November 13, 2015

Iconic Maria Callas footage released on Blu-Ray with re-mastered surround sound

Five unforgettable performances, three incredible cities, one supreme diva: all on Blu-Ray for the first time.

Few of Maria Callas's performances were filmed, so these gala concerts from London, Paris and Hamburg between 1958 and 1964, are truly special. Now, for the first time, they are available on Blu-Ray with stereo sound re-mastered at Abbey Road Studios.

Her appearance at the Opéra de Paris on 19 December 1958 conquered the City of Light. It was her first appearance in the city which she was to make her home and in which she was to die.

The splendour of this who's-who event at the Palais Garnier is captured on this Blu-Ray. When she appeared on stage, that slender, stylish figure, in the gown variously described as scarlet and champagne, adorned by a million dollars' worth of loaned jewellery, descended the staircase and stood before this glittering audience, was it not exactly the scene of which dreams are made? After the interval, the second act of Tosca has Callas on stage and in costume, with Tito Gobbi playing his unforgettable Scarpia.

It was a matter of some excitement when La Callas turned up unexpectedly as a surprise participant at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 4 November 1962 in a live television transmission of a gala concert with a number of other performers. She was in excellent vocal condition, and her assured singing of the extended dramatic scene 'Tu che le vanità' from Don Carlo largely dispelled the growing rumours about her voice. She then changed the mood completely and took on the character of a flirtatious gypsy girl in the Habanera and the Séguédille from the first act of Carmen, a role she was never to play on stage.

A Golden Hour TV gala was arranged at Covent Garden for the night of Sunday 9 February 1964, and it included the whole of the second act of Tosca in live transmission. This visual record of Callas is an invaluable document, preserving at least a part of that final stage triumph of the great diva, in a setting worthy of her art.

Her Hamburg concert on 15 May, 1959, includes a thrilling Una voce poco fa, which she frequently included in her concert programmes, savouring the complete contrast it afforded to the dramatic or tragic moods of much of her other recital repertoire.

In 1962, three years later, she returned to the Musikhalle on 16 March, and did not disappoint her Hamburg fans. The previous year in Paris she had recorded her first album of arias sung in French, and she duly opens her concert with three French items including the Habanera, clearly enjoying herself in this sensuous and provocative music.

But the finest is left to last, when she gives a blazing account of the great aria O don fatale from Don Carlo, closing the concert with the unique combination of musical sensibility, interpretive skill and sheer driving power that only Callas at her best could deliver.