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Classical 101

Maria Callas's Last Performances at the Met

TWO AUDIO PIECES Maria Callas returned to the Metropolitan Opera for the first time in seven years on March 19, 1965. In 1959, after ten busy years at the top of her game, Callas met Aristotle Onassis and abandoned her career for love(!) She sang very little following Poliuto and Medea at La Scala in 1961 and 1962, and by then her appearances were like  'command performances' rather than committed interpretations for a knowledgeable audience. There was a sensational return to the Royal Opera in London, as Tosca in 1964. Following this Callas made her debut at the Paris Opera as Norma and by 1965 she was ready to return to New York (where she had been born on December 2, 1923). Callas had quarreled ferociously and publicly with Met General Manager Rudolf Bing, and her dismissal from the company in 1959 had been front page news. There were no two savvier public figures than Maria Callas and Rudolf Bing. I'll bet they were on the phone secretly planning these headlines together. By 1965 Onassis was roving and Callas needed to resume her career. But six years of the high life with little performing and practicing took their toll. She was an international celebrity in 1965 and not always for her singing. Her voice was certainly diminished. Her star quality was undimmed, and her astonishing charisma carried all before it. She sang Tosca at the Met on March 19 and 26, 1965 . She returned to Paris for Norma, and sang one final Tosca in London in July, 1965. And that was it. She spent the rest of her life planning to sing, and on a sad final tour in the early '70s trying to sing.  She died in Paris in September 16, 1977. Callas's two Met Toscas were recorded in the theater by several of the many fans who stood in line at the box office for four days for standing room places. The sound has always been dim and faulty. It was quite something to make an illegal recording anywhere back in 1965 - no mini cassettes then. Recently, a sonically cleaned up version has been making the rounds. Here are two selections from Tosca at the Met, March 19, 1965. Callas was joined by Franco Corelli (Cavaradossi) and Tito Gobbi (Scarpia). Fausto Cleva conducted. From Act 1, here's Tosca's entrance. We begin with Angelotti (Clifford Harvuot) and Cavaradossi. Then Tosca's off stage calls of "Mario! Mario! Mario!"  I have not edited this. You are hearing the performance as it happened on March 19, 1965, complete with the ecstatic applause at Tosca-Callas's entrance. [audio:callas-tosca-11] Here's the finale. Cavaradossi has been executed. Tosca has murdered Scarpia. Her only way out now is a jump: "Ah Scarpia, avanti a Dio!" Scarpia, we meet before God! [audio:callas-tosca-21] This performance, and the repeat a week later with Richard Tucker in place of Corelli, was discussed everywhere. It still is. None of the critics came out and said Callas's voice was gone, and the audiences, as you can hear was certainly ecstatic. She had transformed Tosca into a Real Event. "Her conception of the role was electrical.  Everything at her command was put into striking use.  She was a woman in love, a tiger cat, a woman possessed by jealousy.  In the second act she physically threw herself at the soldiers carrying off Mario.  Her face mirrored every fleeting expression implicit in the music during her colloquy with Scarpia. This was supreme acting, unforgettable acting." -Harold C. Schonberg, New York Times, March 20, 1965