Bellini: Norma / Serafin, Del Monaco, Callas

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With more than a dozen separate performances of Norma starring Maria Callas to choose from, recorded between 1949 and 1965 (including two for EMI; the others all “private”), what’s a person to do? Since it’s absolutely necessary for every fan of great singing and/or this opera to own at least one, no matter how many Sutherlands or Caballés are already in their collection, I recommend this one.

It has long been my favorite, but almost every edition on discs (except for the one on Opera d’Oro) has had pitch problems: in the middle of the first Norma/Adalgisa duet, the pitch sneaks up to make the scene almost a half-tone sharp, and after a normalization, does so again at “Ei tornera”, although not quite so drastically, until the end of the opera. (I’m referring specifically to the Fonit-Cetra release of 1986, but most of the others have been the same.) This may not seem drastic to many, but it slightly alters the tone of all the voices–Mario del Monaco sounds like a gigantic mouse at times–and skews the drama, even if the speeding up does add a sense of false urgency. This new Myto edition claims to have corrected these problems, and indeed it has. The sound remains excellent 1955 broadcast, by the way.

And Callas is in her easiest, most expressive, trouble-free voice. Just listen to the “Casta diva”–impeccably sculpted, words and text perfectly combined, sung with scrupulous attention to dynamics. And the bridge between it and the cabaletta, “Fine al rito”, is half statement, half thinking out loud. “Ah, bello a me ritorna” is sung with such assuredness that you’d be fooled into thinking this music was easy–truly bel canto, making song as expressive as ballet and speech together. Callas is remarkably tender with Adalgisa in their first duet beginning “Ah! Rimembranza”, singing with a smooth-as-silk legato. And later on in the opera her rage is terrifying, lashing out at Pollione with (what seems like) clenched teeth.

Ebe Stignani, who had been singing for more than 30 years when this was recorded, still makes a formidable, believable Adalgisa despite sounding more than mature; her phrasing and sensitivity to the music and text put all criticism on the back burner and she and Callas seem to have nothing but respect for one another in their duets. Mario del Monaco is his normal, reliable, leather-lunged self, offering thrills galore. You get the feeling that he’s even trying to temper his delivery with the occasional caressed phrase, but he can’t resist making huge sounds. You cannot argue with the ordinary, vaguely bland but solid Oroveso of Giuseppe Modesti. Tullio Serafin leads masterfully, but the usual pre-Sutherland cuts are made to this opera. This is very highly recommended.

-- Robert Levine,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: MYTO140

  • UPC: 8014399501408

  • Label: Myto Records

  • Composer: Vincenzo Bellini

  • Conductor: Tullio Serafin

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Italian Radio Chorus Rome, Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra Rome

  • Performer: Athos Cesarini, Ebe Stignani, Giuseppe Modesti, Maria Callas, Mario Del Monaco, Rina Cavallari


  1. Norma

    Composer: Vincenzo Bellini

    Ensemble: Italian Radio Chorus Rome, Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra Rome

    Performer: Maria Callas (Soprano), Rina Cavallari (Soprano), Athos Cesarini (Tenor), Mario Del Monaco (Tenor), Giuseppe Modesti (Bass), Ebe Stignani (Mezzo Soprano)

    Conductor: Tullio Serafin