Warner Classics presents the most ambitious and extensive project ever undertaken in the name of the Maria Callas catalogue: a groundbreaking remastered edition of her complete recordings. For the first time this century, a team of world-class sound engineers at London’s Abbey Road Studios – where Callas herself recorded – returned to her original master tapes to bring previously unimaginable clarity and depth to the legacy of the most iconic opera star of all time.
A new authoritative Box Set: The complete Maria Callas edition comprises a lavish boxed set of 39 newly remastered studio recordings (totaling 69 discs) from 1949 to 1969 – each with the original sleeve art preserved.
All 39 albums, from Callas’ earliest wax recordings on Cetra, will be available individually as well as within the boxed set.
Finally, the new single-disc collection Pure will draw together highlights of the remastered edition, showcasing the previously unattainable quality of sound that can now be experienced in Callas’ most beloved arias.
Although Maria Callas died, aged just 53, as long ago as September 1977, she remains an icon: as a supreme singing – actress; as a celebrity, and as a woman of great style and elegance. The epitome of the operatic diva, the American-born Greek soprano is recognized as a singer who defined, and even redefined opera in the 20th century and she has never lost her place among the world’s top-selling classical artists. With the release of CALLAS REMASTERED: The Complete Studio Recordings, opera lovers will now be able to hear her as never before.
Warner Classics is now the guardian of Maria Callas’ official recorded catalogue, and this 69-CD deluxe box set contains all the studio recordings that she made for both EMI/Columbia and the Italian label Cetra between 1949 and 1969. Each recording has been painstakingly remastered in 24-bit/96kHz sound at Abbey Road Studios using the original tapes, on Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond speakers, and the entire collection has been curated with the greatest of care. The 26 complete operas and 13 recital albums contained in the box will also be made available as separate releases.
Conceived as a true collector’s edition, CALLAS REMASTERED presents each individual opera or recital CD in its original artwork. It also contains a 136-page hard-back book with essays, a biography and chronology, rarely-seen photos and reproductions of revealing letters written by Maria Callas, Walter Legge and other EMI executives. The opera librettos and aria texts are provided on a CD-ROM. The box set and the individual operas and recitals will be available at mid-price.
Maria Callas was born to a Greek family in New York in 1923. Her vocal training took place in Athens, where her teacher was the coloratura soprano Elvira de Hidalgo, who had sung with Enrico Caruso and Feodor Chaliapin. After early performances in Greece, Callas’ international career was launched in 1947 when she performed the title role in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda at the Arena di Verona in Italy.
Her voice defied simple classification and her artistic range was extraordinary. In her early twenties she sang such heavy dramatic roles as Gioconda, Turandot, Brünnhilde and Isolde, but over the course of her career her most famous roles came to be: Bellini’s Norma and Amina (La sonnambula); Verdi’s Violetta (La Traviata); Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Anna Bolena, Cherubini’s Medea and Puccini’s Tosca.
Though her timbre was not always conventionally beautiful, Callas’ musicianship and phrasing were in a class of their own. She brought characters to vivid life with her skill in coloring her tone and making insightful use of the text. She is credited with changing the history of opera: by placing a perhaps unprecedented emphasis on musical integrity and dramatic truth, and by transforming perceptions – and reviving the fortunes – of the bel canto repertoire, particularly Bellini and Donizetti.
The 1950s marked the height of Callas’ career. Its base lay in the opera houses of Italy, and she became the prima donna assoluta of Milan’s legendary La Scala – notably in the productions of Luchino Visconti – but her operatic appearances also encompassed London’s Royal Opera House, the New York Metropolitan Opera, Paris Opéra, the Vienna State Opera, and the opera houses of Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Lisbon, and, in the early 1950s, Mexico City, São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. From 1959, when she started a life-changing love affair with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, her performing career slowed down and her voice became more fragile. Her final stage performances came in 1965, when she was only 42.
There were many plans for a return to the stage – and for further complete recordings – but they never reached fruition, though in 1974 she gave a series of concerts in Europe, North America and Japan with the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano; he had partnered her frequently in the opera house and in the studio, not least in the 1953 La Scala Tosca under Victor de Sabata, considered a landmark in recording history. Callas died alone in her Paris apartment in September 1977.
It was in 1953 that, under the supervision of the eminent producer Walter Legge, Callas made her first commercial recording for EMI (Lucia di Lammermoor) in Florence in 1953. Her final complete recording of an opera was made in 1965, her second version of Tosca, made in Paris. CALLAS REMASTERED: The Complete Studio Recordings contains at least one complete recording (in certain cases two recordings) of all Callas’s most famous stage roles, with the exception of Anna Bolena, though the lengthy final scene of that opera features on the recital Mad Scenes. The collection also contains complete recordings of operas she sang on stage more rarely – or even never at all, such as Manon Lescaut and Carmen.
The repertoire in both the complete operas and the recitals demonstrates Callas’ exceptional artistic range. Her voice can best be described as a soprano drammatico d’agilità, combining tone of considerable substance and power with prowess in coloratura. This made her ideal for roles such as Norma, but her repertoire also encompassed roles normally associated with sopranos classified as dramatic (eg Turandot), spinto (eg Aida), lyric (eg Mimì/La bohème) and lyric-coloratura (eg Gilda/Rigoletto). She even sang mezzo-soprano roles such as Rosina (Il barbiere di Sivigila) and Carmen.
The recitals in the collection include tasters of many of her stage roles, but also arias from a wide range of roles she never performed in the theatre. Among Callas’ many distinguished colleagues in these recordings are: conductors Tullio Serafin (an important mentor to the soprano), Victor de Sabata, Herbert von Karajan and Georges Prêtre, and singers Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano, Franco Corelli, Richard Tucker, Nicolai Gedda, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Ebe Stignani, Fedora Barbieri, Fiorenza Cossotto, Christa Ludwig, Rolando Panerai and Piero Cappuccilli.
A dedicated producer, Grammy Award winner Andrew Cornall, was assigned to the CALLAS REMASTERED project at London’s Abbey Road Studios. When Robert Gooch, a former sound engineer who worked with Callas on a number of her recordings, heard some of the remastered tracks, his response was: “I’m amazed, I’m absolutely amazed. My goodness me, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. … It’s a revelation. I was practically in tears listening to Casta Diva. It’s remarkable. I am absolutely knocked over.”