Antonino Votto, cond; Maria Callas (
); Ebe Stignani (
); Gino Penno (
); Carlo Tagliabue (
Il Conte di Luna
); La Scala O & Ch
MYTO 00314, mono (2 CDs: 122:48)
Barring the reappearance of tapes from either of two legendary Chicago Lyric 1955 performances (at least one is believed to have been recorded, the copy subsequently destroyed), this is the last live
with Callas caught on tape. She’s at peak vocal form, and the time spent considering her role under Serafin’s perceptive tutelage a few years earlier definitely paid off. Her “D’amor sull’ali rosee” is a great accomplishment, sung with fine-grained tone, all trills in place, phrased over great spans with delicacy. The EMI recording of 1956, though fine, lacks the electricity found here.
At nearly 50, Ebe Stignani still possesses the incomparably rich, beautiful tone of her youth, but, notes in the upper register at less than full volume are inclined to widen moderately in vibrato and lose their focus. “Ai nostri monti” is a thing of beauty, though; and when she sings earlier in their scene, “Il rogo! Parola orrenda,” you know why she could command the stage—though by self-admission, she had no physical acting ability at all.
Carlo Tagliabue presents the notes, adds a lot of quivering passion, and ignores such fripperies as phrasing and markings. Gino Penno at least has some idea of how to phrase in “Ah! sì, ben mio,” though bad habits—exaggerated consonants, interpolated emotive syllables, punched high notes, gulped breaths, lengthened pre-cadence sevenths—are frequent. He’s not as completely clueless as Callas’s Mexico City partner, Kurt Baum, but he still makes for painful listening. He is more disciplined in scenes partnered with Stignani, however. For whatever reason, in both acts II and especially IV, he is somewhat more reticent in slathering on the Grand Italian Tenor Manner.
Antonino Votto is usually competent, but mannered at times, pushing much of the
mercilessly while pulling back for a few, select phrases. A shame Rescigno wasn’t available, being in Chicago at the time. The orchestra is attentive, and the audience goes wild for Callas. The sound is neither better nor worse on this Myto release than any number of other copies of this tape that have been floating around since the 1960s, on LP, reels, cassettes, and now CD. The performance was certainly better caught than Callas’s Mexico City series, and the singers are forward to the microphone. It’s far from the latest recording in audio quality, but not one in which you have to listen through the mud and crackle to grasp what’s going on either.
You’ll want this if you’re a Callas fan; no question. Otherwise, take a pass. And perhaps dream about what that November 5, 1955,
sounded like with Callas, Björling, Stignani, and Bastianini, with Rescigno in the pit.