(b. 1923 in New York d. 1977 in Paris)
The making of a myth!
Maria Callas dedicated this photo to Maestro Cusinati
who tutored her in the Wagnerian role of Isolde in 1955
The legendary soprano Maria Callas also known and acclaimed as La Divina was a genial and tragic singing-actress, a fully fledged interpreter and a restorer of the virtuoso technique, which allowed other top sopranos to embrace Rossini, return to Baroque music, revisit Donizetti and Bellini, rediscover Verdi and focus on dramatic verve in Puccini's operas.
Some historic dates in Italy
Maria Callas made her first appearance in Italy on 2 August, 1947: she sang the heroine of the opera La Gioconda at the Arena di Verona. However, a historic date was the 19 January, 1949. On that night, replacing a colleague who had fallen ill, she was a surprising Elvira of I Puritani with
A.Pirino, U.Savarese and B.Christoff.
Barely three days previously, on the 16 January, she had sung Brunhilde in The Walkyries with G. Voyer, E.Dominici, R.Torres and J.Magnoni
at the Teatro La Fenice of Venice. An incredible feat in those days and a stupefying one even today. Other historic dates were the 30 January, 1951, as Leonora in Il Trovatore with such legendary singers as
G.Lauri-Volpi, C.Elmo, P.Silveri and I.Tajo at the San Carlo, Naples; the 1 January, 1956, as the heroine in Norma with
the great M.Del Monaco, G.Simionato, E.Nicolai and N.Zaccaria at La Scala, Milan.
On roles and voice classifications
Within three days, Maria sang Wagner’s Brunhilde, a dramatic role calling for a voice of intense volume, dark timbre, notable extension, stylistic variations, and Bellini’s Elvira, a leggero role calling for a voice of belcanto agility, virtuosic capacities and clear high notes. In other words, Maria cancelled the variety of roles and parts which, in the first half of XX century, had classified sopranos as light, lyrical and dramatic. The scene of Elvira’s madness inspired Maria to ample phrasings and a sweet, penetrating vocalization in the agility of “Vien diletto”. Maria managed to sing a dramatic and light role within days by virtue of her multiple voices: Three voices, leggera, lirica and drammatica, anyone superimposed on the other two. However, there was evident discrepancy in guttural and dark modulations within the first octave. Romilda Pantaleoni, the first Desdemona in Verdi's Otello, was another example of multiple voices.
(Un ballo in maschera)
Callas and Simionato
Callas in Norma and Anna Bolena
The character of Norma, a difficult one vocally, has often been distorted by pompous sopranos who “missed the point” in the celebrated solo “Casta diva”, the allegro “Ah, bello a me ritorna” and the duets with Adalgisa. These vocal lines rekindle the priestess’ charisma, her passion and maternal fondness. Maria restored authenticity to them. Some top sopranos, like Ponselle, Cigna, Milanov and Sutherland, sang them quite adequately. None of them expressed better than Callas the contrast between the loving, betrayed woman and the mother. In the aria “Teneri figli”, she infused lacerating sadness. Her Anna Bolena was no less notable at La Scala in 1957. In the famous aria “Al dolce guidami castel natio”, she enveloped the protagonist’s ecstasy with delicate and yearning sounds. She painted a tragic character despite some hard sounds and wobbling high notes, which were the very first signs of her vocal decline.
Callas as Abigaille, Lady Macbeth and Violetta
Maria was Abigaille in Nabucco at the San Carlo, Naples, in 1949. The vocalisation was biting and the lashing phrasings were mixed with languid abandons. After Abigaille, her Lady of Macbeth at La Scala in 1952 was a revelation due partly to vocal colour and genial Satanism. Years later, in Violetta at La Scala in 1955, she was in great shape. Her “Alfredo, Alfredo di questo core” was a magic moment, sung by a destroyed woman with a pale voice which seemed to come from Heaven Donna Leonora, Amelia and Aida were not for her but her great artistic rival, Renata Tebaldi. For Maria Callas, the tragic singing-actress, exceptional, fighting and emblematic heroines were much more to her liking and command, like Violetta, Norma, Anna Bolena, Cio-Cio-San and Tosca.
Madama Butterfly – Vogliatemi bene – Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano (Chicago 1955)...............................................................7:18
(b. 1943 in Catania)
A tenor king of Belcanto and Romantic opera in the XX century!
Salvatore Fisichella with Maestro Spina at the piano
Salvatore Fisichella studied singing in Catania under Maria Gentile and perfected his studies in Rome under Ricci and Paoletti. On winning the Concorso Lirico Adriano Belli, in 1970 he debuted at Spoleto in Werther and one year later at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma in Rigoletto and I Puritani. Since then, Salvatore advanced in his career triumphantly.
Major theatres and concert halls of the world saw him as an interpreter of the most prestigious operas, Guglielmo Tell, Il Pirata and I Puritani above all. His 1986 performance of I Puritani at the New York Metropolitan Opera, together with the soprano Joan Sutherland, caused a sensation in the New York press and was seen as an unprecedented success.
Fisichella’s vocal range, flexibility and incisive phrasing led the singer to branch beyond the repertoire of belcanto into that of Romantic opera, as in his 1988 performance of La Gioconda at the inauguration of the Teatro Regio of Turin. His performance of Mario Cavaradossi in Tosca at the XXXVI Puccini Festival in the summer of 1990 was another triumph.
In addition to Guglielmo Tell, Il Pirata and I Puritani, Fisichella’s repertoire included: Rigoletto, Nabucco, Verdi’s Requiem Mass, La Traviata, La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, La Favorita, Lucia di Lammermoor, Roberto Devereux, Lucrezia Borgia, Mose' in Egitto, Rossini’s Otello, Elisabetta Regina d'Inghilterra, Rossini’s Stabat Mater and Messa di Gloria, La Straniera, Beatrice di Tenda, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Faust, Mefistofele, Attila, Macbeth, The Two Widows (Smetana), Elisa e Claudio (Mercadante) and Luisella (Mannino).
Fisichella and Aliberti
The warm reception of Fisichella’s performances was unanimous among respected critics such as Rodolfo Celletti and Giorgio Gualerzi. Mario Pasi singled out Fisichella as a star performer at the concert of Arena di Verona to celebrate the centenary of Beniamino Gigli’s birth. Another success was the tenor’s interpretation of Edgardo in Lucia Di Lammermoor at La Scala in May, 1992.
In 1994, the Bellini D'Oro Prize was conferred upon Fisichella at the Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania, in recognition of the singer’s unique qualities. This honour reflected also the number of Bellini opera roles Fisichella undertook as the foremost performer of Bellini’s works in the XX century. Another honour was the VIII Giacomo Lauri Volpi International Prize organised by the City of Rome in conjunction with the Teatro dell’Opera.
Fisichella opened the new millennium with two concerts in Beijing, one on New Year’s Eve and one on New Years’ Day. During the Anno Belliniano festivity, he sang Gualtiero in Il Pirata with Lucia Aliberti at the Teatro Massimo Bellini. In 2001, he sang the Duke in Rigoletto at the Stadttheater of St. Gallen.
In 2004, Fisichella's dream of singing Pollione in Norma came true and the occasion took place at the Opera di Helsinki, co-starring Gabriella Morigi, and Renata Scotto directed the opera. Fisichella was acclaimed as the best artist who sang in that opera house.
Salvatore Fisichella recalls:
In 1971, I was at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma to cover the role of Arturo which Luciano Pavarotti was scheduled to sing. On the first day of rehearsals, the soloists, Mirella Freni, Cornell MacNeil and Paolo Washington were onstage. The conductor was Maestro Armando La Rosa Parodi, an exigent and fastidious man. Luciano Pavarotti was absent, having sent a telegram that he was indisposed. The days passed and the great artist had not arrived. Whilst rehearsing the duet on her own with the aid of the pianist, Mirella Freni pointed at me and said to the conductor: <<That poor man has been sitting in that corner for ten days without opening his mouth. Why could he not help us?>>. The conductor agreed whence I began singing the duet “Vieni fra queste braccia” with the celebrated soprano . As soon as I emitted the two high Ds with unexpected ease, the admiration of Freni, her colleages and conductor was such that he decided to rehearse the opera from the beginning. A few days later, the awaited Pavarotti arrived but a dispute ensued because he confessed feeling unwell and wanted to lower “A te o cara” by a tone. His wish was categorically refused, which put him in very great difficulty. The rehearsal with orchestra began the next day and I sat calmly in the stalls listening. At Arturo's turn, Pavarotti sang a few notes at low voice but was invited to sing at full voice since the balance between orchestra and stage had to be monitored. Pavarotti said he did not feel too well whereby a squabble between he and the conductor began and ended with the Maestro inviting me to walk onstage and sing in Pavarotti's place. Cold-drawn, I walked onstage in an emotional state for all that had happened, began to tremble and to sing out of breath. Luckily, the chorus and orchestra had to take a pause half-way through the aria. La Rosa Parodi invited me to go and warm the voice since the rehearsal was to re-start in 15 minutes. First of all, I had a good breakfast and then warmed my voice in the dressing room. Resorting to all the care for a most important card I was about to play since the start of my artistic career, I re-appeared onstage feeling better emotionally and sure of myself. When the rehearsal resumed, I felt that the voice was fine. At the end of “A te o cara”, the chorus, orchestra and the rest applauded warmly. Pavarotti finally renounced to sing the part and I found myself singing the opera for seven times. My artistic dream had come to fruition. Thanks to God, the reviews were good and the audiences receptive. At the end of the first performance, Armando La Rosa Parodi embraced me and said happily, <<A star is born today>>.
The city of Pesaro had been in turmoil since the discovery of Rossini's Messa di Gloria by Maestro Herbert Handt, orchestra conductor and tenor. The lost work was to be played to the critics and public in June 1975. The score is extremely difficult for the tenor, technically and vocally. The part had been offered to Luciano Pavarotti first, then to Alfredo Kraus and finally to Umberto Grilli. They let considerable time lapse before one by one refused courteously whereby the organisation and the anxious Maestro found themselve in a dire predicament without having a tenor. I received a phone call inviting me to sing the part in the next few days for whatever fee I demanded and with the committal of seeing that I received the score sheet the next day in order to study it immediately. I asked why I was contacted at the last moment and the reason I got was that the tenor who had previously been commissioned was taken ill. A lie! As soon as the score arrived in the afternoon, I went to the pianist to study. From the first notes, I realised the difficulty and that I would not be ready in such short time. I spent the night without sleep. Seeing me walk up and down without being certain whether to call in the morning and refuse the part, my good and dear mother exorted me to wait for another day and go calmly through what had appeared so difficult. The next morning, I was encouraged by Handt's phone call who, aware of my perplexity, invited me to study only the “Gratias” and forget about the “Qui tollis”, a very difficult piece to sing. The phone call put my heart at ease and I studied both pieces in a few days. I arrived at Pesaro and Maestro Handt was anxious to listen to me. I sang “Gratias” successfully but he lamented that I could not have prepared also “Qui tollis” considering the easy way I sang, so as to present the whole score to the critics. Prudently, I replied to have read both pieces and to be ready to try them. As I kept singing, the anxious conductor's face brightened. At the end, with tears in his eyes, he gave me, having overcome all the technical and vocal difficulties of the score, a strong embrace and thanked me for having saved him. He said that Rossini was happier than he was and would bring me luck. These predictions came true. Having gone around the world with me, its sole interpreter, the ”Messa di Gloria” was recorded by various radio channels. As a consequence, the Philips Company signed me on for the recordings of the operas Otello and Mose in Egypt by Rossini.
Audio files (released progressively)
1 – I Puritani – A te o cara – Salvatore Fisichella and Lucia Aliberti (Catania 1994)............................................................................5:48
2 – Messa di Gloria – Qui Tollis – Salvatore Fisichella and chorus (Lugano 1982).............................................................................6:00
3 – Guglielmo Tell finale – Tutto cangia – Salvatore Fisichella and Maria Chiara (Lugano 1993)...................................................................3:06
1 – Madama Butterfly – Addio fiorito asil – Salvatore Fisichella
(Torre del Lago 2000)...................................................................2:26