• La Traviata: They were Violetta - Maria Callas



    Everything we have been saying about Violetta's voice: that she needs a coloratura in the first act, a lyric in the second, and a spinto/dramatic in the third, on top of being a good actress (and good looking, too!), and keep the Verdian style without verismo tics... It's really possible to get all this in a single woman?.

    It is, and we have the proof in Maria Callas.

    The debut of Callas as Violetta was in Florence, in January, 1951. Later, she sung the role in Cagliari, but we have no record of those two Traviatas.

    However, in July this same year, Callas sung Violetta in México, under Oliviero de Fabritiis, with Cesare Valletti and a wonderful Giuseppe Taddei as Giorgio Germont. The second act duet is memorable, though the sound quality is poor:

    Un dì, quando le veneri - Callas and Taddei, 1951

    Callas sung five more Traviatas before the end of 1951, one with di Stefano and Gobbi, in Sao Paulo.

    In 1952, Callas is again in México, singing Violetta with di Stefano and Campolonghi. The ending of the first act is really marvelous, perhaps Callas's prodigious instrument was never better, and her agiity, the way she manages the top notes, really takes your breath away:

    É strano...Ah Fors'é lui...Sempre Libera - Callas, 1952

    This same year, in August, she sung Traviata, just after a Gioconda!.

    In January, 1953, Callas received the invitation to participate in the first 100 years of La Traviata, with a performance at La Fenice, alongside Francesco Albanese y Enzo Mascherini.

    At last, in September, 1953, Callas records the role in studio, for CETRA. Her partners are not the best: Albanese (again), and Ugo Savarese. Santini's conducting is also rather dull. In any case, we always have Callas!:

    This incomparable "Amami, Alfredo" is worth any mediocre Giorgio or Alfredo:

    Amami, Alfredo - Callas with Albanese and Santini, 1953

    In 1954, she debuted the role in the US, in Chicago.

    In 1955, there is one mythical performance. Teatro alla Scala offered a Traviata, staged by Luchino Visconti, with Callas, di Stefano and Bastianini, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.

    There are volumes written about this production. The atmosphere in the theater was of an incredible intensity. The rehearsals were very hard, with a lot of discussions between Callas and Visconti, but with little cooperation from di Stefano, later replaced after the premiere by Giacinto Pradelli.

    There is a recording of this performance, with Callas perhaps not in the incredible vocal situation of the early '50s, but offering a refined and very internalized Violetta. Giulini's conduction is also exceptional.

    Madamigella Valery - Callas and Bastianini, 1955

    Addio del passato - Callas, 1955

    Next year, there was a revival of the production with Raimondi in the place of di Stefano. There is also a recording, with a sidereal Violetta... sorry, a sidereal Callas, but the character and the singer are really only one here:


    E strano - Callas, 1956

    Addio del passato - Callas, 1956

    This production was enshrined in the memory of La Scala, and in 1964, some new performances were ruined (with a terrible booing to Mirella Freni and Anna Moffo) by the so called, "Callas's widows".

    In 1958, Callas sung Traviata at the MET. Let's read a review by Winthrop Sargeant:

    Last week, Miss Callas returned to the Metropolitan in a more congenial role, that of Violetta in "La Traviata"-and this time, I must say, she left me in complete agreement with the most fervent of her admirers, who bellowed and thundered their approval after every aria. Taken as a whole, her interpretation of the part was far and away the finest that I have encountered at the Metropolitan or anywhere else in all the years I have been listening to opera. The high notes again wobbled very slightly now and then, but I am beginning to accept the reedy tone quality as a characteristic of Miss Callas's vocal personality; when one has become used to it, it seem to add intensity to her singing. Hers in not a pure, innocent voice (pure, innocent voices are a dime a dozen) but a fiery conveyance for female passion, and it is used with amazing skill to underline each shifting mood of this extremely subtle role. What emerges is a highly personal interpretation of Violetta, in which it is impossible to disentangle the dramatic elements from the vocal ones. I might go on to say that Miss Callas's technique, marksmanship, feeling for musical emphasis, and so on, were as impeccable as usual, but in appraising these isolated ingredients of her singing (which can be objectively compared to similar ingredients in the work of other great singers) I would be missing the real crux of the matter, which lies in the way the ingredients are combined into total dramatic projection. I might also call attention to her acting, which-in this role, at least-would quality as extraordinarily perceptive and gripping even by the standards of the legitimate stage, but the fact remains that, in her approach to the role, to act is to sing and to sing is to act. The entire interpretation, from the aria "Sempre libera," in the first act to Violetta's death, just before the final curtain, was one of those electrifying fusions of music, theatre, and personality that operagoers are only occasionally privileged to witness, and are seldom able to forge

    Also in 1958, there is another legendary performance. Callas sung Traviata at Teatro São Carlos, in Lisbon, with a young and promising tenor, none other than Alfredo Kraus. This pairing of the best Violetta and the best Alfredo, was one for the ages.

    Callas and Kraus in Lisbon, 1958

    Our last recording is in June, 1958, from the Covent Garden. Callas is in more fragile vocal form, though her insigth of the role is as mastery as ever.

    Dite alla giovane - Callas with Mario Zanasi, 1958

    After London, Callas sings Violetta for the last time in Dallas, in October, 1958.

    This was the end of a wonderful string of performances. We can count ourselves fortunate that we have one studio and five live recordings, of the greatest Violetta we have ever known.


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