Maria Callas / Tullio Serafin

Bellini: Norma [1954]

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Any performance of Norma stands or falls on the performance of the title character, and this recording has one of the brightest superstars, Maria Callas, in one of her signature roles. EMI captured this performance just at a point when technical problems were beginning to take a toll on her voice, and while she may have less brilliance and vocal control than was apparent even a few years earlier, she still has plenty of stamina, her pianissimos are still floating, her coloratura is thrilling, and her long-held notes still sound effortless. She is occasionally less than fully secure in her lower register, though. Hers is a commanding presence, and she has the vocal personality and distinctiveness to make her a compelling high priestess. Callas' Norma is legendary, and this recording should be of interest to any fan of bel canto singing combined with burning dramatic urgency. Although Mario Filippeschi may not have the panache and vocal personality of some of his contemporary Polliones, but his is an entirely respectable traversal of the role, fully up to Bellini's technical demands. He has a large clarion tone, a heroic dramatic presence, a strong sense of passion, and he holds his own with Callas. As Oroveso, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni is dramatically authoritative, but he lacks the ideal vocal weight, power, and solidity for the role, and his pitch has a tendency to wobble and waver. Ebe Stigani is a very fine Adalgisa, but would have made a stronger impression paired with a singer less distinguished than Callas, in contrast to whose vibrancy she sounds somewhat matronly. Tullio Serafin leads the Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala in a proficient but routine reading of the score, without conveying a particularly strong sense of musical or dramatic shape, but he is fully sensitive to the singers, particularly Callas' expressive rhythmic suppleness. EMI's monaural sound is very fine for the period, with good clarity, fullness, and balance.

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 03:47
2 04:44
3 00:49
4 02:34
5 04:15
6 03:59
7 01:06
8 02:09
9 05:33
10 01:51
11 03:03
12 04:12
13 01:49
14 02:12
15 04:10
16 05:44
17 02:28
18 03:25
19 04:47
20 02:35
21 04:56
blue highlight denotes track pick