Spontini La Vestale Callas Corelli SignaniGaspare Spontini
La vestale

CAST: Licinio: Franco Corelli, Giulia: Maria Callas, Cinna: Enzo Sordello, Sommo Sacerdote: Nicola Rossi Lemeni, Gran Vestale: Ebe Stignani, Console: Vittorio Tatozzi, Aruspice: Nicola Zaccaria

Orchestra & Coro del Teatro alla Scala
Chorus Master: Norberto Mola
Antonino Votto, conductor

La Scala, 2012 (and others)

I am sure there are few opera evenings as famous as that of 7th December 1954, when Maria Callas, Franco Corelli and Ebe Stignani opened the 1954-1955 season of Teatro alla Scala in Milan with Gaspare Spontini’s La vestale, which were transmitted to posterity thanks to such a bad, even tragic, recording. I read somewhere that this edition of the opera, released by La Scala label, sounds better than others, but actually its quality is awful: all the forti and fortissimi of the orchestra are strident and there is evident disparity between the orchestra and the voices. In the finale of Giulia’s famous aria Tu che invoco, for example, Callas’s voice is almost overwhelmed by a powerful orchestra and this happened many other times.

This was the worst part of my post, but I have nothing more to complain about, considering the quality of the cast and direction. Maria Callas cannot fail as Giulia. Her voice is not beautiful in the classical sense, and her low register is still weak at this time, but this cannot prevent her to be sublime thanks to her solid technique and the magnetism of her voice, which has flexibility and firmness at the same time. She can express Giulia’s doubts, desperation and passion in an unforgettable way. Tu che invoco, which Callas sung also in many concerts, is unsurpassable for its strength and dramatic tension: it is easy to imagine Callas’s movements on stage while she sings.

Franco Corelli is at this time very young and talented. His Licinio is imposing both for the excellent quality of his voice and his interpretation. He is careful of every accent and gives prominence to every word: notice for example his sweetness and hope in the duet with Callas in the second act, but also the impetuous which characterizes his entire performance.

Ebe Stignani, almost at the end of her glorious career, is a majestic Gran Vestale, for whom you feel respect and who was absolutely necessary to make this a memorable performance. She is unmistakable with her dark voice and strong temperament and her call «Vestali, in questo giorno» reveals immediately the great interpreter. I mention also the great performances of Nicola Rossi Lemeni as Sommo Sacerdote and Nicola Zaccaria as Aruspice.

Antonino Votto’s direction is powerful and stunning even with the limits of the recording quality. There is unity and pathos in his music and it is remarkable especially the way in which he stresses the most nervous, painful moments, but also the quietest ones, as the chorus of Vestali at the beginning of Act I. The brilliant ballet at the end of the first act is a true moment of glory.

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