“Legendary Sonnambula” This live-recording is, even in an illustrious discography as Callas’, a wonder. A wonder of sheer perfection, love and beauty. Callas who could sing a blood-curdling Medea and Lady Macbeth sang the purest, most touching and tearful Amina. Just listen to Amina’s first aria to hear a voice of airy beauty, lucid warmth and tenderness. The duets with Elvino (The WONDERFUL Valletti, a true belcanto-tenor in the tradition of Schipa) soar to heaven rivalling the stars! And her madscene is unrivalled with the ornaments and incredible coloratura! A keeper!
Maria Callas had worked with Leonard Bernstein at La Scala on Medea in 1953. Here, in ‘55, they were together again for a very different heroine. While Medea is all vengeance and rage, Amina in Sonnambula is a delicate, sweet, village girl whose sleepwalking confuses the locals into thinking she’s unfaithful to her fianc¨¦. Of course, she’s exonerated and all ends happily. This role is one of the tests of a great bel canto soprano. There are miles of coloratura, grand leaps, long-breathed melodies, and high notes galore. Callas is at her peak here, singing with delicacy and girlish tone, with fine filigree and sheer loveliness. She makes us care about this character–quite a feat. Tenor Cesare Valletti is her elegant, sweet-toned, and expressive fianc¨¦, and the rest of the cast is fine. Bernstein knows which parts of the score to race through and which to linger over. The remastering of this once-quite-terrible-sounding recording has rendered it acceptable. But even if it weren’t (and if you own Callas’s other EMI recording of this opera), the wonders of this set–at midprice–are worth hearing. –Robert Levine
One of the two Greatest Sonnambulas in history!
This recording of La Sonnambula is a necessity in any opera lover’s collection. Featuring Maria Callas at the prime of her career, one cannot ignore the fact that despite the quality of this live recording, the sheer interpretation of Bellini’s Swiss village girl in this Sonnambula should never be condoned. At 1955, Callas’ voice was at its peak form, fresh without the many characteristics that would detract non-fans from her recordings. It was during this time too that she worked with the famed American conductor Leonard Bernstein, one of the most dexterous and passionate interpreters of the score. Also included in this collaboration was the famed film director Luchino Visconti, and it was this trio that brought the spotlights of opera into this rare gem of a Sonnambula. The other Sonnambula, the live Koln Sonnambula with Votto, comes with a much superior cast and an even more superior sound, but this Sonnambula should never be overlooked for the numerous trills and embellishments that Bernstein had designed for Callas’ voice in this performance. Overall, I’d give it a six stars for the magic of her interpretation, but minus one star for the mediocre sound. …
Five stars and more!
Fine performance – wretched sound
As the sound was always dodgy and Opera d’Oro have often done a better job than EMI in their transfers of the live Callas discography, I see little point in buying the official EMI re-mastering when it is available on the Opera d’Oro label via Amazon Marketplace for less than half the price – unless you want the booklet and libretto, as, of course, Opera d’Oro provide their usual minimal documentation (i.e. nothing beyond a cast list, a few cues and another of Bill Parker’s skilfully condensed plot synopses). The sound was always grim and this is primarily for Callas aficionados. Bernstein gives her the latitude which Votto’s more pedestrian conducting denies her and there is a palpable sense of a great occasion to be perceived through the murky sonics. He had many more weeks than normal to rehearse the piece and it shows; there is a lot of lovingly played detail and a sense of unity between the diva and her maestro. It is also true that Valletti is superior to Monti but not necessarily to Tagliavini; neither Zaccaria nor Giuseppe Modesti, good as they both are, is superior to the peerless Cesare Siepi in the old Cetra set. I still want this in my collection as a souvenir of Callas in one of her best r?les on a special night at La Scala but her studio recording is almost as good and makes easier listening – and ultimately the Cetra is the best all-round choice….