There are still people alive today who experienced Maria Callas in person. On December 2nd, Teatro Nuovo is hosting what promises to be a fascinating event in observation of Callas’s 100th birthday.
(Our picture of Callas it taken from their website where more information is available: https://www.teatronuovo.org)
The American Rossini Society was fortunate to receive the following observations about the Callas-Rossini connection from Sergio Ragni, whose knowledge is only matched by his passion and energy. Here is what he had to say (with apologies for flaws in translation).
“Despite having had the opportunity to sing only three titles from Rossini’s works, Callas always considered the composer to be one of the main points of reference for her artistic training. Forerunner of a revolution destined to supplant the categories of light soprano, lyric soprano, and dramatic soprano, Callas from the time of her years at the conservatory tried her hand at Rossini’s bel canto works, aware that in those she would find the most suitable interpretation for the development of a vocal technique comparable to that of a virtuoso of any instrument. Even before starting the study of interpretation, the perfect execution of all the indications in the score will constitute the basis for any further study of the role to be performed. “If there is a trill indication- Callas says to a student- you must be able to perform it as well as a pianist does it. You can’t pretend that it isn’t there”. Here lies the essence of Callas’s contribution to the return of a singing style closely linked to absolute technical mastery.In the 1950s, Callas’s so-called rivals based their fame on a vocal arrogance that was completely unrelated to the precise observance of the score’s prescriptions.
Rossini’s music is the most difficult there is for a singer. Only in possession of a formidable technique will it be possible to exalt the greatness of the music in all its value. In a concert in Greece in 1943, after an “Inflammatus” from “Stabat Mater”, Callas even tried her hand a pages of the very unknown Otello, alternating the “Song of the Willow” with Otello’s “Ah,si, per voi gia sento”! This early familiarity with Rossini’s music made her the ideal interpreter of the 1950 rediscovery of “Il Turco in Italia” at the Teatro Eliseo in Rome. But the greatest affirmation of her interest in Rossini came in 1952 in Florence with Armida. Her exhilarating interpretation made it possible to rediscover the authentic scope of the serious Rossini of the hitherto completely neglected Neapolitan period. The score used by Callas is full of annotations, there is not a bar that does not have underlining or references. Callas felt exalted by the virtuosity of the part and was struck by the dramatic potential of Rossini’s coloratura. Her interpretation of the role remains unsurpassed to this day.”
Sergio Ragni, Napoli, October 2023
Coda: The “ma” heard round the world refers to Callas’s “Una voce poco fa” immortalized in numerous Youtube videos.