Morgen zal het al zeventig jaar geleden zijn dat Maria Callas moet invallen voor Elvira in “I Puritani” (foto Pinterest) van Vincenzo Bellini in La Fenice in Venetië en ze is meteen een succes.

Dat succes was volkomen verdiend en kwam nog meer uit de verf als men weet wat eraan voorafging. Ik laat het vertellen door de Engelse Wikipedia (de Nederlandse slaat deze episode gewoon over: onbegrijpelijk!).
In 1946, Callas was engaged to re-open the opera house in Chicago as Turandot, but the company folded before opening. Basso Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, who also was to star in this opera, was aware that Tullio Serafin was looking for a dramatic soprano to cast as La Gioconda at the Arena di Verona. Subsequently he recommended Callas to retired tenor and impresario Giovanni Zenatello. During her audition, Zenatello became so excited that he jumped up and joined Callas in the act 4 duet.
It was in this role that Callas made her Italian debut. Upon her arrival in Verona, Callas met Giovanni Battista Meneghini, an older, wealthy industrialist, who began courting her. They married in 1949 and he assumed control of her career until 1959, when the marriage dissolved. It was Meneghini’s love and support that gave Callas the time needed to establish herself in Italy and throughout the prime of her career, she went by the name of Maria Meneghini Callas.
After “La Gioconda”, Callas had no further offers and when Serafin, looking for someone to sing Isolde, called on her, she told him that she already knew the score, even though she had looked at only the first act out of curiosity while at the conservatory. She sight-read the opera’s second act for Serafin, who praised her for knowing the role so well, whereupon she admitted to having bluffed and having sight-read the music. Even more impressed, Serafin immediately cast her in the role.
Serafin thereafter served as Callas’s mentor and supporter. In 1968, Callas recalled that working with Serafin was the “really lucky opportunity of my career, because he taught me that there must be an expression; that there must be a justification. He taught me the depth of music, the justification of music. That’s where I really really drank all I could from this man”.
Zoals gezegd, the great turning point in Callas’s career occurred in Venice in 1949. She was engaged to sing the role of Brünnhilde in “Die Walküre” at the Teatro la Fenice, when Margherita Carosio, who was engaged to sing Elvira in “I puritani” in the same theatre, fell ill. Unable to find a replacement for Carosio, Serafin told Callas that she would be singing Elvira in six days; when Callas protested that she not only did not know the role, but also had three more Brünnhildes to sing, he told her “I guarantee that you can.”
In Michael Scott’s words: “The notion of any one singer embracing music as divergent in its vocal demands as Wagner’s Brünnhilde and Bellini’s Elvira in the same career would have been cause enough for surprise; but to attempt to essay them both in the same season seemed like folie de grandeur.”
Before the performance actually took place, one incredulous critic snorted, “We hear that Serafin has agreed to conduct I puritani with a dramatic soprano … When can we expect a new edition of La traviata with [baritone] Gino Bechi’s Violetta?”
But after the performance, one critic wrote: “Even the most sceptical had to acknowledge the miracle that Maria Callas accomplished… the flexibility of her limpid, beautifully poised voice, and her splendid high notes. Her interpretation also has a humanity, warmth and expressiveness that one would search for in vain in the fragile, pellucid coldness of other Elviras.”
Franco Zeffirelli recalled: “What she did in Venice was really incredible. You need to be familiar with opera to realize the size of her achievement. It was as if someone asked Birgit Nilsson, who is famous for her great Wagnerian voice, to substitute overnight for Beverly Sills, who is one of the great coloratura sopranos of our time.”
Scott asserts that “of all the many roles Callas undertook, it is doubtful if any had a more far-reaching effect.” This initial foray into the bel canto repertoire changed the course of Callas’s career and set her on a path leading to Lucia di Lammermoor, La traviata, Armida, La sonnambula, Il pirata, Il turco in Italia, Medea and Anna Bolena, and reawakened interest in the long-neglected operas of Cherubini, Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini.
In the words of soprano Montserrat Caballé: “She opened a new door for us, for all the singers in the world, a door that had been closed. Behind it was sleeping not only great music but great idea of interpretation. She has given us the chance, those who follow her, to do things that were hardly possible before her. That I am compared with Callas is something I never dared to dream. It is not right. I am much smaller than Callas.” [Wikipedia]

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