Michael Tanner

Ave, Maria

Her meteoric rise, her fluctuating erotic life, her tragic decline, are all a fascinating distraction from the one thing that matters: her art

Anyone who thinks that an artist’s life is irrelevant to their artistic achievement, and for that matter anyone who thinks that it isn’t, must be given pause by Maria Callas. It is now exactly 40 years since her death and everything she recorded is available on multiple pressings. But of the huge body of material that has appeared about her, only a small percentage concerns itself with the recordings. There are innumerable biographies, memoirs, refutations of memoirs, studies of the influence of her fluctuating erotic life on her singing, her meteoric rise, the Great Decade, the tragic decline, and so on. All of these might be fascinating, but they draw attention away from the only thing that mattered about her: her art. Even when discussion homes in on her voice, it tends to be on whether she was a pushed-up mezzo, whether her unique sound was the result of a gothic arch-shaped roof of the mouth, and so forth.

The first and most decisive way to counter all that fascinating irrelevance is to put on a CD of her in a full operatic performance, or in a recital, and see what effects it has. They are, for a sensitive listener, likely to be immediate and powerful. To commemorate her death Warner is issuing a large and sumptuous box set of her ‘live’ performances, beginning with Verdi’s Nabucco in 1949 and ending with Covent Garden’s Tosca in 1964, together with three Blu-ray discs of Maria Callas in Concert, including two versions of the Act Two of Tosca, tragically the only complete operatic act in which she was filmed, and extended excerpts of interviews.

All this material has been issued before, but Warner’s engineers have used an advanced system of sound enhancement, and these transfers are mostly in considerably better sound than they have been before, though in some cases a high degree of tolerance is required.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in