Maria Callas at Covent Garden, 1962 and 1964

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bizet & Puccini with Cioni,Gobbi,Verdi
WORKS: Operatic excerpts by Verdi, Bizet & Puccini with Cioni, Gobbi;
PERFORMER: ROM Chorus & Orchestra/Carlo Felice Cillario; dir. Franco Zeffirelli


It’s the hands that you notice first. Clasped in supplication as she begs Scarpia to stop torturing her lover; chastely folded when she invokes the spirit of Charles V in "Tu che le vanita’; and so sexily resting on her hip at the start of the ‘Habanera. Then it’s those eyes raised to heaven or cast down to the ground; and sometimes just closed against the worst that can be visited on a 19th-century operatic heroine. Has anyone in the last 50 years lived a role vocally and visually more completely than Maria Callas?

These Sixties television recordings, taken from a Royal Opera House gala in which Callas sang ‘Tu che le vanita’ from Verdi’s Don Carlos, the ‘Habanera’ and the ‘Seguidille’ from Carmen and Act II of Tosca in Zeffirelli’s celebrated production at Covent Garden in 1964, have had a barely legal life among Callas’s true believers for a number of years now.


How much better that the original ATV tele-recordings should have been cleaned up as much as possible and released legitimately. Squeezed on to television the Callas acting style may seem broad- brushed, but look at what she does with ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Tosca. No public manifesto about life and art sung straight out at the audience, no self-pitying appeal to her tormentor Scarpia, but a spiritual stocktaking of her own life to herself. Incomparable.