Bellini Norma Callas Filippeschi SerafinVincenzo Bellini – Norma

CAST: Norma: Maria Callas, Pollione: Mario Filippeschi, Adalgisa: Ebe Stignani, Oroveso: Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, Clotilde: Rina Cavallari, Flavio: Paolo Caroli

Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano
Chorus Master: Vittore Veneziani
Tullio Serafin, conductor

EMI, 1954

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This is Maria Callas’s first studio recording of Vincenzo Bellini‘s Norma, the opera that, together with La traviata, is most strictly related to her. Callas performed it countless times and both studio and live recordings testify her vocal and dramatic commitment to this role, which remains almost the same despite some inevitable changing.

Maria Callas as Norma

In 1954, Callas’s voice is less smooth than in the Norma she recorded (again with Serafin) in 1960 and her low register is still weak despite she controls it quite well. Overall, her Norma is less imposing but perhaps more sorrowful and vulnerable than in the other recording. As in that recording, Callas is imperious, energetic and quick-tempered, but her outbursts are less furious and scornful. Moreover, she is much more tender, her scenes with Adalgisa are more lyrical and her sympathy for the young priestess is more spontaneous, while the scene in Act II (when she ponders the fate of her children) is definitely more painful. It is easier to sympathize with this Norma than with her 1960 “sister”. The execution of Casta diva is not much different and it has the same dreamy and rapturous tone, and the cabaletta is equally virtuosic.

In short, perhaps Callas’s “early” Norma is less monumental, and, thinking of her later performance, she appears less well-finished, but it is much more delicate and, as a character, easier to love.

Mario Filippeschi as Pollione

Mario Filippeschi is only one of the many illustrious colleagues that alternate opposite Callas as Pollione, the others being of the calibre of Mario Del Monaco and Franco Corelli (just to mention the most famous). In this illustrious company, Filippeschi does not cut a poor figure and his Pollione stands out for his sound high notes, noble phrasing and perfect diction. His psychology is less defined than Norma’s, but in Filippeschi’s bold singing transpires perfectly the haughtiness of the Roman proconsul.

Ebe Stignani as Adalgisa

Even though Ebe Stignani has been one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, she is quite a surprise in this Norma. In fact, she was fifty-one in 1954 and the choice to make her sing the young Adalgisa is, at least apparently, almost an absurdity. However, the “absurdity” becomes one of the most reasonable things to do from the moment you hear her entry. Her voice is rather senile, but the lyricism and lightness of her singing – which does not suffer any major flaw – make her quite convincing as a young girl. Furthermore, her artistry is out of question and her sound technique definitely makes her a worthy rival-allied of Callas-Norma in their duets.

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as Oroveso

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni does not have the fresher timbre for Oroveso, but he is expressive and convincing as the old druid.

Tullio Serafin’s Conduction

Finally, Tullio Serafin leads the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano with consummate skill. His conduction is incisive, precise and exhaustive at the same time. There is nothing exaggerated in it and Norma acquires a classical and even proportion that, in some regards, is unequalled to this day.

EMI, 1954

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