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Subject: Re: more Bergonzi : Otello
From: [log in to unmask]
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Tue, 29 Jun 1999 17:44:44 EDT
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Good evening everyone,

In a message dated 6/29/99 10:01:41 AM, [log in to unmask] writes:

<<Maybe musically..*certainly* not vocally. [Callas'] voice was in tatters
during those years [the mid 1950s]. The wobble was huge, to top was shreaked,
every note seemed to be in a different register.

Why is it that you will pull out any excuse at all for allowing Callas
to sing in poor shape...and ignore the fact that the voice is a mess;>>

This is the sort of utter misstatement that Dottore Innaurato deplored in one
of his recent posts (I forget under which persona); and the kind that drives
me wild. The writer's ear is as faulty as his spelling. No, the wobble was
NOT huge, but smaller, and shorter, and a rare occurrence then (fortunately);
it became less rare as the years went on. The register prognosis is also
nonsense: You cannot sing a smooth, expressive legato (as Callas did) with
every note of your voice in a different register; it's just not possible (try
it and see). The top was sometimes troublesome, but it was always that way
(listen to some early live Callas from Mexico City and Buenos Aires and you
will hear powerful top notes amid uncertain ones), either a physical defect
or a result of a flaw in her training. (This was one of her greatest
tragedies as an artist: her last Dallas LUCIA, for example, was marred by a
soured top note at the end of the mad scene. "I had the note," Callas was
observed whispering anxiously to herself backstage, singing it perfectly once
the show was over, "I HAD the NOTE!")

These allegedly troubled years heard some of Callas' most incandescent
singing. Having recently re-listened to everything she recorded for EMI
[that's been published, I mean], and many live performances preserved from
broadcasts, I can attest that in the years in question the voice was capable
of a sheer virtuosic beauty that almost no other singer I've heard can equal.
Callas' voice WAS an unusual one, but in its own way it could be ravishing.
In the opening night 1955 NORMA her moment of truth in the name part--that
long "Son io," as Norma admits to being Pollione's [former] lover--is so
brilliantly effected audience members moan and then "Brava!" in amazement.
(And that comes at the end of a long, brutally tough role, all of which, that
night, she sang gloriously.) In SONNAMBULAs sung both before and after that
NORMA, Callas performs miracles of subtly nuanced, technically superb
singing. Listen to her singing to Elvino while sleepwalking: the softly
sustained tone seems to float as surreally as her body glided across the
stage in dreams.

We make a lot of mistakes about Callas in evaluating her: so unusual and
incendiary a singer was she, it can be hard to just focus on what she
actually did. A popular misconception of her (among some listeners and
singers) seems to be she was a singer who shrieked and waved her hands and
was "dramatic" "musical." But first and foremost, she had a great voice, was
a great singer and musician. She did not fit Zinka Milanov's warning "When
they say 'a great actress,' beware!" Great singing is what makes Callas'
voice immortal. Generalizing about her, or listening insensitively, is
unfortunate. Singers work hard to render the truth of their own inspiration
and their composers' music--they deserve our sharpest attention and accuracy.

It's not a matter of making "excuses" for Callas, but honoring her true
achievements.

Patrick Giles
NYC

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