Bellini - Norma
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Cat No: 9029584463
Number of Discs: 2
Release Date: 15th September 2017
ArtistsMaria Callas (soprano)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Bellini’s Norma is an epic and multi-faceted role, often considered the ultimate vocal challenge for an operatic soprano. Maria Callas sang it on stage 92 times, more often than any other heroine, and her achievement casts a long shadow: more than 50 years after her last performance in the role (Paris, 1965) she remains the point of reference for any soprano who aspires to it. It was in 1952, as Norma, that she made her debut at London’s Royal Opera House, the theatre that witnessed her final operatic appearance 13 years later. In the famous duets that Norma shares with her fellow druid priestess, Adalgisa, Callas is partnered by another superlative singer, Ebe Stignani, the greatest Italian mezzo-soprano of her era. Taking the small role of Norma’s servant Clotilde is a singer who in 1952 was destined for great things, and for the role of Norma… Joan Sutherland.
Recorded 18 November 1952, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Maria Callas was born to a Greek family in New York in 1923. Her vocal training took place in Athens, where her teacher was the coloratura soprano Elvira de Hidalgo, who had sung with Enrico Caruso and Feodor Chaliapin. After early performances in Greece, Callas’ international career was launched in 1947 when she performed the title role in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda at the Arena di Verona in Italy.
Her voice defied simple classification and her artistic range was extraordinary. In her early twenties she sang such heavy dramatic roles as Gioconda, Turandot, Brünnhilde and Isolde, but over the course of her career her most famous roles came to be: Bellini’s Norma and Amina (La sonnambula); Verdi’s Violetta (La traviata); Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Anna Bolena, Cherubini’s Medea and Puccini’s Tosca. Though her timbre was not always conventionally beautiful, Callas’s musicianship and phrasing were in a class of their own. She brought characters to vivid life with her skill in colouring her tone and making insightful use of the text. She is credited with changing the history of opera: by placing a perhaps unprecedented emphasis on musical integrity and dramatic truth, and by transforming perceptions – and reviving the fortunes – of the bel canto repertoire, particularly Bellini and Donizetti.
The 1950s marked the height of Callas’s career. Its base lay in the opera houses of Italy, and she became the prima donna assoluta of Milan’s legendary La Scala – notably in the productions of Luchino Visconti – but her operatic appearances also encompassed London’s Royal Opera House, the New York Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opéra, the Vienna State Opera, and the opera houses of Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Lisbon, and, in the early 1950s, Mexico City, São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.
From 1959, when she started a life-changing love affair with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, her performing career slowed down and her voice became more fragile. Her final stage performances came in 1965, when she was only 42. There were many plans for a return to the stage – and for further complete recordings – but they never reached fruition, though in 1974 she gave a series of concerts in Europe, North America and Japan with the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano; he had partnered her frequently in the opera house and in the studio, not least in the 1953 La Scala Tosca under Victor de Sabata, considered a landmark in recording history. Callas died alone in her Paris apartment in September 1977.
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