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Callas' Trieste “Norma” on Melodram CDM 26031: Reality and Illusion
by Milan Petkovic

In late 1991, the Italian company Melodram released what appeared to be a complete live recording of Bellini’s Norma with Maria Callas (Norma), Franco Corelli (Pollione), Boris Christoff (Oroveso), Elena Nicolai (Adalgisa), Bruna Ronchini (Clotilde), Raimondo Botteghelli (Flavio), orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, Trieste, conducted by Antonino Votto on November 19, 1953. The CD release of that interesting live performance (Melodram CDM 26031, 2 CDs, ADD) had been announced earlier in the year, and eagerly awaited by many admirers of Callas’ art. However, as far as is known, this Norma did not survive intact; only portions of it had previously been published on LP and CD. Many suspected that the Melodram issue was a composite of different live recordings, giving a false impression of completeness (even though there was no indication on the CD cover or in the booklet that the release was a partial performance). The set in question has been discontinued and is no longer available, but may still be found in stores selling out-of-print or used CDs. Those who own the Melodram edition may be interested in the identities of the extraneous sources used for the composite issue. They can be easily identified, each of them having its own distinct sonority and interpretative particularities. Here is a list of the sources:

  1. Buenos Aires, June 17, 1949 (Callas, Barbieri, Vela, Rossi-Lemeni, Serafin cond.)
  2. Trieste, November 19, 1953 (Callas, Corelli, Nicolai, Christoff, Votto cond.)
  3. RAI Rome, June 29, 1955 (Callas, Del Monaco, Stignani, Modesti, Cavallari, Serafin cond.)
  4. Milan, December 7, 1955 (Callas, Del Monaco, Simionato, Zaccaria, Carturan, Votto cond.)
  5. Rome, January 2, 1958: Act I, Scene 1 only (Callas, Corelli, Pirazzini, Neri, De Palma, Santini cond.)
  6. Rome, January 4, 1958 (Cerquetti, Corelli, Pirazzini, Neri, De Palma, Santini cond.)
A detailed analysis of the contents of Melodram CDM 26031 follows.

  • The overture and the orchestral introduction to Act I from the Trieste performance have not surfaced; they originate from another source (Rome 1958).
  • "Ite sul colle" is from Trieste, and was taken from a very noisy LP source. Boris Christoff’s voice is unmistakable, and this is the only recording of his Oroveso.
  • The section from "Svanir le voci!" to "Sediziose voci" is from Rome, 4/1/58. The timbres of Franco Corelli (Pollione) and Piero de Palma (Flavio) are distinct, and their interpretations differ from those of the "walkout" performance of 2/1/58.
  • A technical glitch occurs at the beginning of Norma’s recitative, "Sediziose voci". Instead of Callas’, Anita Cerquetti’s voice can be heard singing "Sedi-…" followed by an awkward break; immediately after, the Callas of 19/11/53 resumes at "…-iose voci".
  • A few seconds later, at "Ancor non sono della nostra vendetta i dì maturi", the source changes; from that point to the end of "Ah! bello a me ritorna", the material is from the Milan performance of 7/12/55. The reason behind this particular substitution is unclear, since the Covent Garden Norma of November 18, 1952 (published on CD by Melodram in 1988), would have been a closer match to Callas’ voice of 1953.
  • Adalgisa’s entrance is from the Callas "walkout" performance of 2/1/58 with Miriam Pirazzini as Adalgisa. At "Deh! proteggimi, o Dio!", Elena Nicolai steps in; this passage originates from Trieste. The duet with Pollione is an authentic Trieste recording as well.
  • The beginning of Act I, Scene 2 is from Milan, 7/12/55, with Gabriella Carturan as Clotilde and Giulietta Simionato as Adalgisa ("Vanne, e li cela entrambi ... Oh rimembr[anza]").
  • Just before "...-anza" in "Oh rimembranza", the Buenos Aires fragment of June 17, 1949, is spliced in. After Miriam Pirazzini, Elena Nicolai and Giulietta Simionato, a fourth Adalgisa can now be heard on this recording: Fedora Barbieri. The "Ah… Ah sì, fa core, abbracciami" section is from Trieste, however. Adalgisa’s verse "Ripeti, o ciel, ripetimi" is inexplicably missing, but the Trieste final cadenza was recorded.
  • At "Ma di’, l’amato giovane…", there is a return to the Milan recording with Simionato as Adalgisa, but a switch to the Trieste performance is evident at "Il mira! - Ei! Pollion!…" From that point to the end of the act, Melodram offers the genuine Trieste material.
  • The whole of Norma’s "Dormono entrambi" and the recitative with Clotilde are from the concert performance of 29/5/55 (Rome) with Rina Cavallari as Clotilde. This was a strange choice, since by that date Callas’ voice was significantly different than in November 1953. If better sound was the reason behind this substitution, the corresponding scene from the 1952 Covent Garden performance would have been a more consistent choice.
  • The segment from "Me chami o Norma?" to the end of the scene is from Trieste with Elena Nicolai, easily recognisable as Adalgisa.
  • The chorus "Non partì?" is from Rome 1958. Oroveso’s subsequent recitative "Guerrieri!" is simply omitted (neither excerpt from Trieste has surfaced).
  • Oroveso’s "Ah del Tebro" is included, and sung by Boris Christoff. This fragment represents all that has survived from the Trieste Act II, Scene 2.
  • The "Ei tornera, sì ... Guerra! Guerra!" section is from Milan, 7/12/55.
  • Oroveso’s "Nè compi il rito, o Norma, nè la vittima accenni?" is omitted (there is no recording of Christoff’s voice to supply this line), and Callas has to volunteer "Ella fia pronta...". This fragment is from the Milan performance as well.
  • Again, Oroveso’s lines "Sacrilego nemico..." are omitted, for the same reason as cited above. We next hear Franco Corelli and Anita Cerquetti in the brief section "Ferisci, ma non interrogarmi... – Io ferrir deggio! Scostatevi! – Chi veggio? Norma!" (Rome 4/1/58), to which Callas replies "Si, Norma!", with Mario del Monaco’s voice adding "Io fremo!" at the end (Milan 7/12/55). Arguably, this and the previous section represent the most interesting part of the musical mosaic presented to the listeners.
  • All is back in order with "In mia man", however. From here to the end of the performance, Melodram stays true to the Trieste performance with Callas, Corelli and Christoff, conducted by Votto.
As can be concluded, the Melodram edition of the Trieste Norma was not a forgery such as the faked Turandot Act II excerpt from "a 20/5/1949 Buenos Aires performance" (published in several CD editions other than Melodram), but rather an attempt to "reconstruct" the complete performance. This has been done by replacing the missing (and a number of existing) portions with those from other sources, however without giving any due credit. While Melodram’s intentions may have been to present the listener with a virtually complete recording of Bellini’s opera, it was dishonest not to indicate that their version drew substantially from other sources (less than half of the music offered on the set is an authentic Trieste material). However, it is also possible that they issued the product unaware of that fact. Melodram, it should be mentioned, is a big champion of Callas’ live performances, and their contribution to her recorded legacy has been of great value.    

Four authentic Trieste excerpts can be found as bonus tracks on the Myto set of Callas’ 1952 Lucia di Lammermoor from Mexico City, published in April 1991 as MCD 913.40 (the tracks also include a first-act fragment from Rome 4/1/58, attributed to Trieste 19/11/53). However, the new Divina Records release (DVN~3) contains all the known material from Trieste. This two-CD set with a total time of ninety-three minutes completes and corrects Divina’s previous edition of the Trieste performance. The contents are: "Ite sul colle, o Druidi", "Norma viene (excerpt)", "Sediziose voci … Casta diva … Fine al rito … Ah! bello a me ritorna", "Deh! proteggimi, o Dio! … Eccola! va, mi lascia … Va, crudele … Vieni in Roma", "Ah! Ah sì, fa core (excerpts)", "Il mira! - Ei! Pollion! … No, non tremare … Oh, di qual sei tu vittima … Perfido! - Or basti!" (Act One); "Dormono entrambi (excerpts)… Me chiami o Norma? … Deh! con te … Mira, o Norma … Cedi, deh cedi! ... Sì, fino all’ore estreme", "Ah! del Tebro", "Ei tornerà. Sì! (excerpts)", "In mia man … Dammi quel ferro! … Qual cor tradisti … Norma! deh Norma! … Deh! non volerli vittime" (Act Two).

© Milan Petkovic, 2000

Milan Petkovic has been studying Maria Callas’ art since early 1970s, attaching great importance to the historical accuracy of data. He specializes in comparisons between Callas’ different recorded interpretations of the same music. 
The correlation between Callas’ psychology and her recorded interpretations is a particular interest, given the soprano’s belief that a key to her personality was to be found on her records. Besides the art of Maria Callas and opera, Milan Petkovic’s interests lie in classical music, chemistry, teaching, and psychology. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

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