Callas as Medea

From: vnguyen@husc8.harvard.edu (Vinh Nguyen)
Subject: Re: Old Mercury Callas Medea
Date: 15 Feb 93 22:52:46 GMT

In article 93043.141206TGV@psuvm.psu.edu, TGV@psuvm.psu.edu writes:

> Has the old Mercury recording of Medea featuring La Divina ever been
> reissued on CD? If not, among the many many CD versions of Callas in
> Medea that seem to be available, which might be the best? Of course,
> drama and beauty are more important than sound quality/sonics/stereo-
> phonicity/digital data bits.

I'm not sure which of the six extant examples of Callas as Medea is the one on
the old Mercury label which you are referring to since there are many underground
labels that carry her live recordings. The sound of those live Medeas are uniformly
low in quality -- (I haven't heard the 1961 set under Schippers but I guess that the
sound would be poor as well) -- with the exception of the 1957 "studio" recording,
which has, at best, good radio quality sound, and definitely low by studio standard.

In article giles.10.726172347@ace.acadiau.ca, giles@ace.acadiau.ca (RICK GILES) writes:

> I just bought a used (vinyl) recording of Maria Callas in Medea, but the
> recording is missing a libretto and some performance information.
> The record is Everest S-437/3 with Callas, Picchi, Scotto, Modesti,
> Pirazzini and Serafin conducting La Scala. Does anyone know the
> recording date and place? Thanks in advance.
>
> Rick Giles

This one is Callas' studio recording of the opera for Ricordi in September
1957 (while she was reputedly "convalescing" from the cold that made her
walk out after the first act of "Norma" in Rome a few months before --
quite a scandal since many big wigs, including the President of Italy, were
in the audience that night. This recording has been surfacing variously on
small labels until EMI decided to reissue it two years ago on CD (CMS 7
63625 2). Among the six extant examples of Callas as Medea, this one has
the best sound (which is still poor by studio standard) but interpretively
among the weakest.

The performance of 6/12/58 [1958-06-12] in Dallas (Rescigno, Callas,
Vickers, Berganza, Zaccaria, Carron) has odd sound balance (though the
sound is listenable) but it is one of the sine qua non examples of Callas
at her best in one of the most famous roles she came to own.

Another famous recording, with even poorer (but still listenable) sound is
the performance of 10/12/1953 [1953-10-12] at La Scala (Bernstein, Callas,
Penno, Barbieri, Modesti, Nache). A thrilling performance but still far
short of the phenomenal Dallas Medea, valuable for the rare Bernstein-Callas
collaboration (repeated in a Sonambula which is even more spectacular and famous).

Her earliest extant example of Medea is the performance of 7/5/1953
[1953-07-05] at the Teatro Comunale di Firenze (Gui, Callas, Guichandut,
Barbieri, Petri, Tucci) in rather horrible sound, the performance is strong
but not better than that of 30/6/1959 [1959-06-30] at Covent Garden
(Rescigno, Callas, Vickers, Cosotto, Zaccaria, Carlyle) in muddy sound but
tolerably listenable. I haven't heard her last extant Medea in 1961 under
Schippers, so I can't comment on it, but I've heard second-hand opinions
that her voice was in tatters by then (a trend clearly discernible in
anything she did after 1959, even in a very respectable "Norma" studio
remake of 1960).

Vinh Nguyen
vnguyen@husc.harvard.edu


From: TGV@psuvm.psu.edu
Date: Wed, 17 Feb 1993 11:42:51 EST

In article 1993Feb15.175247.20629@husc3.harvard.edu,
vnguyen@husc8.harvard.edu (Vinh Nguyen) says:

>I'm not sure which of the six extant examples of Callas as Medea is the
>one on the old Mercury label which you are referring to since there
>are many underground labels that carry her live recordings.

The recording I'm referring to was a "Mercury Living Presence" release, so
is hopefully as sonically stupendous as some of the other releases under
this rubric. (Is there a list anywhere of Living Presence releases and CD
re-releases?) I don't know anything else about the performance.


From: paulz@PROBLEM_WITH_INEWS_GATEWAY_FILE (Paul Zeman)
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1993 01:14:51 GMT

Vinh Nguyen (vnguyen@husc8.harvard.edu) wrote:

: The performance of 6/12/58 in Dallas (Rescigno, Callas, Vickers,
: Berganza, Zaccaria, Carron) has odd sound balance (though the sound
: is listenable) but it is one of the sine qua non examples of Callas
: at her best in one of the most famous roles she came to own.

I guess that EMI has not put this one out, true? I ask because they have
proven to be the best at restoration, but you did not mention them.
(I sometimes wonder if the smaller houses even make any attempt to restore the
sound at all.)

Assuming that the Dallas "Medea" is not out on EMI, which of the other labels
will be the best shot for getting a listenable sound?

If this is not an answerable question, I'll probably hold out for EMI to
do a release as I am really happy with their Callas/Giulini "Traviata", as
an example of restoration.

Paul Zeman


From: paulz@PROBLEM_WITH_INEWS_GATEWAY_FILE (Paul Zeman)
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1993 01:17:14 GMT

I've found Callas on a Mercury Living Presence LP of highlights from
this opera, but cannot now recall if it is stereo or mono (there are plenty of
mono Living Presence out there).

My question, related to the original posting, is whether there was a
release of the entire opera or if the highlights disc is all that was done.

For anybody interested, I would be happy to find out who else is on the
record, the matrix number, recording date and engineering staff.

Paul Zeman


From: vnguyen@husc8.harvard.edu (Vinh Nguyen)
Date: 18 Feb 93 20:12:05 GMT

In article 93048.114251TGV@psuvm.psu.edu, TGV@psuvm.psu.edu writes:

> The recording I'm referring to was a "Mercury Living Presence" release, so
> is hopefully as sonically stupendous as some of the other releases under this
> rubric. (Is there a list anywhere of Living Presence releases and CD re-
> releases?) I don't know anything else about the performance.

Then my guess is that it should be the 1957 studio recording of Medea,
which has been rereleased by EMI (CMS 7-63625-2). For your info:

Maria Callas (Medea), Renata Scotto (Glauce), Miriam Pirazzini (Neris),
Mirto Picchi (Giasone), Giuseppe Modesti (Creonte), etc ... with Maestro
Tulio Serafin conducting the La Scala Orchestra and Chorus.

This performance has relatively the best sound, though nothing to rave
about (since I consider it quite inferior to studio standard), and with the
poor masters to start with (since it was recorded for Ricordi, an Italian
company -- before being reauthorized for other companies, EMI, and perhaps
Mercury Living Presence, included). And the performance is among the
weaker ones of the six extant Callas "Medea". Callas was surprisingly
"tame" in this recording. She was in relatively "clean" voice, though,
thus lending suspicion to her claim of "illness" to have walked out of the
Rome "Norma" a few months earlier. But perhaps nervous exhaustion was
seeping in because she sounded less committed and "on fire" than one would
normally expect from CALLAS! But then, CALLAS is still CALLAS, and her
studio recording suffers only in comparison with her more electrifying
"live" ones, and the sound factor is not enough to tip the balance.

If you want a safe, nice, clean, decent all-around Callas Medea, perhaps this
studio recording will do handsomely. But if you want to hear what the fuss
is about Callas' Medea, then by all means check out the live ones,
especially the Dallas 1958, in which Callas was raising hell with elemental
fury and dripping venom all over, perhaps not the most subtle Medea she has
given, but the most electrifying one. And then you also have the
incomparable Giasone of Jon Vickers who puts all others to shame in the
part; at last Callas' Medea got a worthy partner to play to.

This partnership is repeated in London in 1959, with marginally lesser
excitement, and is an excellent Callas Medea too. (Perhaps the sense of
occasion wasn't there, hence the lesser fury, but it was still very
exciting; but the occasion in 1959 would come when she returned to New York
in a concert performance of Bellini's "Il Pirata", to snub her finger once
more at Rudolf Bing who had sent her the telegram firing her from the Met
just hours before that celebrated 1958 Dallas "Medea" in which her fury
knew no restraint!)

And as I said, the 1953 Callas-Bernstein partnership was also very much
worth exploring, and not just for historical curiosity. :-) But, whichever
Callas Medea you listen to she still brings out unique insights into this
part that she has come to own with such indisputable authority. (My
apologies to Leonie, Magda, and Sylvia). :-) Any Callas Medea is worth
checking out, and we are (un)fortunate to have (only) six extant examples
to choose from.

Vinh Nguyen


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