December 02, 2014

Soprano Ailyn Pérez pays tribute to Maria Callas

The Mexican-American opera star sings La Divina's praises on what would have been Maria's 91st birthday.

The first time I heard Maria Callas was on a CD that featured her singing a duet from La traviata.  Afterwards, I listened to the whole opera and thought, this is what I want to do!  What I heard was something so incredible – so gorgeous. I went on to listen to her sing all the famous soprano arias, and each performance was unforgettable. My teacher had a collection of her singing live and in performance, and the live recording of Il trovatore from Mexico City is a particular favourite.
 
Callas has been such a huge influence on so many performers and opera enthusiasts, and of course on me. There is something astounding about the quality of her artistry, from the attention she gave to interpretation and her innate musicality, which was also innately dramatic and colorfully inflected, to her extraordinary personality combined with a technique and unique sound – all of which enabled her to become the characters she was portraying.  
 
She gave a face and sound to such an incredible range of repertoire that leaves many in awe!  Just listen to her rendition of the Liebestod, Dolce e Calmo, or Dinorah's aria, rendered with such delight and clarity and you think, 'but she is La Gioconda, Medea, Norma.'  Somehow she can just sound like Gilda, or any character she is portraying!
 
She was able, through hard work and obsession and passion, to work with the best. She was able to achieve one of the finest levels of artistry – that way in which you sound like you are expressing and inflecting and looking and fleshing out a real character at the highest musical level and with a dramatic intensity that transcends time...La Divina
 
Yet, somehow, she also kept giving and became a resource. She generously and articulately passed on traditions of singing, through teaching and spending time with aspiring artists. She offered such great lessons which often emphasised the importance of researching your sources, knowing and understanding different musical styles in order to offer dignified and emotional interpretations and sounds. In other words, she taught us that there aren't any short cuts and you eventually have to know very precisely how to do the work. 
 
Callas didn’t have an easy personal life. She had demons that she battled in the public eye.  She herself lived through a dramatic love story, but no matter what she was facing personally, she always had her art. You heard this whether she was singing in a recording studio, or when you listen to her teach or speak, and best of all, hearing live performances recorded at La Scala or Covent Garden. I now have the honour of performing in these opera houses, and you can feel her legacy upheld in those halls.

I am really excited about Warner Classics’ remasterings of her studio recordings; I marvel at the achievement. The collection offers a glimpse into feeling what it would be like to be right there in the studio. For me, it's a dream to have this collection at our fingertips! It's an inspiration for all artists.