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Puccini: Turandot (Complete Opera) Maria Callas; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: Eugenio Fernandi; Tullio Serafin
Giacomo Puccini, Tullio Serafin, Chorus & Orchestra of La Scala Theatre
Puccini: Turandot (Complete Opera) Maria Callas; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: Eugenio Fernandi; Tullio Serafin
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (32) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #2

This is a would-be classic. The younger, pudgier Maria Callas sang the role of Turandot with a hurricane force that's rarely been equaled. But by 1958--when this recording was made--the slimmer, wiser Callas had less of...  more »

     
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Amazon.com
This is a would-be classic. The younger, pudgier Maria Callas sang the role of Turandot with a hurricane force that's rarely been equaled. But by 1958--when this recording was made--the slimmer, wiser Callas had less of the vocal power required by the opera's Act II shouting match (also known as "The Riddle Scene"), and the character's simplistic motivation (beheading suitors as a way of not dealing with her sexual frigidity) offered little for her sophisticated theatrical imagination. As the suitor who breaks through her barriers, tenor Eugenio Fernandi is little better than adequate. Elsewhere, there are strong pluses: In the uncharacteristic role of Liu, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf summons the honeyed tone of her earlier years as well as the dramatic specificity of her maturity. Conductor Tullio Serafin gives one of his most individualistic, dramatically memorable interpretations. He never lets you forget this is an ugly story about barbaric people, underscoring Puccini's every dissonance and inspiring a supremely vivid performance from the La Scala chorus. --David Patrick Stearns

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CD Reviews

Worth a listen
Kate | 03/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There are many compelling aspects of this set, most obviously, the unique Turandot that Callas portrays. Although her voice was certainly not what it was prior to 1950, she is far above average vocally (with the exception of the occasional strained top note---believe it or not, these actually add to the charm of the Callas Turandot) and her acting is comparable in my mind to the 1953 Tosca; her character is fiery, forceful and chilly, yet gut-wrenchingly sad and vulnerable, almost like a little girl in some spots. The transformation from a frozen "princess of death" to a princess warm and passionately in love is a gradual one and is very affective. She holds her own (contrary to what the amazon.com reviewer said) in the horribly difficult Act II, Scene II, although following "In questa reggia" (which is extremely poignant and well sung) her voice sounds a little bit haggard and thin as she poses the riddles to Calaf. As for the rest of the cast: Fernandi delivers a perfectly satisfactory Calaf. I am VERY picky when it comes to tenors, and think no tenor of this century even comes close to Bjoerling as Calaf, but as for the rest of them, Fernandi does well, and is most compelling in the last act. His "Nessun dorma" leaves something to be desired, but once again, I probably think so because I'm comparing his version to the Bjoerling version which beats them all. Schwarzkopf is a wonderfully tender and tragic Liu, although a tiny bit shrill when she sings above a piano level. Her "Signore, ascolta" is comparable to the Cabelle version in my opinion (especially the last bar of the piece---it brings a tear to the eye). Serafin is, well, Serafin, and I can't really say anything to do him justice. He holds everything together with artistry and his conducting is as chilly (yet flaming) as Callas' singing. He was certainly one of the greats.So, in conclusion, get this recording. Although Callas' voice is not 'fat' in this version, it is not only acceptable, but very unique and touching."
A Very Special Turandot
Jeffrey Lipscomb | Sacramento, CA United States | 07/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a unique recording. It offers a rather specialized view of Turandot which, despite some vocal compromises, is the most emotionally involving performance on disc. To my mind, opera is first and foremost about drama, and this reading has that in spades. I think it deserves a place in every Puccinian's CD library, alongside the equally effective, but very different, Nilsson/Corelli/Scotto set under Molinari-Pradelli.

Serafin offers a slower, weightier and far more detailed account of this work's extraordinary orchestral part, whereas Molinari-Pradelli is faster and more straightforward. For me, this dichotomy is a bit like comparing Furtwangler and Weingartner in Beethoven's 9th: two very different but equally valid approaches that are both true to the work's spirit. Serafin is entirely in sync with the more humanistic view of the characters given by his vocalists. Callas is not, to my ears, the ultimate "ice princess" but rather a deeply conflicted, lonely and repressed young woman caught in a role that was defined for her rather than by her. The Liu of Schwarzkopf is, for me, far more touchingly pathetic than the norm (Serafin gives her tremendous support), and Fernandi, despite limited vocal resources, is an unusually lyrical and ardent Everyman: his Calaf is presented on a more human level than the Olympic-sized hero we usually hear.

Just as Serafin is ideal for a more probing and intimate view of this opera's characters, Molinari-Pradelli's brisker, more exuberant portrayal is perfectly in accord with the grander, more broadly brushed canvas provided by his stars. Nilsson's may be a blander characterization than that of Callas - but she is surely more of an "ice princess," with vocal stamina and range to match. Likewise Corelli's stentorian - and breathtaking - Calaf is a larger than life figure of super-hero proportions. So, in a nutshell, each conductor provides a well-nigh ideal backdrop for their respectively very different conceptions.

Callas valiantly hurdles many of the imposing vocal challenges of her role - and on those terms is not entirely successful. But what is it about that slightly tremulous and edgy voice that elicits such immediate sympathy? I can only say that she has this listener by the throat all the way - following her with a libretto, I am continually astonished at her ability to color words and whole phrases with a plaintive nobility and barely concealed anguish that are utterly gripping. She is, for me, one of those rare and supreme artists who somehow manage to make technical limitations more of an asset than a liability. It makes perfect sense therefore that she would be paired with a Fernandi, who in his own way is truly excellent (despite some near-shouting up top) - he simply isn't a Bjorling or a Corelli (but who else was?). Schwarzkopf is an artist about whom I am very ambivalent - I can remember too many occasions where her fluttery, self-conscious coquetry really drove me up the wall (e.g., much of her Mozart). But for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, here she is the only Liu who brings tears to my eyes every time I hear her (unlike Caballe and Tebaldi).

By contrast, Nilsson and Corelli succeed in terms of sheer physical prowess - egad, what a larger than life Riddle Scene! I am generally far more of an admirer of Bjorling than I am of Corelli - but, unfortunately Bjorling's Calaf (with Leinsdorf) was caught at the very end of his career, whereas Corelli here was at the very peak of his (his constant scooping into high notes CAN be annoying - but when he does get there it's invariably dead center and VERY exciting).

At the risk of sounding totally equivocal, I would have to say that owning BOTH sets, which are mutually complementary and both very satisfying in their very different ways, is the best way to go.

Still, if the desert island beckoned and I could have just one recording of this Puccini masterpiece, then Callas & Co. would have to go there with me."
Great Turandot
Jeffrey Lipscomb | 12/06/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Great interpretation of Turandot for Callas. Her intense declamation gives her performance an imperious power, as she offers not only the ice of the character, but the fire which Turandot tells us burns beneath. In other words, we listen a more layered Turandot than other great singers have chosen to reveal. The fullnes of her phrasing, and the insinuations of her low notes, give to the character the correct dimensions. Is an human and fascinating Turandot. Tullio Serafin conducts this opera masterly, with a lot of colors, and great expression. The rest of the cast sing very well, and in a refined way. Giuseppe Nessi (the emperor Altoum) was the first Pang in the very first performance of all, at La Scala under Toscanini, on April 26, 1926."