[Met Performance] CID:173330
Lucia di Lammermoor {279} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/3/1956.

(Debut: Bruce Marks

Metropolitan Opera House
December 3, 1956
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds


Lucia...................Maria Callas
Edgardo.................Giuseppe Campora
Enrico..................Enzo Sordello
Raimondo................Nicola Moscona
Normanno................James McCracken
Alisa...................Thelma Votipka
Arturo..................Paul Franke
Dance...................Zebra Nevins
Dance...................Bruce Marks [Debut]

Conductor...............Fausto Cleva

Director................Désiré Defrère
Designer................Richard Rychtarik
Costume designer........Ruth Morley
Choreographer...........Zachary Solov

Lucia di Lammermoor received eight performances this season.

[Ruth Morley designed costumes only for the ballet. Maria Callas wore costumes designed by Ebe Colciaghi for a production at La Scala.]

Review of Claudia Cassidy of the Chicago Tribune, datelined New York
So Maria Meneghini Callas is an actress but not much of a singer? You have heard the rumor since the onetime pride and joy of Chicago's Lyric came to sing at the Metropolitan? Take it with a large grain of salt. The beautiful Maria is still an actress, to be sure. Still a singer, too. A singer in trouble, even more last night than in Vienna last spring where some less critical notes of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" died in her throat. But essentially a singer of such superlative quality that even her "flawed" Lucia is incomparable in our time.

In fairness to Callas and those who know her at her dazzling best, neither the Metropolitan not the Vienna performance matched the unforgettable "Lucia" that set Chicago blazing two years ago. Vienna's was more technically glittering than the Metropolitan's, but the Metropolitan at its best was warmer, richer, more appealing, and to me more beautiful.

The trouble is that a treacherous dryness seems to be plaguing her throat. Her top notes are not what they were because of it, her singing line is sometimes unsteady, and last night a "Mad Scene" marvelously sung ended in anticlimax because she amputated the climactic note before it could utterly betray her.

The finer the singer the more terrifying this kind of thing can be. I am told by a source that doesn't give me alibis that Callas had such a bad throat at the dress rehearsal they weren't even sure she could go on. But the Metropolitan Opera Guild, which needs money, had a net profit of $28,000 from the performance. Callas went on, and most of the time she was radiantly herself.

In a red wig this time, the same red wig she wore in Vienna, not to me as eerily effective for Lucia as her own floating hair, then the palest blonde, that bewitched Chicago. Even more slender, I think, with a handspan waistline, those great myopic eyes, those long, lovely hands, that drifting serenity on stage and, that one of the kind Callas voice.

It still sounds like an oboe to me-that strange, lovely voice that can command an ensemble but because of the mystery never drowns other voices out. She sang the first act beautifully, though her top notes were almost as insecure as her tenor, Giuseppe Campora, himself twice menaced by hoarseness in his throat and by an angry conductor, Fausto Cleva, in the pit.

She sang the "Sextette" as well as I have ever heard her do it, with that muted oboe luster at its warmest and most beautiful. And up to that unfortunate curtain her "Mad Scene" was magnificent. I don't know where else you can hope to hear such exquisite coloratura, such spun silk fioriture, such gossamer chromatic scales.

Yes, she can still sing, this Callas who is unique in the world of opera, and that throat is a hazard to be cured at all costs. For even in trouble she was the whole reason for the performance in the Rychtarik settings, its kilts banished for cavalier garb, save in the brief but engaging ballet.

Enzo Sordello was the Ashton, a tall young baritone who knows his way around the stage and sings well in a lyric line of modest quality.

Review of Irving Kolodin in The Saturday Review

"Lucia" at the Metropolitan will be something different for some time to come, now that Maria Callas has shown she can be a person of dramatic credibility as well as musical incredibility. In the space of a couple of hours at her first performance, Miss Callas took Lucia from the high trapeze of operatic acrobatics and put her back on stage as a potent dramatic figure of Donizetti's musical imagination. This may be remembered when it is forgotten that no previous singer in the Met's long history has sung Lucia, Tosca, and Norma in a career, let alone in a season.

The question, of course, is not what, but how. There will be those who will say that hers is not the Lucia voice, that it lacks the pinpoint sparkle and the nimble ease of some past performers. But hers is not the conventional Lucia, voice or otherwise. For a character burdened, as few others in the repertory are, with a freight of wooden gestures, loose limbs, and barren leaves of pathos, Miss Callas provided a new dramatic orientation, treating the character from the start as a human being rather than an automaton wound up to give out mechanized responses. She dressed the part as a mistress of a castle might, with taste and style, and provided an economical action for the Mad Scene that made it a scene, as well as mad.

The Callas treatment of the vocal line is, of course, supported by a fuller, richer low and middle voice than is commonly heard. This establishes a basic contrast that realizes much in Donizetti's writing usually slighted. The lighter scoring (than in "Norma," for example) enables her to articulate runs and trills clearly, while giving the melodic inventions the full benefit of her superior sense of word and phrase. Some who had the pleasure to hear Lily Pons's Lucia in its earliest and best days will retain a wholesome respect for its excellencies; but they will also realize that Miss Callas is working with individual means toward different ends.

Each of the successive showpieces -"Regnava del silenzio" in the first act, the duet with Raimondo in the second, and Lucia's part of the sextet -were treated within a dramatic framework that made the Mad Scene an illogical climax to an illogical part. Here, instead of indulging in useless wanderings about the stage with the surface suggestions of dementia, Miss Callas concentrated on interpreting the words with a simplicity and power that absorbed the attention of a capacity audience. When she finished "Ardon gl'incesi," sung with steady accuracy, a full measure of musical meaning, and strongly executed embellishments, the roar of applause was house-wide. The succeeding "Spargi d'amaro pianto" showed some signs of vocal weariness, and the final top E flat (not in the score) was barely struck before she dropped to the floor, ending "life" and all incidental difficulties. Her previous top D's (also unsolicited by the composer, but expected by the audiences) were exclamation points rather than periods.

Amid the raging differences of opinion about the quality of sound she produces - in "Lucia" it struck me as pure and well-formed, though with her own kind of attenuated timbre - the fact stands out that it is used with a breath control and sense of musical purpose few recent singers have considered, let alone achieved. Knowing her voice as well as she knows her business - which is to say, thoroughly - Miss Callas doubtless realizes that she cannot charm the listener by vibrance or prettiness alone, hence the greater concentration on verbal intensities, warm turns of phrase, and a dynamic reserve that produces an occasional, well-planned high spot. In restoring Lucia to a place among the historic challenges to a singing actress, she also leaves some recent aspirants to acceptance in the novice class.

The kind of generative force that Miss Callas brought to her work was felt not only by the audience but by her fellow performers. Giuseppe Campora's Edgardo is rather wan of voice for this part (he was afflicted by huskiness from time to time), but he worked valiantly nevertheless in an ensemble well led by Nicola Moscona's substantial Raimondo. The Enrico Ashton was Carlo Sordello, who recently made a debut in "Bohème" and showed not much more than the same serviceable baritone and rather conventional dramatic impulses. However, he is an intelligent performer. Comments on the current staging of "Lucia" (including the sextet) are a temptation to be reserved for another time. Fausto Cleva sustained his recent level of devotion to the composer's interests…

Review of Louis Biancolli in the World Telegram and Sun


As far as the audience was concerned, the opera at the Metropolitan last night was Donizetti's "Maria Meneghini Callas."

Judging by the wild jubilation of the crowd, it was a far more fitting title than the pedantic and ponderous one given in the program book, "Lucia di Lammermoor."

This was Mme. Callas' first portrayal at the Metropolitan of the celebrated coloratura role of Mad Lucy. That she stole the show isn't exactly news. This time she stole the opera along with the show.

Excitement Mounts.

The excitement of the crowd mounted in volume and intensity till it exploded like a bomb after the "Mad Scene." Lucy Lucey and her last note collapsed together and the crowd went wild.

One would have supposed that the demented little Scotch girl had just been impersonated by a composite Bernhardt, Duse, Mary Garden and Tetrazzini. Mme. Callas wasn't quite that -but she was Callas. As such, the house was hers.

It was an oddly contradictory performance in some ways. There was the undeniable fascination of the lady as personality and show woman. Yet, she wasn't truly moving as the helpless troubled Lucy.

Amazing Shrewdness.

She sang with amazing shrewdness of half voice and subtle shifts of color, and once in a while with real beauty of tone. Yet, as a whole, it wasn't warm and attractive vocalism. Too much tin foil around the voice.

She botched the last note of the "Mad Scene," yet some could argue that is precisely what would happen to a mind unhinged - voice and mind would crack together. Mishap or stunt, it had a weird, shivery effect.

You couldn't help taking notice of Maria Callas last night. The theatrical flair, the studied gesture, the assertive force riveted your attention. You were all eyes instead of all ears, which reverses the usual order in coloratura.

The others, Giuseppe Campora, Enzo Sordello, Paul Franke among them, gracefully took a back seat, not to mention a backstage - Mme. Callas having been permitted the royal solo bow after the "Mad Scene."

Fausto Cleva conducted with alert care.

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