"Anna Bolena was a perfect role for Caballe but she should have sung it at least ten years before this infamous Scala performance. I know there were plans for Caballe to do all three Queens in NY but Sills was quick to proceed with this project so the enthusiasm was gone. Any early recorded scene shows that Caballe's aristocratic phrasing and gorgeous voice really do the role justice. Anyhow, here we are in 1982 and the golden tone is only evident in her quiet singing. High and now even middle-high notes no longer sound pleasant but she has the guts to go for two rare (for her) Ds at the end of the ensembles. Then again many famous singers don't retain their youthful voice when they reach their fifties. But the great lady, relying on her technique, could still sing and her fiato often brings back fond memories of her prime.
At the time Caballe was often cancelling performances and this is actually the only night she did Anna Bolena at Scala, after the theatre forced the soprano to appear despite her illness. The loggioni, boo and shout and even call her names during the performance! The background I've heard from an Italian friend who was at the performance that night might help us understand why all this fuss. There were two lobbies in Italy at that time: The Callas widows who would not have any other soprano sing a role Callas brought back to La Scala and the lobby who wanted to see younger singers on stage. Usually you would get one or the other but that night Caballe faced both as she ticked all the boxes. Performances of the young Aliberti during those years turned the two lobbies against each other and reportedly, things got physical in the galleries!
The most memorable moment in this performance for me is the mad scene. The high note in the recitative comes out badly and the loggioni quickly booo and someone shouts witch! All Caballe does then is hold a gorgeous piano note for a little bit longer showing her control of her voice at this very difficult moment and goes on to give a stunning performance of A dolce guidami. I wasn't expecting her at that age (not to mention condition) to deliver such a beautiful and moving aria. If only the rest of her performance was as good but unfortunately her singing comes across as effortful in many places and as I said before the tone isn't always pleasant. Obrazova was at the time touring the world with her big voice and if she doesn't quite have the charm to make Henry's affection believable, she has enough power to impress me.
Plishka's bass sounds baritonal here and totally spoils it for me. I like strong and grand voices in this role. Siepi sang the role with Caballe in Barcelona a month before and it's a shame he didn't follow her to La Scala. Savastano and Zilio, both adequate do what they can to rescue the performance but who listens to Percy and Smeton when the Queen is being booed!
Despite the problems, it's Caballe's only commercially available Anna Bolena (and Myto is squeezing every penny out of it!) so if you've always wondered how Caballe would sound in the role, here is your chance. As your first Bolena you could try the studio Decca set which apart from Souliotis' ups and downs, has many strengths while live, Ricciarelli, Gencer and Callas are all recommendable for different reasons.
3 stars because of the a dolce guidami."
Not to be missed!
Daniel G. Madigan | Redmond, WA United States | 08/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the only lengthy recording of Anna Bolena by Caballe, and it is excellent. The principles that surround her are very good, esp. Obeatzova, who might have been too heavy for Giovanna but is not.
The date of this performance is not given; perhaps in the layte 80's or early 90's..whop can say?
There was a tape a long while ago circulating with bad sound from the stage, and unfortunate good sound from the audience. Many negative comments, much booing, and whistling..this set is from the stage and tyhe sound is excellent without the intrusive noises.
At La Scala. as all know, being booed is part of the experience of singing there, and Caballe is no exception. The claim here might be ( the booing) that the offending parties in the audience remember Callas and can tolerate noone else. Callas herself was booed, not for Anna Boilena, but for other operas, incredible as that may seem. Here we have a successor to Callas ( Callas taught Caballe Norma) getting booed, but who cares?
The opera is not complete, but this is the only recording of the only perfomance Caballe gave anywhere..she cancelled all other sceduled performances at La Scala because of the harassment.But, you have Caballe in great voice and the al dolci guidimi at the conclusion is worth everything, in addition to everything else. Fabulous as always, it is a pity that London/ Decca did not record her in this great opera for that London/Decca set of the late 60's with the unfortunate Elena Souliotis, as Anna.
In any case, Caballe & Co. are in full vocal force here, so do not pass this one up, no matter the price. It shines in every way, and La Scala was honored by her, as it was by Callas always, Freni, and Renee Fleming, also booed horribly for Lucrezia Borgia in the late 1990's.
Booooo La Scala..Brava Caballe."
B. J. Miceli | Boston, MA United States | 06/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was very excited to hear this performance after hearing about it for so many years. It does not disappoint. I think that Caballe (my favorite singer, I admit) is superb in the part of Anna. It cannot be denied that she clearly misses a few top notes or leaves other out, while some (including the brilliant, rock-steady high D in the judgment scene which delights the audience) are right on. Given the howling wolves in the audience that night (the Callas fans who thought "Anna" belonged only to their idol and the others who were screaming for blood because Caballe canceled the first 2 very expensive performances) it is a wonder that she went on at all. I cannot blame her for having a case of nerves and that is what it must have been. How can you explain a perfect high D to end one act then a minor calamity on a C in the next? No matter. This is a live-performance, given under excruciatingly high tension. Her piannissimi intact, her smooth legato, her better-than-ever coloratura, her immaculate phrasing, her silken soft singing, her clear diction, and, above all, her dignity, grandeur, and authority make Caballe a natural Anna and a wonderful one. I wish she had sung it more often, under circumstances more conducive to art. A great bel canto diva in one of the great bel canto roles. It merits 5 stars. Don't miss it if you care about the performing tradition called bel canto."
Uneven but highly exciting
Dr. Philip Cokkinos | Athens, Greece | 06/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is the only existing complete ANNA BOLENA with Montserrat Caballe. The date is 21 February 1982 and the place is La Scala in Milan. Earlier that year she had sung two performances in Barcelona but cancelled the rest due to urgent surgery for a kidney stone. This Scala performance is her third and last stage appearance in the role, and again she is far from healthy and singing under pressure from La Scala's management. She was supposed to have sung in the premiere on 14 February 1982 but developed salmonella food poisoning and had to be replaced by Ruth Falcon. Of course the "Callas widows" are audibly out in force, waiting to pounce on every vocal flaw. Of which there are plenty. It is an uneven performance, often thrilling, but also with lots of inaccurate coloratura, some laboured declamation, approximate phrasing (she frequently rounds off a word to the nearest vowel), and some avoided or strained high notes. Then out of the blue comes some exquisite pianissimo singing and a fortissimo high D at the end of Act 1, very rare for Caballe. The denouement comes in the final scene, which is almost impossible to sing even under the best of circumstances and which here must have really taken every ounce of courage and vocal reserve out of Montserrat. In the recitative just before the aria "Al dolce guidami" she sings a disastrous, unfocused exposed high C and the audience erupts into sarcastic jeering and cries of "Strega!" which have to be heard to be believed. She then proceeds to sing a miraculous "Al dolce guidami", pianissimo all the way and with endless breath control, avoiding only the highest note. The audience gives her an ovation. Prophetically enough, in 1957 Callas was greeted with cries of "Divina!" at the end of this aria. In the last minutes of "Coppia iniqua" Caballe is again labouring hard and gets through with sheer willpower. She left Milan the following day and never sang Anna Bolena again, considering herself cursed in all her attempts to sing this, the unluckiest of all her roles. I didn't particularly like Obraztsova's Jane Seymour, too much vibrato, no real coloratura technique and she avoids most of her high notes. This live recording is generally recommended for the sheer frisson factor, but if you want an excellent all-around performance then go for the live 1957 Callas performance (minus overture) or the Beverly Sills recording. The 1957 live performance is also highly exciting and features the great Giulietta Simionato, magisterial in every way, as Jane Seymour, while Maria Callas is captured in a state of grace (look at the photos from the performance to see how mesmerising she must have been on stage here), singing only a couple of unsteady notes in the first act but culminating in an unforgettable, utterly abandoned final scene, with exemplary phrasing throughout and some superb pianissimo singing. Caballe's best performance of the final scene lament is her 1970 recording with Carlo Felice Cillario conducting the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. Here she sings like a goddess, the recitative's exposed forte high C perfect and held forever, the aria itself sung softly, softly throughout, the phrasing impeccable, the breath unending."