I have been listening to Divina's new release of the "First ever release of complete surviving material" of Callas's Trieste NORMA excerpts of 1953. Yes, this is the real thing, a historical finding, of more genuine material from that performance and put on CD for the first time. Even though the results are not for completists or Hi-Fi buffs, it is an essential must-have not only for Callas admirers, but is also of great interest to historians; most of all, though it is a must for those wanting to hear a performer who "speaks" the very language of the role of the title role.
This may actually be the best available performance overall, of Callas's Norma. Nowhere in any other performance do I hear such an ease and freedom at the top of the range - and most crucially, an evenness from top to bottom. The "Casta Diva" is very likely her best, a splendid rendering. She soars up to the high notes (all the C's flash out brilliantly) with little trouble, the line is moulded, expansive, with beautifully tapered end phrases. Callas seems here to be taking a more lyrical approach to the role, and only in key moments does she use the covered chest for dramatic emphases; she also does not carry the chest up high as often as she did in other performances. Too, there is a refreshing spontaneity of interpretation that I enjoyed, a visceral approach that is most exciting. The final scene unfurls with extraordinary intensity and burning nobility; the conviction of Norma's sacrifice is as vividly declaimed as ever.
Corelli matches Callas in all matters, and his Italianate ringing tone is absolutely apt for the character. Christoff as always, is committed, but I've never cared for his hollow, juiceless tone.
Elena Nicolai is hopelessly miscast as a young virgin. She is one of my favorite singers, and the tone is steady and ageless, but that huge and ripe columnar sound is completely wrong for the character.
This release is rounded out by a thoughtful, perceptive essay by Milan Petkovic, plus, a first for me, an "Enhanced CD" feature which has considerable CD-Rom material on it as well...very impressive. Thanks to Robert Seletsky, the pitches of what seem to be many sources of material are correct. I don't think any other team can do better than this effort at presenting this much-coveted performance.
It is appropriate place here, for a Callas question: browsing recently in a media shop, I came across the Callas section of LPs, and there was a collection, a set of 20 LPs (priced at $7 apiece), all numbered, and on an Italian label called "Gli Dei Della Musica," of all-live Callas material, selections from operas and concerts, of her greatest moments. (There's even one called "Callas & Tebaldi - Un Confronto") The packaging is of a kind and standard which I have never seen before: they are all in gold, with painstakingly hand-painted photos on the covers. The LPs are gate-fold style, with complete Italian lyrics, plot, and historical notes: to boot, tucked inside EACH slot, which houses the LP itself, is a deluxe 16 page booklet, jam-packed with rare photos, reviews and extensive notes - on high quality, shiny paper, too. The LPs themselves looked to be professionally made, nothing of that "pirate" quality about them at all. The selections chosen on each one were of Callas's best moments, as I recall. Needless to say, I was stunned at this collection, which I've never heard of or seen before. Finally, to the question: has anyone ever seen or owned these? When were they put out?
BTW: if any collectors are interested in the media shop I mentioned: it is here in Ann Arbor Michigan, called Encore Recordings. It is an amazing place: they have just about every format of second-hand classical and opera recordings available: reel-to-reel, LPs, CDs, cassettes and videos. They also have rock, pop, country, folk, soul, jazz, 45s, 78s, books on record, spoken word, soundtracks; sheet music, music-related books of every field, you name it. They have a web site: http://www.encore-rec.com and an e mail address [log in to unmask] The owners are a brother and sister I've been buying from for 20 years, and they are fair, honest and prompt. They take requests, and do mail orders. Many of the things I've seen and bought there are real collectors items, stuff I've never seen on CD...
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