Maria Callas sings Operatic Arias
Callas's 1961 collection of French operatic arias, reissued by EMI on LP in June 1983 (nla), is one of her most riveting recital achievements. For the CD they have unwisely responded to the need for a longer running time by drawing on five items from a further 1963 French collection (also nla) recorded when Callas was in poor physical and vocal health; Manon's ''Adieu'' is very fine but everywhere else the voice sounds strained and bleached; texts are occasionally hacked about and the orchestral playing and microphone placing, awkwardly close, leave much to be desired. Not that any of this should deter CD collectors from acquiring the disc for its first glorious 50 minutes. The sentiments of Carmen's Habanera may, as Peter Conrad has brilliantly suggested (A song of love and death; Chatto & Windus: 1987) have been anathema to Callas but the performance is extraordinarily charismatic, as is her re-creation of other great human archetypes revealed here, such as Orphee, Alceste, Dalila, Chimene and Juliette. As I said in 1983, singing like this changes people's lives.
The mid-price EMI Eminence LP and cassette collection, ''Maria Callas Sings Operatic Arias'' has a lot of striking things on it, including five plums from the 1961 French collection and Manon's ''Adieu'' on Side 2, and four striking examples of Callas's achievements in the Italian repertory on Side I. The performances themselves hardly need further notice here, though it should be noted that ''Una voce poco fa'' is, very properly, taken from the complete recording of Il barbiere di Siviglia and that ''Vissi d'arte'' is taken from the later of her two complete recordings of Tosca, unbearably touching when one recalls that at this point of her career Callas's genius was hovering on the edge of its own extinction. Sadly there are no texts or translations with this mid-price LP. The sleeve-note tells us that at this point Tosca is ''desperately trying to escape the unwanted advances of the hateful Baron Scarpia'' but anyone wanting to understand the true force of this performance must read the text. Forget about Scarpia, this is a woman who has given her life to art and to love and who, in her hour of pain, asks God why she has been brought to this pass. Only if we understand the terrible congruence of Callas's situation and Tosca's can we know why this is a performance of such fearful poignancy. EMI should be ashamed of their omission.'