Maria Callas: Popular Music from TV, Film and Opera
After the recent auction of Callas’s personal effects in Paris these new compilations of her recordings are topical. The single disc here would seem to come with the subtitle ‘Callas sings film’, as half the items have been chosen to link with film soundtracks. It may be interesting to learn that ‘Vissi d’arte’ was used in a film called Copycat or that the Habanera from Carmen now has three film credits to its name, but that is unlikely to sway the confirmed opera-lover. The more important factors will be the generous length of the CD at 74 minutes and its full-price tag, which is optimistic for what is in effect a sampler designed to encourage purchasers to investigate Callas’s recordings further.
Of course, there is nothing cut-price about the performances. The 17 tracks on this disc are taken from recordings that made operatic history in the second half of the 20th century. It is particularly heartening to find items from the 1954 Puccini recital disc that Callas made with Serafin, where the singing is perfectly schooled in every detail. The two extracts from the live performance of La traviata in Lisbon are welcome for showing that Callas was as impressive live as on disc, though it is a shame that ‘Ah, fors’ e lui’ is shorn of both its recitative and cabaletta.
Purchasers of the two-disc compilation get all these tracks and about the same number again. With Callas this also means double the range of experience, which would not be the case with every singer: the smouldering sexuality of Dalila’s ‘Printemps qui commence’ is unlike anything on the single disc and so is the virginal purity of Gilda’s ‘Caro nome’ from Rigoletto. Hearing early and late recordings mixed up sometimes means a jolt in the quality of voice we hear, as when the impeccable young Callas of Dinorah’s ‘Ombra leggiera’ gives way to the unsteady Waltz song from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. But whatever Callas sang, there were moments that she brought to life unlike anybody else. We may have technically less fallible singers today, but we do not have personalities like hers, and that is ultimately to the music’s loss. To judge from the high percentage of French operas represented and the Paris-centric notes, the set was planned primarily for French buyers. Any compilation of Callas, however, will appeal to everybody.'