A Great Night At La Scala
Sheng-chi Shu | Singapore | 06/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Amelia is not a role that one would immediately associate with Callas, yet it is one of the most compelling portrayls of Verdian heroines ever. She brought her unique, glowing and heartrending intensity to Amelia's predicaments and torments, torn between her husband and lover. She recorded the opera with di Stefano and Gobbi in 1956 for EMI and that studio recording has rightly won plaudits as one of the great verdi interpretations on records. However, there are sufficient reasons for preferring the live performance at La Scala over the studio recording. In the grips of the actual theater, before the bullfight afficianados of La Scala and with the need to act visually as well as vocally, Callas poured out her voice, heart and soul completely. She was at the peak of her powers in 1957 and one can see why from this live recording. Di Stefano proved to be more than a worthy partner and the love duet in Act II was really sung by the dynamic duo to white heat....such intensity of utterances is something that can never be emulated in the clinical recording studio. Adding Bastianini's menacing Renato and Gavazzeni's vital direction (he is much more compelling than Votto who conducted the studio performance), we have Verdi's drama at its most blazing and the old maestro would have been impressed by it if he lived to see it. The sound is more than bearable and the voices do emerge with clarity and vividness. My only caveat is the lack of a libretto, which makes the EMI set a necessity. (you do need the libretto to get a better idea of Callas' unique ways with the words)."
The definitive performance of Un Ballo in Maschera
The Cultural Observer | 05/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Verdi's Un Ballo has not been lucky on records. While stentorian operas like his five-act Don Carlo have been committed to disc, Un Ballo has not had an amazing studio Un Ballo. Leontyne Price's recording with Thomas Schippers is marred by Price's ineffective probing into Amelia's psychology albeit Bergonzi's great Riccardo, Grist's lithe Oscar, and Verrett's black Ulrica; while Bartoletti's recording is marred by an aged Renata Tebaldi, a coarse Resnik, and a leathery Sherrill Milnes in their recording. Helen Donath as Oscar makes an amazing impression though in this small but pivotal role. Solti's recording has a parted Margaret Price in the role of Amelia, while Pavarotti sounds uninvolved in the recording. I would say that the recording is valuable for Christa Ludwig's Ulrica. Even Callas' recording is plodded by the pedestrian conducting of Antonino Votto. For a truly great Ballo, I believe that you must turn to the electricity of live performances; and there are two live recordings that I particularly enjoy: the Molinari-Pradelli live recording from the 1975 season with Montserrat Caballe as Amelia, Jose Carreras as Riccardo, Renato Bruson as Renato, Margherita Gugliemo as Oscar, and Ruza Baldani as Ulrica, and this one. I have never seen a more outstanding cast assembled in any opening night, including Callas' great Bolena and her outstanding 1955 Norma. This performance works with just about all the ingredients of a great opera: marvelous Verdi conductor, stupendous cast that is involved musically and dramatically, and an audience that thrills the listener. Maria Callas has never sounded better in another Verdi role than Amelia. Although I love her Violetta above all others, I love Callas so much more in the heavier Verdi roles. Her probing into Amelia's psychology is unmatched by any other soprano before or after her, and the electricity of this performance will involve the listener from her first note to the last. Amelia was written for the dramatic soprano, but few of them have been able to do it justice due to the extreme demands made by the part. Birgit Nilsson recorded it, but I would say that she does not come close to what Callas does to the role. Tebaldi is vocally lush, but she is no Verdi actress, even though her Aida is close to definitive. Callas is the closest we could ever get to the true Amelia sound, with that perfect combination of metal and ductility and a soft grain to make the role work for her voice. But she isn't alone in making this opera work like a charm that evening. She is partnered by the Riccardo of Giuseppe di Stefano, who I would say is more engaged in the theater than in the studio. His beauty of tone and the grace of his phrasing make this performance one of the greatest interpretations of the tenor role. His arias Di tu se fedele and Ma se me forza perderti are sung to perfection and should be a model for all Verdi tenors. The role of Renato is sung by Ettore Bastianini, who is the paragon of the Verdi baritone. He has it all--darkness and beauty of tone, theatricality, and liquid phrasing. It was unfortunate that he had to die so young because of his cancer. Giulietta Simionato sings the short role of Ulrica with the homogeneous tone and the keen thespian flair that she is known for, and apart from Fiorenza Cossotto, I don't think I've heard a more convincing Ulrica. I absolutely adore Eugenia Ratti's Oscar--it is light, playful, and naive. Although it will never be as animated as Helen Donath or Reri Grist's Oscar, I think that her mastery of the Italian idiom makes her character all the more endearing. Gavazzeni leads the orchestra in one of the most fiery Verdi performances in the history of the theater. If you've heard his Rigoletto, his Bolena, and his Adriana Lecouvreur, you will understand why this man became a stalwart at this theater of all theaters for so long. Highly recommended!"