Archive for 1954

Lucia’s Mad Scene

Posted in Opera with tags , , on July 2, 2011 by telescoper

I came across this little clip of the great Maria Callas on youtube, and couldn’t resist sharing it for the benefit of those (apparently many) people out there who think she was an overrated singer. I’m a devout Callas fan, but I also freely admit that many of the performances she recorded later in her career (especially in the 60s) weren’t all that good and it’s unfortunate that most of her famous performances were in an era when audio technology wasn’t really up to the task of recording live opera.

However, you can get an idea of how very special Maria Callas was in this little clip recorded live at La Scala in Milan in 1954. It’s a poor quality recording but her voice has a stunning radiance to it despite the distortions. This is the very end of the lengthy Act III “Mad Scene” from Donizetti‘s Opera Lucia di Lammermoor. It’s a tremendously demanding piece, which Callas sings with flawless technical accuracy and extraordinary expressive power leading up to a ringing top E♭ at the end. Her approach to the vocal gymnastics required by the bel canto repertoire was uniquely full-on and, without a safety net, the sense of danger surrounding these performances made them truly electrifying.

Only some of the music  made it onto the recording, but there’s enough there to convince the doubters that this was a very special artist. And, listening to the applause at the end, the notoriously demanding audience at La Scala were clearly convinced too!

Incidentally, some argue that Callas’ voice was in decline after her substantial weight loss (she lost 80lbs between 1953 and 1954), but this was the slim Callas and her voice sounds pretty good to me!