In her lifetime Maria Callas was a legend. Ever since her death on September 16th, 1977, she lives on in the memory of the public at large, far beyond the circle of opera fans. Callas was real on stage, like no other singer before her: "Compared to her, most singers were pleasant to listen to, but as if they were disconnected from reality, recalls Renata Scotto. Callas spoke to us in the present." One needn't say more than that!
Callas had to struggle her whole life since her birth in New York in 1923. First, with a mother who had wanted a boy; because of her physical appearance (which she completely transformed, she was bigger and wore thick glasses); because of her tumultuous relationship with Onassis and finally because of her voice which abandoned her so early…
1965: when she sings Norma by Bellini at the Opéra de Paris, Callas is but the shadow of herself. She quits at the fifth performance before the second scene of the second act. Yet, a few days before, on May 2nd at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Callas, accompanied by the Orchestra of the ORTF and Georges Prêtre, borders on the sublime. With the intelligence of each word and of each note she offers three unforgettable arias: "Adieu notre petite table..." (Manon by Massenet), "Ah, non credea mirarti..." (La Somnambula by Bellini), "Oh, mio babbino caro..." (Gianni Schicchi by Puccini). She is beautiful and moving.
She was already very beautiful a few years before, when she made her debut in France on December 19th, 1958 at the Paris Opera during a gala event in the presence of President René Coty. The television was there and this document bears witness to the supreme artistry of the Callas. With two arias from Norma by Bellini, including "Casta Diva," two arias from Il Trovatore by Verdi and to conclude the Barber of Seville by Rossini, the crowd throws itself at her feet. Present that evening was Aristotle Onassis, who comes to congratulate her in her dressing room. But that's another story…
The archive material featured in this programme come from Les grands interprètes (INA archive by Bernard Gavoty, Gérald Herzog, 1965) and La grande nuit de l'opéra (INA archive by Roger Benamou, 1958).
A film by Diane Perelsztejn. Narrated by Charlotte Rampling
Evelino Pidò, Marco Arturo Marelli – Natalie Dessay (Amina), Javier Camarena (Elvino) – Opéra Bastille
Orchestra and choirs of the Opéra de Paris, Georges Sébastian (conductor)