Bellini – Norma
CAST: Norma: Maria Callas, Pollione: Franco Corelli, Adalgisa: Christa Ludwig, Oroveso: Nicola Zaccaria, Clotilde: Edda Vincenzi, Flavio: Piero de Palma
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala
Nornerto Mola, chorus master
Tullio Serafin, conductor
EMI, 1960Buy from Amazon
Despite the contributions of leading sopranos as Joan Sutherland and Montserrat Caballé, “La Divina” Maria Callas is still considered the most perfect Norma of the 20th century and actually her large, ringing and flexible voice as well as her versatile personality fit Norma like a glove.
Callas recorded Norma in studio as well as in live performances several times, with some of the best conductors and singers of her time. The names of Tullio Serafin as conductor, of Ebe Stignani and Giulietta Simionato as Adalgisa and of Mirto Picchi, Mario Filippeschi and Mario Del Monaco as Pollione are only the most significant ones in Callas’s glorious universe. The present recording, featuring other amazing singers as Franco Corelli, Christa Ludwig and Nicola Zaccaria, is the one Callas made in 1960, conducted by Serafin as the 1954 one.
Maria Callas: a Multi-faceted Norma
Of course, when Callas sings Norma, our only problem is to miss an important passage, as she overwhelm us with them. It is a matter of fact that, every time Callas sings, her freshness and sensitivity are illuminating.
Callas’s voice is not beautiful, but her singing has always its own special, mesmerizing power. As a soprano drammatico d’agilità, definition which was coined for her, she is able to range from the grandiosity of Casta diva to the agility of the cabaletta with perfect aplomb, and to vary her accents and nuances to stress disdain, anger and – on the opposite side – the frailty of her character, in an incessant chiseling of Norma’s complex psychology.
The subtlety of Callas’s interpretation is present to the slightest details (listen to the significant use of accents in “Pace v’intimo”, in the recitative before Casta diva), but it appears in entire scenes as well. Apart from the dreamy solemnity of Casta diva, which is maybe superfluous to notice, she sings the first scene from the second act (when Norma is to the point of murdering her own children) as a sleepwalker.
And yet, the most impressive part of Callas’s Norma is her desperate portrayal of the wounded pride of the woman and her outbursts of anger reveal her disdain and her silent pain.
Pollione, Adalgisa, Oroveso
The man responsible for Norma-Callas’s fury is Franco Corelli-Pollione. Corelli’s Pollione is magniloquent, generous in his singing as well as technically finished. He does not characterize his hero with precise traits, but, after listening to his complete performance, he is definitely persuasive as a bold, heroic proconsul thanks to the impressive power of his vocal means.
Christa Ludwig is a wonderful Adalgisa. Ludwig sings Adalgisa as a reticent young girl, who is aware but not desperately worried about her situation. Her singing is therefore plain and her grace and elegance are really captivating.
As for Nicola Zaccaria, his Oroveso is authoritative and precise and perhaps only a darker timbre would be necessary to make him perfect.
Tullio Serafin’s Conduction
Life and soul of the opera is conductor Tullio Serafin. Serafin, one of the greatest conductors of the last century, favours the lyricism of Norma. There is no hurry, not even in the most agitated passages as the end of the first act, and the music of Norma flows gently and quietly, doing justice to Bellini’s long melodies and allowing the singers to sing surrounded by a comfortable and suggestive environment.