Maria Callas: The Legend (CD review)

EMI CDC 7243 5 57057  2 3 (Warner Classics 2435570575)

The American operatic soprano Maria Callas (1923-1977) may still be the most recognizable female name in opera, almost a quarter century after her death. Although she was quite versatile, singing in French, German, and Italian, she is known today primarily for her French and Italian roles, which are well represented on this collection of her art. She was also known for her volatile disposition and the notoriety of her lifestyle, but that's another story. The questions is, Was she really the greatest female soprano of all time? One can only say, maybe. Personal taste dictates the answer.

Certainly, one could make the case that Callas should come somewhere near the top of any list of great singers. And another thing seems clear: she probably did not possess the most dynamic, lilting, precise, or beautiful voice of all time. Those titles might go to other contenders. What is equally clear, however, is that no other soprano in modern history interpreted a song quite like her. By the time she retired, she had performed over forty separate roles and had recorded something like twenty operas.

Maria Callas
The booklet insert provides a good example of her singing style. When a reporter once asked her after a film appearance, "So you have decided to start out on a career as an actress," she replied that she thought she had always been one. Yes, above all she was an actress, a dramatic singer who could transform herself into the character she was performing and convey the character's emotions through the words. She was not simply singing; she was being.

The seventeen arias on this recital disc, among the best she ever recorded, are good examples of her ability to transcend the mere lyrics of a song and create a genuine persona. Listen to the first item, Bellini's "Casta Diva" from Norma, and you'll see what I mean. There follow songs from Catalani, Rossini, Donizetti, Puccini and Verdi, of course, Saint-Saens and Bizet. Trust me in saying you will recognize all of them; they are standard repertoire fare like "Un bel di vedremo," "Si, Mi chiamano Mimi," "O mio babbino caro," and the like. Each is exquisite; each a gem.

EMI's sound varies from mediocre to above average in these remasters, now available from Warner Classics. Remember, these recordings were taken from the mid Fifties on. Most are in monaural, but like "Vissi d 'arte" from Tosca, it is quite good mono sound. My only complaint is that the EMI engineers occasionally seem to have applied a little too much noise reduction, softening the high end more than necessary. Most of the tracks evidence a degree of hardness or roughness, but it is not extreme, and if you love music you won't even notice. Strongly recommended.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa