Continued from the previous blog post, “Bucky Saves the Day.”
I had heard the name before, and had a vague notion that she was an opera singer famous for her temperament and a turbulent love affair with the Greek millionaire Aristotle Onassis. I had even registered that her art was always spoken of in the past tense: “She sang at La Scala” rather than “sings,” and that she had suffered a vocal decline that had ended her career. How I had gleaned even that much I can’t remember now, but I’m quite sure I had never heard her voice. Certainly, as I held that stack of my teacher’s records that day, I couldn’t have suspected just how important the voice, the artist on those discs, would become to me.
The recordings Bucky lent me were representative of Callas’ entire career, and included her EMI I Puritani from 1953 and Aida, recorded in ’55, as well as her stereo remakes of Lucia and Tosca. The last complete recording he included was less than ten years old at the time, 1964’s Carmen. I knew nothing of the chronology of these discs, and rather than starting my listening with one of these, I decided to listen through the 3-disc anthology, La Divina, featuring arias and scenes selected from Callas’ EMI catalogue of recitals and complete operas. Recently I found the contents for that album online, confirming my memory that I started, on Side One of that collection, with the Act One scena of the title character of Norma, excerpted from what I now know is the 1960 stereo recording. (The booklet accompanying the records did not include recording dates.) I put the disc on the turntable and Side One started. As with my Turandot experience, I followed the provided libretto closely. In this case, the timbre of the voice and the authority with which it was used seemed to leave no alternative to complete attention. Just as the character of Norma compels the restless Druids to heed her admonitions, so Callas commanded my total concentration.