Norma – Callas, Del Monaco, Simionato

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Callas, Del Monaco, Simionato, Zaccaria, Zampieri, Carturan; Votto. La Scala, Milan; December 7, 1955

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A legendary performance. A cornerstone of opera fanaticism.

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Maria Callas
Mario Del Monaco
Giulietta Simionato
Nicola Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zampieri
Gabriella Carturan
Antonino Votto, conductor


Act I
1 Sinfonia
2 Ite sul colle (Oroveso, coro)
3 Svanir le voci (Pollione, Flavio)
4 Meco all’altar di Venere (Pollione)
5 Odi! Suoi riti a compiere  (Flavio, coro, Pollione)
6 Me protegge, me difende (Pollione)
7 Norma viene (coro)
8 Sediziose voci (Norma, Oroveso, coro)
9 Casta diva (Norma, coro)
10 Fine al rito (Norma, coro)
11 Ah! Bello a me ritorna (Norma, coro)
12 Sgombra è la sacra selva (Adalgisa)
13 Deh! Proteggimi, O Dio! (Adalgisa, Pollione)
14 Va, crudele (Pollione, Adalgisa)
15 Vanne, e li cela entrambi (Norma, Clotilde)
16 Adalgisa! (Norma, Adalgisa)
17 Oh, rimembranza! (Norma, Adalgisa)
18 Ma dì, l’amato giovane (Norma, Adalgisa, Pollione)
19 Oh non tremare (Norma, Adalgisa)
20 Oh di qual sei tu vittima  (Norma, Pollione, Adalgisa)
21 Perfido! (Norma, Pollione, Adalgisa)

Act II
22 Introduzione
23 Dormono entrambe (Norma, Clotilde)
24 Mi chiami. o Norma (Adalgisa, Norma)
25 Deh! Con te
26 Mira, o Norma (Adalgisa, Norma)
27 Non parti? (Coro)
28 Guerrieri (Oroveso, coro)
29 Ah! Del tebro (Oroveso, coro)
30 Ei tornerà, sì (Norma, Clotilde, coro)
31 Squilla il bronzo di Dio (coro, Oroveso, Norma)
32 Guerra! Guerra! (coro, Norma)
33 Ne compi il rito (Oroveso, Norma, Clotilde, Pollione, coro)
34 In mia man alfin tu sei (Norma, Pollione)
35 All’ira vostra (Norma)
36 Qual cor tradisti (norma, Pollione, Oroveso, coro)
37 Norma, deh! Norma, discolpati! (Oroveso, coro, Pollione, Norma)
38 Deh, Non volerli vittime (Norma, Oroveso, coro, Pollione)

===== Represents our suggestion for breaking the audio to fit on 3 CDs.
===== Represents as much audio as will fit on one 80-minute compact disc, if you wish to burn the opera on 2 CDs.

Simionato on Callas

Stefan Zucker: Have you always tried to use the same color of voice?

Giulietta Simionato: Always.

SZ: Always?

GS: Always. The color was always the same. I couldn’t change it like a painter who changes the color in his painting with his brush. The color is what it is.

SZ: Did Callas have more than one vocal color?

GS: She changed registers energetically and so gave the effect of ascending a staircase and stumbling on a step. The audience, not knowing any better, said, “Oh–she has three colors of voice.” It wasn’t a question of having three colors of voice but that she, in the beginning, had an extremely wide-ranging voice. Callas had those incredible high E-flats that were as easy for her as drinking a glass of water. But she always had a wobbly A-natural and A-flat. One day she had the humility–and humility in Maria is something the audience cannot conceive of–to ask me, “Giulia”–she always called me Giulia–“you who are so wise and have studied all your life, how do you explain that my A-natural and A-flat always have wobbled?” I said, “Maria, you’ve taken me by surprise; I’m at a loss. I don’t know how to answer you, but very humbly, this is what I think: When you were 14, they were having you sing things like Tosca, Cavalleria and God knows what else. At 14!

Your vocal cords and diaphragm have received such trauma that when you arrive at those notes and have to support them, naturally your diaphragm gives in because it’s broken–it has lost its elasticity–and naturally the sound wobbles because it’s not supported.” She said, “You know, no one ever has told me that.” I replied, “All right, I don’t say that is the reason; I’m giving you my modest opinion.” She said, “You’re always so wise. Sometimes you frighten me.” Those were her very words. I said, “It’s not a question of frightening, my dear, but it seems to me that this is the logical explanation. How could anyone take a girl of 14 with your enormous talent and have her sing Tosca, Cavalleria and other things of that nature? You jumped at the opportunity, you opened your mouth and you sang. But you did yourself a lot of harm.” “You’re exactly right,” she said. “I studied by myself, I studied with my maestra [Elvira De Hidalgo], I went to teachers and asked, but my A-flat and A-natural always have wobbled [Simionato makes a wavery, tremulous sound] and are wobbling still.”

SZ: Then even in ’48 these notes wobbled?

GS: They always wobbled–even when she was doing Tristano, in Venice. [Simionato did Mignon in Venice in January 1948 and Carmen there in December 1948-January 1949. Callas sang Tristano, in Venice, December 1947-January 1948 and La Walkiria and Puritani there in January 1949.] I was doing Carmen–and there was Puritani with Carosio and she fell ill. Vittoria, Maestro Serafin’s daughter, said, “Let’s hear a bit of Puritani, almost as a joke. And Callas sang the whole opera. They just were having fun. Vittoria said, “You can sing Puritani.” Callas said, “You’re crazy.” Back at the hotel Vittoria said to her father, “Papa, Maria can sing Puritani.” He said, “You’re joking.” Callas was singing Tristano [Walkiria?]; how was it possible that she could sing Puritani? And besides, he didn’t know her. Maria was brought in. He went to the piano and said to her, “Let’s see what you can do.” She sat down beside him and sang the entire opera as if she’d always known it. When Gino Bechi was told that, he said, “If that one can do Puritani, I’ll do Violetta in Traviata.” But it marked the emergence of Callas, the full-fledged diva.

SZ: Were you present at those performances?

GS: Yes, because I was singing Carmen at that time. But when she sang Puritani I wasn’t singing Carmen–it was my night off–and so naturally I went to hear her. And it was something wonderful. I was open-mouthed, flabbergasted.

SZ: How was she as Isolde?

GS: Excellent, also. I teased her a little for her manner of standing with her legs wide apart, with her arms like this [demonstrates] while she sang. And she even accepted being teased by me. She took everything from me.

SZ: Callas once actually poisoned you, isn’t that so?

GS: No, she really didn’t poison me. We were going to Mexico–it was in ’49 or ’50, I don’t remember, and she said, “Let’s stop off in New York, so I can visit my mother, who is in the hospital after an eye operation, and I also want to visit my father.” I said “Yes”–I always say “Yes”–“Let’s go.” When we arrived in New York, her father came to the airport and said, “Let’s go home, and then you can go see mama” –they already were separated but Maria naturally was free to visit both of them.

We arrived home, and Maria said, “Giulia, would you like something to drink?” “No, thank you,” I said. “Besides, I’m not familiar with your drinks.” “Have a ginger ale,” she said; it’s like the Italian gazosa, a carbonated soft drink.” “All right, a gazosa can do me no harm.” I always was afraid of things that might make me sick. She opened the bottle, filled the glass and handed it to me. I took two sips and stopped; it tasted like gasoline. Mamma mia–I began to vomit. “What’s the matter?” Maria asked. “What is this stuff?” Papa asked. The bottle said “ginger ale.” So they put me to bed. Her father, who was a pharmacist, should have thought to give me some milk, in case of poisoning. Instead Maria said, “I’m going to the hospital to see mama, and I’ll be right back.” I still was vomiting. I didn’t know what to take; if I drank water it could make things worse. And I still had this nauseating taste of gasoline in my mouth. I really was sick. When Maria came back, she said, “Giulia, I’m really sorry. But don’t tell anyone or the journalists will think I tried to poison you.” She explained that her mother, before going to the hospital, had filled a ginger-ale bottle with insecticide. Then she closed it, so it looked like it never had been opened. I thought, “How could she put insecticide in a ginger-ale bottle and then close it up again? Couldn’t she have chosen a bottle that didn’t have ‘ginger ale’ written on it?” For a week I had the taste of gasoline in my mouth. And Maria was frantic, poor thing, saying, “Don’t tell anyone, Giulia, promise me!” I told people later, because she certainly didn’t do it on purpose.

SZ: How were relations between Callas and Kurt Baum [who sang with her in Mexico]?

GS: [Laughs.] Terrible! They disagreed about everything and always were fighting. He was jealous because, when they sang Aïda, she interpolated a high E [E-flat] in the concertato, saying that [Angela] Peralta, a celebrated 19th-century soprano, had sung it. And the director of the theater said, “Yes, yes, sing it. Peralta also sang it. But don’t tell Maestro Serafin. He’d kill me.” It was in questionable taste. That man, Baum, was furious because she had an enormous success with that E [laughs]. He stepped on the train of her costume, to prevent her from moving forward, and she was rabid–RABID.

SZ: But not to the point of refusing to sing with him.

GS: No, no. They were there–they had to sing together. She didn’t refuse. He didn’t refuse either. However, they were enemies.

SZ: You lived with Callas in Mexico. How was she as a roommate?

GS: She always was sleeping. I couldn’t sleep at night, so I got up and began arranging the flowers. Our room was full of them. They overflowed into the hall. She slept. We had adjoining rooms. I went into her room, changed the water, shortened the stems and arranged the flowers. And she slept right through it. But she was a good colleague, I must admit. She behaved like a true friend with me.

SZ: Was she well-prepared in Mexico?

GS: Yes, yes.

SZ: You can find mistakes on the records.

GS: Of course you can. But it depended on her condition at the time. Perhaps there were times not when she wasn’t well-prepared but when she didn’t feel well. She wasn’t perfect–perfection doesn’t exist. But she always was trying to attain it. Naturally there probably are flaws in her records; she was a human being.

SZ: Why did you slap Callas?

GS: You know this too! [Laughs.] I have a rather strange nervous system. I’m ticklish. When I wasn’t feeling well, I would tickle myself. But I can’t stand it if someone else does it to me. And she knew it. To tease me, she tickled me. I whirled around and slapped her cheek, hard. And I said to her, “Maria, don’t do that to me. I go crazy when someone does it.” In fact I always told everyone, “Don’t tickle me, because I can’t stand it. It hurts me–I’m extra-sensitive there.” My doctors told me, “It’s a question of your nervous system. You have to try to avoid it.” “How can I avoid it? They do it to me without warning.”

I reacted like a beast. She went to Battista [Callas’s husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini] crying and said, “Battista, Giulia hit me–she slapped me!” “Don’t you tickle me. You know what it does to me.” “But who knew that you’d react so violently?” Five minutes later we were all hugs and kisses, bosom friends again. That’s what happened.

SZ: In Paris in 1965, the duets in Norma were not transposed?

GS: No. Maria and I always sang them in the original keys. This was important to her. In fact she said to the journalists, “Look, the duets are all in the original keys.” She wanted to make sure they knew…..

SZ: Describe the changes in Callas’s voice over the years, please.

GS: Hmm–it’s a bit difficult. At a certain moment she set aside leggero roles, which brought her into the higher ranges–I don’t know how high–who knows how high that voice could go. She went into the drammatico. Here she truly was in her element. She totally was committed when she did dramatic parts. Where there was some flaw in the voice, she was able to use it in a way that gave you goose bumps. She was able to exploit what might be considered defects in others, so as to express drama with intensity.

SZ: What were the reasons for the decline of Callas’s voice?

GS: Onassis. Leading the life she did, a very social life. He took her into the highest circles. She no longer was herself because she no longer had her music. And later, when she went to make the film Medea, with Pasolini, I said to her, “You are music incarnate. By abandoning music, it is only natural that your voice has abandoned you. Now you want to resume your career. But Maria, dear, you can’t hope to resume it, for there has been such a rupture in your career that even psychologically you never can regain the success you had once.” She listened. I could say anything to Maria. I could tease her, scold her, advise her. She asked me for advice–I never would have dared offer it to her. We were good companions. If we felt like talking, we talked. If we didn’t feel like talking, we remained silent. If one wanted to go to a museum and the other said, “Today I’m a little tired,” the other would say, “That’s all right; I’ll go by myself.” No one was offended. Maria and I got along very well.

SZ: Before she met Onassis, was there no decline in Callas’s voice?

GS: No, no.

SZ: Did the voice change over the years?

GS: Yes, it’s as if it shattered because something in her broke. After this change in her style of living, without music, Maria no longer was herself.

SZ: In ’59 or ’60, was her voice the same as in ’48?

GS: I would say yes. In fact there was an added maturity. With her knowledge of technique and studying the way she did and with an instrument that still was sound, she still could do what she wanted. There were no weaknesses. Her ruin really was that man.

SZ: In ’48 the voice was broad, wide-ranging and somewhat heavy whereas….

GS: It hadn’t gotten heavier–more dramatic perhaps. Since she no longer sang the leggero repertoire, the voice naturally had become more robust.

SZ: According to you, was the voice more robust in ’58 or ’59 than in ’48?

GS: It’s difficult for me to remember now if it was robust in one period but not another. I can’t give you a precise answer.

SZ: Did she influence the singing of others?

GS: No, no. She only was envied greatly, this is true, and she didn’t get along with certain singers because they didn’t know how to take her. It was all based on envy, so naturally they were belligerent and so she reacted.

The above conversation is part of the outtakes to the film Opera Fanatic: Stefan and the Divas.

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