A superb performance of Medea
Mike Leone | Houston, TX, United States | 03/16/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If the performances that have come down to us are any indication, 1957 was Maria Callas' single best year. For me, this was the year that her voice and her artistry were in the most perfect balance, and fortunately her work during this year was well documented. Her five commercial recordings from that year, Il barbiere di Siviglia, La sonnambula, Turandot, Manon Lescaut and this Medea indicate the breadth and range of her art. On top of these were the legendary live performances of Anna Bolena and Un ballo in maschera, and of course the famous Dallas rehearsal, the most substantial document we have showing Callas at work.I would be very hard pressed to pick a favorite from this plethora of riches, but this Medea would have to be near the top of the list. It's sad that this recording and Callas' participation in it have been so maligned, and I have yet to be able to figure out the reason. Certainly I have other favorite recordings, such as the Flagstad commercial Gotterdammerung and the Suliotis commercial Norma, that are widely discredited, but in the case of these two recordings, I can at least understand what others might find objectionable about them. But I am at a complete loss with this Medea. Callas' voice is compact and well-used, and she reflects Medea's varying emotions with her usual incisiveness and insightfulness, while paradoxically maintaining a classical poise. Are others unhappy because her Medea was not the tigress she was in Dallas? Well, it's understandable that she wouldn't be. Callas generally underplayed (and remember, this term is relative) her recorded interpretations because the microphone exaggerated everything so much as it was. But Callas was not capable of giving an uncommitted performance and she certainly does not do so here; the tigress is still very much in evidence, along with some extremely good singing.She is supported by a very strong cast. Mirto Picchi sadly is a tenor she was infrequently paired with (we also have part of an Aida Act III from 1950 from Rome and of course the famous 1952 Covent Garden Norma, with Sutherland in the bit part of Clotilde), but his sound and artistry are perfect for this music. Renata Scotto's performance here as Glauce is best remembered because of the way she later discussed how the star wanted to cut her aria, Glauce's only big moment. Here, still early in her career, Scotto was not yet quite the individual singer she would later become, but then again Glauce's role doesn't allow much room for characterization either. Giuseppe Modesti as Creon has another rather one-dimensional role, but one certainly cannot fault his singing.I have special praise for Miriam Pirazzini's Neris; her aria presents the ideal sense of calm in the turbulent surroundings, with conductor Tullio Serafin abetting her in every respect. Serfain in fact has a real affinity for this music and certainly captures the drama of it. Although he did resist Callas' requests that he cut Glauce's aria, there are some other cuts which others may find more annoying than I do.The recorded sound is a bit thin and dry, although this may also have something to do with the orchestration. But this remastering sounds better than previous versions I have heard and one gets used to the sound rather rapidly, in any event.As a filler, we have Callas' 1963 recording of Beethoven's "Ah! perfido," which was included principally because of the classical style of the music and because Beethoven's unnamed heroine is suffering from being abandoned by her lover, just as Medea has been. Callas is in less steady voice than she was in 1957, of course, but her characterization is still worth hearing.The notes for the recording were written by John Steane, an expert on voices. He restricts himself to a survey of Callas' performances of Medea, without expressing an opinion of the recording under consideration here.Anyway, provided one is wiling to trust one's own ears over the received opinions about this recording that have been disseminated, one can't go wrong with this performance of Medea, both as a representation of the opera itself and as a representation of Callas at or near the very top of her form. Highly recommended."
To re-master or not to re-master. . .
Esteban Molina | San Francisco | 03/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first owned this studio "Medea" in the dark ages of LP's and, though a Callas fan in alt, I must admit that I didn't much like it. I could understand people's objections: they were apparent simply by listening for myself. Then EMI released the performance on CD and some of the objections disappeared. Much of the shrillness and unsteadiness was gone; though, very strangely, there was little drama to be heard. True, everyone seemed to be singing with great intensity and conviction; but they seemed not to be singing *to* each other. There was no dramatic inter-relation between the singers, and the drama suffered accordingly. I played the set very seldom - only when I wanted an experience of better sound as opposed to the dramatically superior live performances [Florence & Milan '53, Dallas '58, London '59, Milan '61]. Then EMI re-mastered the set in their "Callas Edition" and achieved something of a miracle. How it can be so I suppose a sound engineer could say, but they managed not only to create more spacial depth both for orchestra and singers, but the singers now seem to be singing *to* each other and the increase in dramatic vitality is striking. I now play this "Callas Edition" set often and enjoy it in its own right. So - ignore the original reviews of this performace based on the LP issue and by all means find it, though admittedly this is difficult to do. But be sure to find it in the latest "Callas Edition" re-mastering. It's a revelation, and the result holds its place with the live performances. Though I don't always think EMI succeeded in their re-mastering of Callas' performances for their "Callas Edition" [personally I think they lost a bit of the fizz and charm in re-mastering her "Turco" and "Barbiere"], in the case of the studio "Medea" the results are wonderful indeed. [If the set you're about to buy has the Beethoven aria included, it *isn't* the later, re-mastered and better "Callas Edition" version!]"