Callas Assoluta

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
ALBUM TITLE: A Film By Phillipe Kohly
PERFORMER: Maria Callas (soprano)
CATALOGUE NO: 101 817

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Philippe Kohly’s documentary is presented with a voiceover laid on top of both still and moving images from Callas’s life and career.

The packaging claims that much of the visual material is being shown for the first time, though a great deal will already be familiar to Callas enthusiasts from other published documentaries, performances and interviews. Yet some of it was certainly new to me.

One item, a rather bizarre sequence, shows Callas in her later years acting as the compère at the beginning of a televised circus performance, being shunted around the ring by a small Indian elephant.

There’s something infinitely sad about one of the greatest performers of the 20th century having nothing better to do with her time. One or two more familiar pieces of film are highlighted by their context to demonstrate an original perception, or at least provide a new focus.

One is a sequence where Callas is preparing to sing while behind her the orchestra plays the prelude to Carmen. It illustrates her technique of preceding vocal gestures with carefully planned facial expressions, and this lengthy piece of silent acting shows an absolute mastery.

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Any stage performer could learn much from it. For the rest, there’s not much that hasn’t been said before either about the life or the art, and the claim in the packaging that in the film ‘the levels of emotion often exceed those of her operas’ is not just ridiculous but an insult to her art. George Hall