WORKS: I puritani
PERFORMER: Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Rolando Panerai, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni; Chorus & Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tullio Serafin
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 7 47308 8 ADD
This EMI recording was made in 1953, just four years after Maria Callas metamorphosed from one of the most exciting dramatic sopranos of her day into the greatest post-war exponent of the key bel canto roles of Bellini and Donizetti. It is conducted by Tullio Serafin, who masterminded that transformation, and is thus an historic document.
It is flawed, of course. Modern Bellini devotees will deplore the cuts and wish that Callas’s prime had coincided with that of the young Alfredo Kraus. Di Stefano’s Arturo is, however, meltingly seductive of voice, if sometimes effortful, and Panerai’s Riccardo is more than acceptable. Only Rossi-Lemeni’s woolly and dull Giorgio seriously lets the team down. But Callas remains incomparable. The first ‘appearance’ of her voice in the off-stage quartet announces a singer of original interpretative gifts –her voice is shot with tragic accents, she phrases with the imagination of a master-instrumentalist – and her accounts of Elvira’s big numbers are models: the polacca dazzling, ‘Qui la voce’ haunting. Her well-known vocal faults are under firm control.
Callas intended to add Beatrice di Tenda to her repertoire, but it was left to Sutherland to revive the opera. Since I reviewed the Decca reissue of Sutherland’s recording, two new ones have emerged, Gruberova on Nightingale, Lucia Aliberti on Berlin Classics. Gruberova is a more involved singer than Sutherland, a brilliant technician and a musician of considerable finesse, but her voice has limited colour. Her conductor, Steinberg, is brash, unstylish, and her colleagues, Kasarova and Bernadini, are good without outshining Veasey and Pavarotti. Worth investigating, then, but not an essential buy. Hugh Canning