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DONIZETTI ANNA BOLENA Anna Bolena – Maria Callas

Giovanna Seymour – Giuletta Simionato

Lord Ricardo Percy – Gianni Raimondi

Enrico VIII – Nicola Rossi-Lemeni

Orchestra & Chorus of La Scala, Milan / cond Gianandrea Gavazzeni


MYTO Historical Line – 064.H121

Recorded 14 April 1957– 2 CDs – 140 minutes


Few singers have made as big an impact on the world of opera as Maria Callas, and she continues to win new admirers through her rich recording legacy.


John Pettitit's useful book Maria Callas – A Record Obsession (Odda Press ISBN 0-9539006-0-6) quotes Alan Blyth's opinion that “this performance in particular formed the peak of the diva's career”. The production, recorded live at La Scala, benefited from the creative direction of Visconti enhanced by the handsome period designs of Alexandre Benois and it was conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni with whom Callas had successfully collaborated on a number of previous occasions.


Arguably the piece also represents Donizetti at his best. There is a convincing dramatic unity to the piece and a very poignant atmosphere as fate moves inexorably closing around Anna Bolena. She never for a moment looses her regal dignity, going to her death invoking divine pardon for her enemies – far more compelling in the hands of a consummate artist such as Callas than all the histrionics of more frequently performed bel canto operas.


There is no doubt that Callas is magnificent throughout. I could list half a dozen arias that illustrate her supreme skill, but I'll settle for her gentle lament that proceeds the trial scene, Al dolce guidami (Lead me to the dear castle where I was born) which is sheer magic. (Did Ambroise Thomas have it in mind when composing Mignon ?)


The rest of the cast are somewhat mixed. Nicola Rossi-Lemeni's Henry VIII never gets much beyond figurehead, Gabriella Carturan makes a decent job of Smeton and Gianni Raimondi as Lord Percy is in beautiful voice making it regrettable that his prison scene with Rochefort is cut. It is the Giovanna Seymour of Giulietta Simionato that is the real disappointment, she puts undue emphasis on her lower notes and tends to have a “heavy landing” at the end of each line, most unwelcome in her lynch pin exchanges with Callas at the beginning of Act 2.


The sound quality after transfer from a 1950's live recording to CD is more than acceptable, but there are a few instances where a clearly ecstatic audience breaks in with applause too early and several bars of music are overwhelmed.


There is neither libretto nor synopsis with this budget issue which provides an excuse, if excuse be needed, to acquire alongside it a recording by another very great soprano, Edita Gruberova (Nightingale NC070565-20) which has these and uses a more complete version of the score.


Serena Fenwick