legendary 1958 Lisbon 'La Traviata' replete with stage clunking and audience participation but overwhelming in its identification and pathos. Lace-handkerchiefs can, however, be put aside for the vocal gymnastics of Gounod's 'Waltz Song' and the disturbingly near-ugly sultriness of the Carmen 'Habanera'. Though there are no 'turkeys', I could live without the extract from Gluck's 'Orfeo' sung in French.

Callas didn't think much of modern music. "There's too much noise," she said. Anyway, she regarded Cilea (who died in 1950) as quite modern enough and we have here her languorous 'Io son l'umile ancella' from his 'Adriana Lecouvreur' to make us grateful that she got as up-to-date as that. Bellini's 'Casta Diva' opens the disc so that we know exactly who we are dealing with (and why) straight away and part of the 'Lucia' mad-scene ends the generous measure (74 minutes) with another indelible performance.

She is splendidly accompanied, throughout, by the likes of Karajan, Prêtre, de Sabata and, of course, her beloved mentor - Tullio Serafin. The package includes some nice photographs and a lengthy biography and constitutes, for all its familiarity, quite a bargain.


Copyright © 5 January 2000 by David Wilkins, Eastbourne, UK





Read David Wilkins' Callas book review >>


 << Music & Vision home        Partsongs for all seasons >> 


Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews