[Met Performance] CID:177030
La Traviata {423} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/6/1958.

(Debut: Mario Zanasi
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 6, 1958


LA TRAVIATA {423}
Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave

Violetta................Maria Callas
Alfredo.................Daniele Barioni
Germont.................Mario Zanasi [Debut]
Flora...................Helen Vanni
Gastone.................Charles Anthony
Baron Douphol...........Calvin Marsh
Marquis D'Obigny........George Cehanovsky
Dr. Grenvil.............Louis Sgarro
Annina..................Mildred Allen
Giuseppe................Robert Nagy
Gardener................Osie Hawkins

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


Review of Winthrop Sargeant in The New Yorker

Whatever else Maria Meneghini Callas may be, she is certainly an artist of outstanding gifts. The gifts are peculiar ones, not exactly comparable to those of any other singer now before the public. Last year, in reviewing her "Norma," I commented on her striking presence as a theatrical personality, on the extraordinary brilliance and accuracy of her technique, on her intuitive sense of drama, on the elegance of her musical style, and on the enormous, though not limitless, range of her voice. I had some reservations, however; its predominant reediness and its tendency to wobble slightly in its highest notes disturbed me a bit. At the time, though, I pointed out that despite these flaws, she had turned in the most satisfying performance Norma heard a the Metropolitan in at least a generation. Some of her other subsequent performances were less satisfying. Her Lucia, for example, proved to be rather strenuous. The role, designed for the lighter type of coloratura soprano, did not seem suited to her voice, and she came to grief, somewhat conspiculously, in her top notes. The limitations she disclosed were, however, of an entirely physical nature. Few dramatic sopranos have dared to tackle "Lucia," and the fact that Miss Callas-who is best described as a dramatic soprano with astonishing coloratura flexibility-could sing it at all was quite remarkable.

Last week, Miss Callas returned to the Metropolitan in a more congenial role, that of Violetta in "La Traviata"-and this time, I must say, she left me in complete agreement with the most fervent of her admirers, who bellowed and thundered their approval after every aria. Taken as a whole, her interpretation of the part was far and away the finest that I have encountered at the Metropolitan or anywhere else in all the years I have been listening to opera. The high notes again wobbled very slightly now and then, but I am beginning to accept the reedy tone quality as a characteristic of Miss Callas's vocal personality; when one has become used to it, it seem to add intensity to her singing. Hers in not a pure, innocent voice (pure, innocent voices are a dime a dozen) but a fiery conveyance for female passion, and it is used with amazing skill to underline each shifting mood of this extremely subtle role. What emerges is a highly personal interpretation of Violetta, in which it is impossible to disentangle the dramatic elements from the vocal ones. I might go on to say that Miss Callas's technique, marksmanship, feeling for musical emphasis, and so on, were as impeccable as usual, but in appraising these isolated ingredients of her singing (which can be objectively compared to similar ingredients in the work of other great singers) I would be missing the real crux of the matter, which lies in the way the ingredients are combined into total dramatic projection. I might also call attention to her acting, which-in this role, at least-would quality as extraordinarily perceptive and gripping even by the standards of the legitimate stage, but the fact remains that, in her approach to the role, to act is to sing and to sing is to act. The entire interpretation, from the aria "Sempre libera," in the first act to Violetta's death, just before the final curtain, was one of those electrifying fusions of music, theatre, and personality that operagoers are only occasionally privileged to witness, and are seldom able to forget.

Though Fausto Cleva conducted things at an admirable pace, and Oliver Smith's sets shone with considerable magnificence, the rest of the production failed to come anywhere near the standard set by Miss Callas. Daniele Barioni, as Alfredo, went through his love scenes with the air of an irate top sergeant yelling at a backward platoon. and several times got so badly off pitch that Miss Callas was hard put to it to hold their ensembles together. Mario Zanasi, a young Italian baritone who was making his Metropolitan début in the role of the elder Germont, sang agreeably but, as an actor, seemed limited to a few perfunctory, standard gestures. The performance was a benefit-the one that Mrs. William Randolph Hearst holds annually for her Free Milk Fund-and the audience, in consequence, was a dressy and fashionable one, more interested, perhaps, in personalities than in music. Thanks to Miss Callas, it got what it wanted-and a lot more.



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