COMPOSERS: Luigi Cherubini
LABELS: ICA Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Cherubini: Medea
PERFORMER: Maria Callas, Joan Carlyle, Florenza Cossotto, Jon Vickers, Nicola Zaccaria, Mary Wells, Elizabeth Rust, David Allen; Covent Garden Opera/Nicola Rescigno
CATALOGUE NO: ICAC5110
There are six recordings of soprano Maria Callas in Medea, from her first encounter with the work in 1953 to her last in 1961. One was made in the studio, the others are of stage performances. Two stand out: a 1953 La Scala performance under Leonard Bernstein, and a 1958 one in Dallas under Nicola Rescigno. Both conductors made their own versions of the score, with fairly extensive cuts. Even without them, this Italian version of a work originally written to a French libretto and translated into Italian via German – with added recitatives by Lachner – would have small claims to be authentic. What is authentic is the passion and intensity that Callas brings to what would become one of her greatest roles.
I would rank this performance from Covent Garden in 1959 as the third finest of the six. On this ICA recording the sound is acceptable for the first two acts and good in the third. The supporting cast is equal to the best, with tenor Jon Vickers an outstanding Jason and soprano Joan Carlyle a lovely Glauce. The cast is very similar to the previous year’s in Dallas, and the conductor the same. But here Rescigno takes some strangely inert tempos, and though Callas is stupendous, she is even more so in Dallas.