René Leibowitz

Translated from the original French
by Bruce Charles

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The extraordinary success of Maria Meneghini Callas could appear, at first glance, to be one of the strangest phenomena in the world of "show business" of our time. Uniquely hers, the reputation of this distinguished singer has been able to completely transcend the boundaries normally reserved for even the most celebrated of the great artists of lyric art. There have been those who have evoked enthusiastic reaction and even been able to unleash passions, but this always occurs within a relatively limited circle, composed uniquely of lovers of a specific type of opera, which we usually call "bel canto". The case of our diva is entirely different. Her name is familiar, even to those who have no real contact with opera, nor even with the art of singing in general. One need only consult the latest "tabloid" or "photojournal" to be completely up-to-date with "la Callas", with the slightest of her movements, with her scandals, her habits, even the fluctuations in her weight, a privilege normally reserved for movie stars. Her private life, Callas' very existence seems to belong to all of us, to all those, at any rate who know how to read, and of whom--it is curious to note--only a small number has actually heard the voice which is at the root of this exceptional success. Along these same lines, the recording of Callas are the only recordings of so-called "serious music", whose sales rival those of the biggest names in "pop", while those of the other leading opera stars are far from achieving similar results. So, here again our diva has far transcended that which should comprise her niche, and to which her "colleagues", even the most well-known, are limited.
It would seem apparent that, by the very nature of her exceptional success, the career of Callas is one of the most successful imaginable. She has arrived at the very apex of that which a career of this type consists, namely, to satisfy, in the truest sense of the term, the desires of all the public, from the most serious to the most frivolous.
From another angle however, all is not perfect in this immense concert of praise which allows us, here and there, a glimpse of strong discord. Curiously, it is above all among the real lovers of opera (or more exactly, lovers of singing) that we find this "resistance" to the art of Callas. Her voice doesn't always have a beautiful tone, it is uneven, her highs are "strident", her intonation is not always "absolutely perfect", she sings too many roles that do not always "suit her", and therefore no longer has any roles which are really "hers"; these are some of the major reservations and criticisms which we hear regarding the vocal art of our singer.
All this is obviously no put forth in such a straightforward fashion, and there are many who, all the while giving sincere praise to Callas' exceptional dramatic gifts, and to her stunning artistic mastery and even to her equally stunning physical appearance, prefer-- as far as the art of singing is concerned--the voice of a Tebaldi, for example, a less spectacular artist surely (in every sense of the term) but more moving, because a better singer.


Must one take sides? Must we believe without reservation, or side with the critics? Are we to see in the immense success of Callas, something suspect which would justify the attacks of certain serious music lovers? Should we even attribute part of this success to certain shortcomings inherent in the art of our singer? It seems to us that we should rather try to understand exactly what this art consists of, and how it differentiates itself from that of most of today's singrs. In short, we must first find the answer to one simple question: how does Maria Meneghini Callas sing?


A. The actual categories of the soprano voice

As simple as it might seem, such a question, to really be understood, implies a certain amount of knowledge regarding the art of singing in general. We will attempt here to offer some remarks which will give a resume" of the essential points which will guide‑us in this effort.
Most people know, of course, that Callas has a soprano voice, but this very general term encompasses several distinct categories. Today indeed, we distinguish between-in addition to the mezzo-soprano voice (which is a low soprano)--three types of actual soprano voice. These are: the light soprano, the lyric soprano and the dramatic soprano. These three types possess, grosso modo, the following characteristics: the light soprano has a clear and agile voice, a very great ease in the upper register (being able to climb to F and even higher); generally, such a voice is of weaker volume, especially in the lower and middle registers. The dramatic soprano, on the other hand, has a powerful volume (in all registers); but this voice is generally less agile (because heavier) and it does not normally have the ability to climb to the very high register. The lyric soprano is situated between these two extremes. It is quite clear, sometimes quite light and relatively agile; what's more, its volume is relatively powerful (the actual timber of this voice being more emphatic than that of the light soprano, it is nevertheless able to create a kind of illusion of power); finally, the lyric soprano is often characterized by a rather easy high register, though it can seldom attain the highest notes of the light soprano.
The lyric repertoire offers us an abundance of roles, each characteristic of these different types of voice.
For example: roles of servants or very young heroines (Gilda in Rigoletto) for the light soprano; tragic roles (in particular certain roles in Verdi and Wagner) for the dramatic soprano; young heroines, but here, more "developed" than those sung by a light soprano (Marguerite in Faust or Mimi in Bohème) for the lyric soprano. What's more, certain Italian composers have created a kind of intermediary between the dramatic soprano and the lyric soprano, the lirico spinto. This calls for a powerful voice, which can also take on a dramatic role. Numerous operas of Verdi and Puccini require this type of voice.
The Germans as well, differentiate between a type of voice they call Zwischenfach (medium use), which is equivalent to the lirico spinto and that which they call hochdramatisch (highly dramatic). The first is suited to some of the less dramatic roles of Wagner (such as Elsa in Tannhäuser, Eva in Die Meistersinger and even Sieglinde in Die Walküre), whereas the second type--which paradoxically has the characteristics of the dramatic soprano--is suited to the great Wagnerian roles like those of Brunhilde, Isolde and Kundry.
We should note now that, if today these different types of voice are firmly established and universally recognized, it was not always thus. We surely owe the creation of the three main categories of opera that we have just described, to certain Mozart operas, (in particular Don Giovanni, in which the roles of Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Zerlina are sung by a dramatic soprano, a lyric soprano and a light soprano, respectively). However--despite the fact that Mozart's operas constitute real exceptions to the rules of his day
[1]--the types of roles in question were not as clearly defined as they are today. It is particularly the voice of the dramatic soprano which corresponds the least to the concept we have of it at the present time. Indeed, the role of Donna Anna, for example (and we can say the same thing regarding the role of Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte), which calls for none of this kind of dramatic inflection, nevertheless requires an agility and a lightness that we rarely find in the authentic dramatic sopranos of our time.


Among the successors of Mozart, even composers such as Beethoven and Carl Maria von Weber (who we can consider the actual creators of German opera) remain faithful--the latter above all--to this type of voice (dramatic soprano capable of vocalizing with agility). Witness the grand aria of Leonore in Fidelio and above all, many pages in the roles of Agathe in Der Freischütz or of Euryanthe and Rezia in Oberon.
If, as we leave German opera, we turn toward Italian dramatic opera of the first half of the 19th century, this same state of affairs is even more evident. Indeed, a very great number of the heroines of the operas of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti as well as the first operas of Verdi (up to Trovatore and Traviata) call for a soprano voice (sometimes even a mezzo-soprano--which is certainly the case in many of Rossini's operas and also in Verdi's Macbeth) capable of being both dramatic and light. Protagonists of this type are often given roles whose dramatic characteristics require the gifts of a tragedian, as well as a voice with poignant and impassioned inflections. At the same time these roles include bravura passages (generally entire arias), in which the vocal virtuosity is expressed in melodic figures which have since become the virtual domain of the light soprano.
This kind of specific conception of the soprano voice (or mezzo‑soprano as the case may be) presents numerous problems and obstacles today, when the "compartmentalizing" of vocal types, unheard of in former times, makes difficult, and at times even prohibits the correct execution of certain works.
Until quite recently, the role of Rosina, in the Barber of Seville
[2] was given to a light soprano, while the role in fact was conceived to be sung by a mezzo-soprano, able to vocalize. In doing this, one was obliged not only to sacrifice or else transpose a great number of passages because of the low register, but also to undermine the dramatic sense of the role. The young heroines of Rossini's operas are very "practical" girls who know exactly "what they want", and not at all these weak and almost unreal characters as they are presented to us when portrayed by a light soprano.


La Traviata is a good case in point. Because the role of Violetta has a number of agile passages, it is often sung by light sopranos who do quite well (technically speaking) with the vocal demands of these passages, but who completely undermine the dramatic sense of the role in the following acts. On the other hand, it sometimes happens that the role is sung by dramatic sopranos (lirico spinto ) who are able to give the weight necessary for the tragic moments of the work, but whose lack of agility is cruelly evident during the first act.
From the preceding it is clearly shown that the conception of certain types of voice and even of the art of singing in general have changed markedly in the hundred or so years since then works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and the youthful works of Verdi, and thus it should be evident that these composers have written their roles for the types of singers that were as common for their times as they are rare today.
What has been this evolution? Just what are the profound changes that have shaken the artof singing, and what were the causes? It is to these questions that we must try to respond.

B. The evolution of the art of singing in relation to the evolution of opera

The evolution of the art of singing is intimately linked to that of opera in general. Without being able to go into this question here, in the depth it merits, suffice it to say that one of the most important factors in this evolution has proven to be an ever greater tendency toward an art which, for the lack of a better term, we can call realist. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the first operas--this is more or less true up to Mozart--limited themselves in great part to a purely symbolic and highly stylized representation of different elements of the story. The action is generally rather static, the psychological conflicts and the passions of the different characters are expressed--one could say almost without exaggeration--in quite conventional formulas. Generally speaking, we are not dealing here with musical dramas, but with sung musical representations, and it is solely the art of singing which is called upon to create the symbols and the stylistic elements necessary to lay out dramatic content. Consequently, we can say that lyric art before Mozart was, above all, a pretext for "exhibitions" in singing, and this state of affairs is perfectly evident when we muse over the fact that at the time, the roles of the principal heroines were not sung by women, but by castrati. The very presence of castrati proves to us that what really mattered was not realism (psychological or otherwise), but a certain manner of singing.
Thus, these castrati were virtuosi in the art of singing. Most of the techniques of which vocal virtuosity is comprised were invented and perfected by them. We can state here that in general, the art of singing is confounded with this vocal virtuosity. Of what does this vocal virtuosity consist? Principally, of a certain number of melodic figures, ornamental in character: trills, mordants, different types of appogiaturas, arpeggios, roulades, rapid scale passages, (diatonic or chromatic). The correct execution of all these figures constitutes the very foundation of the fine art of singing. Because all these figures decorate and the vocal melody, this manner of singing is called bel canto


However opera could hardly stop there. It seems to me that Mozart was the first to want to imbue lyric opera with a more concrete and realistic content. Most of Mozart's operas do away with the castrati. His characters leave their symbolic and stilted pedestals to become real "flesh-and-blood" beings, dramatic action is intensified, the desires and conflicts become alive, nuanced and complex. It is clear that works like The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni are no longer just pretexts for vocal virtuosity, or demonstrations of bel canto art, but that here we have "musical dramas" [4].
It goes without saying that works of this type should relegate simple vocal virtuosity to the background. However, even though it no longer constitutes a basic element, this vocal virtuosity does not disappear from Mozart's work entirely. Indeed we know (and we have just spoken about this) that many Mozart roles call for certain principles rooted bel canto. The same is true Mozart's German successors (Beethoven and Weber) and is even more the case with his Italian successors. Indeed, bel canto experienced a triumphant period, if I dare say, in Italian romantic opera during the first part of the 19th century, extending from the operas of Ro'ssini, through those of Bellini and Donizetti, right up to the first operas of Verdi.


It is true however, that while it was used in the works of this period to underscore and characterize certain concrete dramatic elements, bel canto gave way, little by little, to an ever stronger "realist" tendency which was to make itself felt in the evolution of lyric art in the following period [5]. Indeed, vocal virtuosity, in and of itself, can only subsist here as special means of expression, I would venture to say, as a characterization of this or that particular dramatic element. And, as aflert means of expression, it was to eventually disappear, because the exhibition of vocal virtuosity alone is not thought of as "serious", when realism constitutes the essential task. Such a state of affairs is played out especially in a work like La Traviata (one of the last works to still call for certain elements of bel canto). This work-which by the way, is perhaps at the origins of that which we would later call realism--pushes this pre-occupation with realism further than any previous work (it is without doubt, the first opera to be in a contemporaneous setting). Thus the character of Violetta, the principal heroine, is a tragic personage who expresses herself in a language which is passionate yet sober, completely stripped of all "fluff". The only two moments where this "fluff" has legitimacy correspond to very specific situations in the middle of the first act: the duo with Alfredo, when Violatta takes on a rather frivolous air; Violetta's aria ever Sempre libera where after the departure of her guests, our heroine lapses into a kind of hysterical joy at the thought of being able to take advantage of that which life still has in store for her.
If, in La Traviata, the juxtaposition of bel canto and realism is still played out in a single character, the separation of these two styles of singing, still brought with it, at that time, ever greater specialization. Here, I mean that bel canto is as much as it succeeded in continuing as a style, became the domain of a single category of singer, namely the light soprano
[6]. It could be, in fact, that this specialization was actually introduced in the first half of the 19th century in the French grand opera of Meyerbeer and of Halévy [7]. Be that as it may, this was an established fact by the second half of the 19th century.
Thus, we now come to the opera of Wagner, one of whose fundamental pre-occupations was, the revolt against traditional lyric conventions, and as a result of which, the art of bel canto now lost all legitimacy, and wherein is created this new type of highly dramatic singer to which we have already referred. The same is true of Puccini, where realism is taken to new heights. We will find, in all the works of Puccini, but a single character who has recourse to--and again, very sparingly--this vocal virtuosity, the frivolous Musetta, from La Bohème.
On the other hand, Puccini very often adopts the highly dramatic type of Wagner, particularly in La Tosca (characters of Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi) and above all, in Turandot (princess Turandot' s character).


A. The rebirth of bel canto and the extension of vocal means

To summarize: opera tends more and more toward realism, culminating in the work of Puccini. In so doing, bel canto begins to disappear and now exists only as a kind of speciality reserved for the light soprano voice. Generally speaking, a concern for psychological and dramatic believability calls for a greater choice, a more nuanced variety of vocal classifications than was previously available; this brings with it an ever greater specialization of singers, according to the type specifically desired. This was, grosso modo, the state of affairs in the art of singing in the first half of the 20th century.
We are now able to weigh the advantages as well as the disadvantages of this situation. The positive side to the ledger is easy to see because it is the result, rather inevitably, of the actual requirements of the works composed over the last hundred years. On the other hand, it is clear that this situation brings with it some very real disadvantages, for it became almost impossible to perform a vast and very large part of the lyric opera repertoire in the correct manner.
We have already alluded to the fact that most of Rossini's operas had disappeared from the repertoire, and that even a work like The Barber of Seville had only managed to survive by a special remedy, namely the transposition of the mezzo-soprano role into the range of a light soprano. The same is true for a great number of other operas of the period, solely maintained thanks to similar "adaptations". There was only one solution: allow this state of affairs to continue, or find interpreters capable of reviving this repertoire; in other words, of rendering justice totally and with authenticity, to the vocal requirements this implied.
There can be no doubt that in Maria Meneghini Callas we are dealing with one of the first interpreters of this kind.

Consequently, here is a first and very significant reason for the absolutely unique success of "La Callas": it is possible to say, that this singer has almost nothing inccommon with the other singers of our time. Her voice cannot be neatly classified into the normal categories, because it represents a kind of synthesis of all these types. It is true that in this sense, she represents a phenomenon which is not altogether new, because she only returns to a type of voice which necessarily existed before this specialization according to distinct categories, the reasons for which we have tried to understand. It remains nevertheless, that one of the original characteristics of Callas' art (and we will see later on, that in this she was not alone) resides in an extremely lucid consciousness of the necessity to re-establish bel canto.
It is impossible for us to say how Callas arrived at such a result: we can only presume that, having discovered Italian romantic repertoire at a given point in her career, she decided to forge an instrument required for its interpretation. This is simply to say that she set out to study the precise technique, more or less forgotten, of bel canto. Once again, here we---are not able to say by which means our artist proceeded, but we can state that--probably alone among lyric artists of our time--Callas succeeded in completely mastering the exact principles of this technique. The facts are there, and they are convincing: Callas was able to execute to perfection all the ornamental figures (trills roulades, arpeggios, appogiatura, rapid diatonic and chromatic scales) which make up the fundamental elements of bel canto. But there's one thing more: the register of Callas' voice covers more than two and a half octaves, from a low G sharp up to a high E flat. This is another characteristic that she is probably alone in possessing. Here again, it could be that this phenomenon is not entirely new. It seems that artists such as La Pasta, La Falcon and La Malibran possessed similar ranges; nevertheless the fact of having developed such a register highlights our diva's merits even more.
One thing is clear and undeniable: the perfect mastery of the art of bel canto, as well as her extreme vocal range, enabled Callas to give authentic and convincing interpretations to a great number of the heroines of the lyric repertoire. Callas destroyed a certain number of false traditions, according to which these roles had been assigned to different types of singers. Callas could alternate, with the same ease, from "dramatic" Norma to "light" Amina of Bellini
[8]; from the "low" Lady Macbeth to the "high" of Verdi's Violetta and even from the mezzo-soprano of Rosina [9] to the light soprano of Donizetti's Lucia [10] or the role of Gilda from Rigoletto [11].


But we could ask whether Callas was equally at home singing all these roles? Is she capable of giving an impeccable interpretation to each of these roles or were there not some roles to which she was better suited than others? One other thing: in continually going, from one kind of a role to another, calling for very different qualities, did this not constitute an abuse, from which the vocal and artistic gifts of our singer would in the end suffer? It is here that we must interject certain considerations related to the different conceptions about the art of singing, considerations without which we would hardly be able to answer such questions.
Though it would be impossible to offer any proof, I can readily imagine that the vocal instrument of Callas was much like those of the great singers of the first half of the 19th century (of whom we have already named several). In other words, we can get an idea about the art of a Pasta, of a Falcon or of a Malibran by listening to Callas sing, and vice versa. Thus it seems evident from the roles they sang (a great number of which were composed specifically for them) that they like Callas, were able to go with ease from one role to the other. We have already pointed otit that Bellini composed for Pasta two very different roles, Norma and Amina. We also know that Falcon had an extremely wide range, from a deep somber bass like that of a real mezzo-soprano, up to a high register with great ease.
The same must have been the case with La Malibran who was as famous for her mezzo-soprano roles in Rossni as she was for those of the tragic heroines of the operas of Bellini. Consequently, what is striking in all these singers is not only that they were able to transcend these categories (still inexistant in their times) of specialized soprano voices, but that they were actually able to combine the voice of a mezzo-soprano with that of an actual soprano. The impression one gets. from all this is that our artists must have been, above all, mezzo-sopranos who were able to develop an extended higher register (doubtless thanks to the vocal ease afforded them by the bel canto technique
[12]. It is perhaps, above all, this combination of two types of voice which characterizes the art of these singers of the last century just as it does that of Callas. But speaking of such a combination of different voices implies, of course, a hetrogeneous quality and it is here that we touch upon one of the delicate points of the question. Indeed, it is just this hetrogeneous quality of Callas' vocal instrument which constitutes the aspect of her art for which she is most heavily criticized. It is readily pointed out that Callas' voice does not have the same timber in the high register as it does in the lower range, that we are dealing, in fact, with two different voices. We completely agree, and we will repeat that it could hardly be otherwise, because for us, Callas represents just this type of singer, whose mezzo-soprano voice succeeded in allying itself with that of an actual soprano [13]. However we do not agree with those that see in this a shortcoming. In fact, the appreciation of this point is entirely dependent on the ideas we have about the art of singing itself. It is evident that for today's ears, used to "specialized" voices, evenness: of vocal timber constitutes an essential quality, a kind of conditio sine qua non in the fine art of singing. But let's wipe the slate clean for a moment of these traditions and let's try to listen to the music of Italian romantic repertoire, forcing ourselves to grasp these heroines in their authenticity. We will see then, that their very existence owes itself, not to the beauty of this or that singer, nor to any evenness of, timber, but to a certain number of very specific musical inflections which call for a great variety of timber, a very extended vocal qapaciy, qualities which are, in large part, incompatible with the homogeneity of the voice.
It is precisely here that lies one of the "secrets" of Callas'
[14] art . She was one of the first singers who had the courage to break with certain traditions, encrusted in the art of singing, and thus to risk--by extending considerably its vocal possibilities--the wrath of a great number of "connoisseurs" according to whom she would thus sacrifice vocal beauty, for the megalomania of the self-absorbed "star". And, it is because she did not fear-making certain sacrifices regarding this narrow and conventional notion of vocal beauty, that she succeeded in breathing new life into an entire :repertoire, a great number of prestigious roles, and thus to a body of authentic musical treasures that had seemed destined for oblivion.

B. The Modernism of Callas

Until now, we have limited our analysis of Callas' singing to its retrospective aspect, for we have only spoken of the manner in which our artist was able to breath new life into certain historical particularities of the art of singing. Thus she is able to give authentic interpretations of a body of work, certainly very beautiful, but-that the bulk of which was over a hundred years old. Isthis all she succeeded in doing?
If this had been the case, her success would have already been great. Yet it would have somehow been tainted, because it would mean that our artist had systematically ignored some of the most recent innovations in the art of singing. She would have thus sidestepped an evolution, not only very justified and necessary (being that it sprang forth from a group of authentic masterpieces) but which greatly enriched the world of vocal art as a whole. We will try to show here that this is not the case, and that Callas' art constantly strove to integrate everything that recent lyric repertoire had created in the way of newer means of expression, and in so doing, our artist actually responded to the requirements of modern opera.


I don't know which Italian critic invented for Callas the term voce di soprano assoluta, meaning, that in the end there was no soprano role which Callas would not be able to take on. The term seems to me to be well-chosen because it corresponds, in large part, to reality. Indeed, we have seen that Callas was able to bring back successfully this universality of vocal technique as it existed before the "specialization" which has come to characterize the modern art of singing. We need to try to understand in what manner our singer was able to take on exactly these "specialized" roles and in what manner she was able to go from one specialty to another.
There exists among fans of Callas, a category of listeners that, while acknowledging her vocal and artistic qualities when it comes to the older repertoire, would bar her access to modern opera. Their arguments are the following: on the one hand the "abstract" voice of Callas, trained in the school, is not at all suited to the realistic heroines of verist opera; and that, as she takes on verist opera, Callas must force her voice, this can only be to her detriment. Such arguments have never convinced me, above all, because they are based on a kind of misunderstanding. Indeed, the science of bel canto has never kept our diva from seeking to give dramatic content to the romantic heroines she portrayed. In other words, this science has never, for Callas, represented an end in itself; instead, it is a technical means without which it is impossible to give justice to certain roles. It would, on the other hand, be completely false to believe that composers such as Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti wrote their operas solely to show off the vocal gifts of their protagonists. It seems evident to me, that in creating the roles of heroines as passionate as Semiramide, Norma or Lucia, they intended to portray their passions as well as the resulting conflicts, in a very concrete and palpable manner. And, to do this, as opera composers, they had a means of expression that was both effective and precise: vocal writing. vocal writing in this period was affected, above all, by a specific and conventional technique: bel canto.
Could one say that things have since changed in any essential way? I don't believe so. Certainly the actual conception of musical drama has undergone transformations, as has the art of singing. But has musical drama--verist though it be--really become something else. Can a work of so called realist art, actually be confounded with "life"? Does not remain--in spite of those aesthetic tendencies which animate it, or that it expresses--an "unreal" object, whose sense can only be transmitted by conventional means of expression? It seems to us, that lyric art of the past hundred years, while introducing means of expression, often of very great novelty, has not really changed the actual essence of musical drama, whose fundamental problem is always the same: to somehow create characters, passions and conflicts by musical means, by an ensemble of elements which make up a conventional system.
Consequently, we can hardly agree with the point of view that Callas' voice, and her art of singing were suited to a certain aesthetic of musical drama, but that they would be ill-suited to a style belonging to another aesthetic. It only remains for us to ask ourselves if our singer was able to master the new vocal means required by the most recent operas.
Here, our response could only be in the affirmative. Indeed, there can be little doubt, that in the strict sense, the roles of a lyric soprano (such as Puccini's Manon, Mimi and Madam Butterfly) are perfectly suited to Callas' art. The lightness so characteristic of her voice, allowed her to give these young heroines very convincing interpretations; likewise, the well-known inflections of Callas were able to express the tragic aspect of these characters. It is significant to note the manner in which Callas was able to transport this vocal virtuosity to a plane which is the very foundation of modern singing, namely, the purity of timber. She did this thanks to a unique science of producing sound; she has the capacity for example, to string together sounds in a manner which is almost unheard of today, being able thus to rival the greatest "specialists" (La Tebaldi among others) on their own ground. What's more: here, as in all the roles she sings, Callas knows full well how to express the slightest fluctuations in dramatic sense by perfect musical phrasing. This sense of phrasing proves to just what point she grasps the real musical problems in the works she interprets.
But if it is relatively easy to accept Callas in the roles of a dramatic soprano, she encounters strong resistance as soon as she takes on roles which are dramatic, in the strict sense. The example of comes to mind, and it is here that even some of the most ardent Callas supporters have thought themselves justified to rise in protest. And yet, I confess that her art has entirely convinced me. Certainly I can see, as well as anyone else, those passages where her voice seems forced; I've noted the high notes almost cried out, as well as a lack of homogeneous timber in general. But, after all, is Floria Tosca's character the type to be re-created with an even and consistent vocal sound with pure timber? It seems to us rather that this character, among the most "realist" and dramatic, can only be convincing if she is portrayed by one who has recourse to the widest range of vocal means possible; from the smoothest, purist sound, to a crying out, from the deep chest-like and somber lows, all the way to the most sudden and even strident highs, from a sound of sonorous and delicate ease, to a violent and forced attack. Here again--in the interpretation of our artist--all the vocal resources constantly rely on a profound musical sense, which allows her to find just the right musical phrase, thus transmitting to perfection, the slightest inflection of the text


Again, it seems to me, that in the present case, Callas has been able to sacrifice certain elements of conventional singing technique, and "put it all on the line" to arrive at as convincing a portrayal as possible, of a complex character and to articulate it with a great variety of means.
In drawing attention to this notion of "risk", which is one of the most characteristic aspects of all of Callas' work
[16], it seems to us that we have touched upon one of the essential elements which constitute the modernism of our artist. To conclude, we will try to communicate in an even more precise manner, this quality that makes Callas such a unique phenomenon today.


We have seen that one of the essential merits of Callas resides in the fact that she has been able to go beyond the limitations to which the vocal categories of the soprano voice had been subjected for nearly one hundred years...
[17] Here as well is found one of the most revolutionary aspects of her art.
We have spoken, among other things, of the tremendous care with which Callas seemed to prepare her roles, in order to give all the characters she portrayed--however diverse they might be--the most convincing interpretation possible. What is, striking about this activity, is not only the extraordinary intelligence which Callas has been able to ally with her artistic instinct, but perhaps more essentially, this heightened awareness of the specific problems which face the modern singer as Callas conceives them. We have confined ourselves in the scope of this study to purely vocal and musical problems; we should add here that pre-occupation with dramatic problems was just as important to Callas, and the solution to these she pursued in no less a novel and radical manner. In this way, her thrust was that of a great actress. Here as well, her results (and this would merit a study in and of itself) are due to a deep understanding of the troubled state of modern lyric theater. Because of the tendency over the past hundred years toward an ever more pronounced realism, dramatic believability requires dramatic surroundings which are at least adequate. In other words, it is not enough just to sing well, one must also know how to give their role a convincing scenic aspect. Such a necessity--let us repeat, springs from the very evolution of lyric art--also implies certain-"conditions" for the physical appearance of the characters. Given the fact that each dramatic element find itself more and more "fixed" (and thus distanced from any primitive representation) it is imperative that each character have, a suitable physique
[18]. Here again, Callas has been able to innovate in a radical manner. Defying the conventional myth of the overweight diva (today we still' hear the theory that a singer ks to be heavy to sing well), our singer has not retreated in the face of the health risks posed by losing, at the start of her career, a considerable amount of weight. We now see fofl the publicity surrounding such a metamorphosis, that it did not constitute a vain attempt to capture the imagination of a public hungry for inanities, but that it was the normal consequence of a real act of courage inspired by an authentic and modern artistic necessity [19].
It is said that she was very unattractive at the start of her career. I do not know if this is true, but if this was indeed the case, how has she been able to transform herself into the marvelous beauty which appears before us today? But here our abilities to investigate come to an end, for it is perhaps here that the Feal secret of "la Callas" lies.


[1] See R. Leibowitz: Histoire de l'opera. Our thesis held that even the Italian operas of Mozart did not actually belong to the Italian tradition (universal at the time), but constituted the budding of future German opera.

[2] One of the rare Rossini operas that has survived--but very poorly as we will understand shortly--the scarcity of singers capable of getting through the title roles.

[3] We see then, that this term has a very precise significance which has been forgotten today. This means that at present, we have a general notion of bel canto which is false. It is evident, for example, that Puccini's operas do not offer the opportunity to showcase bel canto, because they do not contain any passages of this vocal virtuosity as we have just defined it. Even a singer such as Caruso, for example, could in no way be considered a representative of bel canto given that he was not particularly well-versed in the art of melodic embellishment by way of the precise ornamental figures which we have just mentioned.

[4] Let's specify that this term is also subject to confusion. We generally attribute it to Wagner, but we forget that Mozart already calls his Don Giovanni "dramma giocoso"; Donizetti calls Lucia di Lammermoor "dramma tragico" etc. As a general rule we find the term "melodramma", used by the Italians throughout the 19th century.

[5] It should be said nevertheless, that the art of  bel canto continued to be a fundamental occupation in the instruction of singing throughout the 19th century. This is why, even in Germany, theoretician Richard Dannenberg published a treatise (Handbuch der Gesangskunst, the first edition of which was in 1889, but which saw three other successive editions up to 1912), in which a large chapter is devoted to vocal agility (kehlfertigkeit). This chapter deals with all the elements of technical Ornamentation which we have Just detailed and whose mastery constitutes, strictly speaking, the art of bel canto. The singers themselves, on the other hand, make use, less and less, of this instruction.

[6] The light soprano is often called a coloratura soprano.

[7] A score like that of Halevy's is characteristic of this. The "serious" character of Esther is continually expressed in a sober and "realistic" vocal style, whereas the "fluff" is reserved for the frivolous character of the princessefEudoxie. Similar distinctions are found in the operas of Meyerbeer.

[8] Distributing these two roles to two different singers can only be at variance with tradition, because Bellini composed then for only one and the same singer, Giuditta Pasta.

[9] It. is here that, singing the role in its original tessitura, Callas sings--in her recording of The Barber of Seville-- the G sharp and A flat basses.

[10] Where she sings a high A flat.

[11] It is perhaps not without some interest to relate the following: the excellent orchestral conductor, Carlo Maria Giulini, told me that in a conversation he had with Toscanini in the last years of the great maestro's life, Toscanini told him that, in his opinion, the role of Gilda could only achieve its real meaning if it were sung by a dramatic soprano. This opinion, which goes against current thought and all convention, proves just how much the real vocal tradition as well as a true understanding of the dramatic sense remained living things in the psyche of one of the greatest interpreters of Italian repertory. Indeed, Toscanini seems to have grasped very clearly that the tragic quality in the role of Gilda (a quality, that in any case, dominates the last act) evaporates, more or less, when this role is conferred upon a light soprano. The maestro's opinion also harkens back to a nostalgia for a kind of dramatic singer possessing complete agility in the higher register, as well as, a real bel canto technique.

[12] Reynaldo Hahn (in his collection of conferences intitled, Du Chant) cites this anecdote from Legouve's "Souvenirs: "Mmme. Malibran's voice was that of a mezzo-soprano... Well! a conquering kind, trapped between two neighboring states is less tormented by the need to venture into his neighbors than was La Malibran as she made the trip to the outskirts of hers... What a surprise for us then, to one day hear her execute a trill on the extfeme note of a soprano!" Along these same lines, we know that the celebrated Piasaroni possessed a contralto voice. However, Stendhal heard her in Rossini's Semiramide (considered a soprano role) and it seems that she garnered universal praise.

[13] To know whether Callas was originally--like La Pisaroni or La Malibran--actually a contralto of mezzo whose voice would be developed upwards, or vice versa, is not of primary importance to us here. Suffice it to say, that she was indeed able to unite these two types of voice.

[14] Here again, her detractors are right, when they speak of the lack of homogeneity of her voice; her sometimes strident highs, etc. It seems that the contemporaries of Pasta and Malibran also noted similar characteristics regarding these singers. However, their observations did in no way imply criticism. Indeed it was here that they-saw the very high point of portraying, by voice, the heroines of opera of their time.

[15] I am speaking here of a recording, having never seen Callas on stage in this role. It should be noted that the other big name on this recording is the great conductor Victor de Sabata, who gives a deep and searching interpretation to this work. I don't know to what extent this conductor's conception of the work influenced in any case, the collaboration of these two great. artists gave birth to a success of an absolutely exceptional character.

[16] Did she not quite recently take on one of the most demanding roles for dramatic soprano: that of Princess Turandot in the work of Puccini? Perhaps it is possible to say, of her interpretation--at least that which she realized in her recording (the only one we know of)--that she gives evidence of a certain lack of vocal volume. On the other hand, the voice has been able to find an extremely penetrating quality, an output which compensates for this shortcoming, and which confers upon this particularly cruel character, an extraordinarily dramatic believability.

[17] It goes without saying that what is true for women's voices is true for men's voices as well. The specialization we have lamented is a general phenomenon which has determined the evolution of all voices. This is why today we find as many categories of tenor voice as is the case with the soprano voice: light tenor, lyric tenor, lirico spinto and dramatic. It is clear that this specialization of men's voices had its reasons and origins similar to those which had determined the specialization in women's voices. There would be therefore, a place today for a revolution in the realm of men's voices identical to that brought about by Callas, in the world of women's voices. To my knowledge only two men have mafia a similar attempt: the tenor Jan Peerce and the bass-baritone Marcello Cortis. Both have a real knowledge of bel canto; both have had the courage to take on very different types of roles which require a wide variety of vocal resources. Obviosly we can't go great detail here on this topic. It seems clear to us that those who have followed our text up to this point will understand what we mean.

[18] Indeed, why try to create an exacting decor, or why situate the action in a specific setting, if on the other hand, the physical representation of the character has little real believability?

[19] My friend Michel Leris tells me of an article that he has just read about the famous singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who is now attempting to lose weight. Leris adds that, by all accounts, Callas keeps her colleagues awake at night. This also does not seem to us to be a futile consideration.