Sunday, February 28, 2010

Singer of the Day: Maria Callas, 1923-1977

Maria Anna Sophie Cecilia Kalogeropoulos was born in New York in 1923 to parents who had emigrated from Greece. Her father changed their family name to Callas in 1929. In 1937, after her parents separated, her mother took her to Greece, where she was admitted to the National Conservatoire of Athens. In 1939, at the age of 17, she made her stage debut in a student production of Cavelleria Rusticana as Santuzza.

For me, Callas was an acquired taste. As a young college student, I was introduced to her later recordings first. Some students I knew liked to play her recordings at half speed to show the wobble she had sadly developed in her later years. So while I knew she was a legend, I didn't at that time understand why. It wasn't until later that I discovered the extraordinary ability she had to convey with voice, timbre, color, phrasing attention to text and acting, the depths of the many operatic characters she portrayed. I am always struck by the rightness of her choices, the amount of time she chooses to hold a fermata, the nuanced nature of her character studies and of course the unsurpassed ability she had with the technical demands of the Bel Canto repertoire. Theatrically, she was brilliant. She changed the face of opera for the future. Her characterizations were always layered, multi-dimensional and complex. Her singing and acting, always interwined so organically that you feel this is the only way it can be performed! She is considered one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century. The acclaim is justly deserved.

Mad Scene from Donizetti, Lucia Di Lammermoor

Puccini, Tosca, Vissa d'arte

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