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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Verdi: La Traviata

09/30/2012 1:00 pm
09/30/2012 4:30 pm


Host Keith Brown writes:

Here's a truly historic audio document for you, something you might call "The Unauthorized Callas. "In 2011 ICA Classics issued in its "Legacy" series the legendary 1958 Covent Garden performance of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata (1858) starring Maria Callas and recorded quite literally onstage as she sang Violetta, the role she made her own and about which reviewers and public mutually raved. This is not an airtape of a BBC broadcast, but somebody's private unofficial taping with the microphone placed immediately adjacent to the proscenium arch. (You can hear Callas warming up in the wings during the Prelude to Act One.)

The sound is monaural, possessing remarkable clarity--better, actually, than typical broadcast sonics of the period. The Callas Covent Garden bootleg recording has long been in circulation among opera enthusiasts on LP's or more recently in CD format, too. Only now, however, has a major classical music record label, International Classical Artists, Ltd. of the UK, picked it up and applied its "ambient mastering" technique to the old audio material, resulting in the best transfer ever onto silver disc.

You get to hear more clearly than ever before Callas, the very icon of the operatic diva of the second half of the twentieth century, when she was at the zenith of her vocal powers. As taped on opening night, June 20, 1958, she is heard opposite tenor Cesare Valletti as Alfredo. Nicola Rescigno conducted the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Orchestra and Opera Chorus. Thanks to my WWUH colleague Bob Walsh for substituting for me today.