|About this Recording
8.111334-35 - PUCCINI, G.: Turandot (Callas, Fernandi, Schwarzkopf, La Scala, Serafin) (1957)
Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924)
Princess Turandot - Maria Callas (soprano)
Puccini’s Turandot was the sixteenth complete opera recording Columbia/Angel made with the Callas and the company of La Scala. Unlike almost every other famous soprano of her day, from Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1915–2006) to Joan Sutherland [b.1926] and Montserrat Caballé [b.1933], Callas never ventured a contemporary opera; Turandot, first performed in 1926 was the only work she sang in younger than she was herself. Turandot is the perfect vehicle for an ample-sized dramatic soprano with a steady, steely and brilliant voice rising easily to top C. Those of us who saw the truly great Turandot of Birgit Nilsson (1918–2005), will know how ideally it requires a vocal glamour equivalent of a boxer with something of his horse-power. It does not need much in the way of nuance or refinement and no great demands are made on the art of legato and portamento, or in the clean articulation of ornaments. It does not compare with a rôle like Norma, which calls for dramatic accents for far longer stretches, and for a complete mastery of fioritura through every dynamic shading from pianissimo to fortissimo.
In the first two years of her career in Italy Callas appeared as Turandot 21 times. A recorded fragment survives from one of the last performances she sang in 1949 at the Colón, Buenos Aires. She manages the lower passages, which pass back and forth into the chest register, more expressively than Turandots are usually capable of, but she has a whole battery of effects that she cannot employ effectively; all we are conscious of is her singing too strenuously. In the days of her youth when she had to pursue her career without vocal compromises it may have been necessary but as soon as she could, wisely, she dropped it from her repertory. Why she made this recording in 1957 was perhaps because she thought recording it was different from singing it in the theatre and would do her voice no irreparable damage. Nevertheless the following year she seems to have had second thoughts for she told New York radio interviewer Harry Fleetwood, ‘I sang it all over Italy, hoping to God that it wouldn’t wreck my voice. Because... [I]t’s not really very good for the voice…It’s ruined quite a few.’
We note her ability in contrasting her registers and how responsive her voice is across the widest intervals.Tullio Serafin’s tempi are slightly faster than they were in Buenos Aires, so enabling her to relinquish top notes at the end of phrases which threaten to get out of control. Again her subtlety is apparent. In In questa reggia, on the phrase O principi, che o luoghi caravane, as we have noted before, how instinctively she responds to the caravan-like rhythm Puccini suggests in the accompaniment; this is the kind of musical effectiveness that no other Turandot on record shows herself capable of. By this stage of her career she was obviously bothered by the problem of keeping her voice steady. Walter Legge, the producer of the recording, tells how one day at the Biffi Scala he and his wife, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who sings Liù, were dining with the Meneghinis, when Callas turned to Schwarzkopf demanding to know ‘how you sing top As and Bs and make a diminuendo on them. Walter says mine make him sea-sick’ Thereupon, much to the astonishment, if not fright, of the waiters and the other diners, she and Schwarzkopf, stood up and began exchanging top notes, and feeling each other in turn, ‘their diaphragms, lower jaws, throats and ribs’. After a bit Callas claimed she had ‘got it’, but perhaps because both singers’ methods were sui generis, she did not effect a cure.
The German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1915–2006) studied at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik and later with the soprano Maria Ivogün, making her début as one of the Flowermaidens in Parsifal with the Städtische Oper, Berlin, in 1938. Originally a lyrical soprano she undertook rôles such as Adele in Die Fledermaus, Musetta in La bohème and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos when she joined the Vienna State Opera under Karl Böhm in 1943. Her first overseas appearance was with this company on their visit to London in 1947 when she sang Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni and Marzelline in Fidelio. She then joined the fledgling Covent Garden Company, where for five seasons she sang a variety of rôles, mostly in English. Alongside these appearances, Schwarzkopf sang at the Salzburg Festival (1946–1964), La Scala, Milan (1948–1963), San Francisco (1955–1964) and, finally, the Metropolitan in New York in 1964. She was greatly admired in the rôles of the Marschallin, Fiordiligi, the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro and Donna Elvira. Schwarzkopf also created the rôle of Anne Trulove in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in September 1951. She also had a distinguished parallel career as a Lieder singer she continued to give master-classes and adjudicate in major competitions. A fiercely self-critical artist, Schwarzkopf was extremely demanding of herself and her art. She was the wife of the impresario and recording producer Walter Legge whom she married in 1953, becoming a naturalised British subject. She was created a DBE in 1992.
Eugenio Fernandi (1922–1991) made his operatic début in 1954 in Lisbon as the Duke in Rigoletto. In 1958 he joined the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he continued to make a series of highly successful performances, after his début there as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. It has been suggested that his collaboration in the recording of Turandot with Callas and Schwarzkopf was made at too early a stage in his career, on which it had a deleterious effect.
Born in Athens, after studying at the Conservatory, Nicola Zaccaria (1923–2007), made his début in 1949 as Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor. Four years later he appeared at La Scala, Milan, as Sparafucile in Rigoletto. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he appeared in many leading Italian opera seasons: at Florence, Verona and Rome in the typical Italian repertory. In 1956 he was a guest at the Vienna Staatsoper and at the festival in Salzburg; and in 1957 at Covent Garden with Callas’s Norma he was Oroveso and in 1959 Creon with her Medea. His career was wide and embraced Cologne, Brussels, Ghent, Moscow, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Monte Carlo, Berlin and Dallas, which he returned to often until the 1980s, as well as festivals at Aix-en-Provence, Edinburgh, Orange and Athens. He sang rôles such as Zaccaria in Nabucco, Silva in Ernani, Rodolfo in La sonnambula and Sarastro in Zauberflöte. For EMI he appears with Callas in recordings of Aida, Un ballo in maschera, Il trovatore, La bohème, Il barbiere di Siviglia, La sonnambula and Norma.
Tullio Serafin (1878–1968), born at Rottanova di Cavarzere, near Venice, was one of the great conductors of Italian opera. After studying at the Milan Conservatory at first he was a violinist in the orchestra at La Scala, Milan, then in 1900 at Ferrara began a career as a conductor. Engagements followed in Turin and Rome. Through more than half a century he appeared at Covent Garden, London (1907, 1931, 1959–60), La Scala, Milan (1910–1914, 1917, 1918, 1940, 1946–7), Colón, Buenos Aires (1914, 1919, 1920, 1928, 1937, 1938, 1949, 1951), San Carlo, Naples (1922–3, 1940–1, 1949–58), Metropolitan, New York (1924–34), the Rome Opera (1934–43, 1962), Lyric Opera, Chicago (1955, 1957–58), and numerous other opera houses in Italy and abroad. His repertory was vast. He conducted conventional and unconventional operas as well as introducing a variety of new works and worked with numerous famous singers, including Battistini, Shalyapin, Ponselle, Gigli, Callas and Sutherland. His recording career was exhaustive and embraced the HMV (1939) Verdi Requiem as well as both Angel/Columbia Normas (1954 and 1960) with Callas.
 The opera opens by the walls of the great city of Peking. To the right is a portico decorated with carved figures of monsters, unicorns and a phoenix, with pillars rising from the backs of huge tortoises. Below the portico a great gong is suspended, while on the ramparts the heads of victims are displayed. It is sunset and a crowd in the square listens to the words of a Mandarin announcing that Turandot will marry the man of royal lineage who can answer her three riddles; he who tries and fails will be beheaded. The Prince of Persia has failed the test and will die when the moon rises. The crowd disperses in excitement at the only to be pushed roughly back by the Tartar guards. Among the people is the old man Timur, exiled King of Tartary, who falls, as his servant-girl Liù calls for help.  Prince Calaf runs up, recognising his father and helping him to his feet. Twelve executioner’s assistants make their way forward, as the crowd eagerly awaits the coming execution. Timur is delighted to have found his son again.  He tells the Prince how Liù has remained loyal to him, persuaded by a smile Calaf had once bestowed on her in the palace.  The crowd calls for the executioner’s sword to be sharpened and all is excitement.  Now they watch the sky, waiting for the moon, the sign of execution, as it rises.  The voices of children are heard.  The procession leading the young Prince of Persia to execution enters, now arousing pity in the people, who call on Turandot to grant pardon. She appears, and the people bow down, leaving only the Prince of Persia and Calaf standing. Turandot has no mercy and with a gesture rejects any appeal for clemency, and the procession moves off. Calaf, however, is dazzled by the sight of her beauty, as he and Timur, with Liù, are left alone.  Timur asks his son what he is doing, but Calaf is resolved to take his chance as a suitor. The sound of the execution is heard and Timur continues to try to dissuade his son from this enterprise.  He is about to sound the gong to proclaim his intention, when he is prevented by three masked figures, Ping, Pang and Pong, who warn him of the cruel fate that will be his.  A group of palace handmaidens lean down over the balustrade and call for silence, as Turandot sleeps.  Ping, Pang and Pong continue to try to dissuade Calaf  and the shadows of those who have died in pursuit of the Princess add their own urging. Calaf breaks away and is about to strike the gong, when the executioner appears above the rampart, holding the head of the Prince of Persia. Timur pleads further with his son.  Now Liù adds her own pleas, tearfully begging him to desist, for her sake and that of his father. She falls to the ground in tears.  Calaf urges her not to weep and tells her to take Timur away with her into the country.  Timur begs him, for the last time, and is joined by Liù, Ping, Pang and Pong in his endeavour to save his son from certain death. Calaf is determined, and, breaking away, sounds the gong three times.
 In a great pavilion Ping, Pang and Pong are preparing for whatever may happen, either a wedding or a funeral.  Saddened by Turandot’s behaviour, they lament the fate of China. They sit and examine the scrolls for the numbers of victims.  Ping sings of his house in Honan, and all three would like to be away from the palace in their own parts of the countryside.  They lament the state of the world and the madness of lovers, recalling those who have died, princes from Samarkand, from India, from Burma and other countries.  They long for an end to their difficulties and those of the kingdom.  Trumpets are heard, heralding the start of a new trial for the hand of Turandot.
 In the square in front of the palace the crowd gradually gathers. In the centre is a great marble staircase leading upwards, to end under a triple arch. Mandarins arrive, dressed in blue and gold, and finally the Emperor.  He announces that he is bound by his oath to honour the compact he has made with Turandot. Calaf steps forward, ready to try his luck, in spite of the Emperor’s obvious reluctance to see more bloodshed.  The crowd honours the Emperor. A Mandarin steps forward and proclaims the royal decree. Turandot shall marry the one of royal lineage who can solve her three riddles; the unsuccessful will die. The voices of children are heard.  Turandot, impassive as a golden statue, takes her place at the foot of the Imperial throne. She looks coldly at the Prince and recounts the reason for her vow, the fate of Princess Lou Ling, captured, tortured and put to death at the hands of a man. She will have her revenge on the suitors that come to woo her and never yield to a man. Calaf is defiant, ready to solve Turandot’s riddles.  The trumpets sound, and Turandot proceeds. Her first riddle is of something that in the night hovers, a shining phantom, soaring above the crowd, invoked by all, but vanishing at dawn to be reborn in every heart. Calaf declares that the answer is hope.  Her second riddle is of something that is aflame and yet then cold, which Calaf guesses is blood.  Turandot descends further down the stairs to pose her third riddle of ice given by fire, and fire that produces ice, a force that would make you free, but yet enslaves and makes you king. Calaf sees that the answer to this is Turandot.  The crowd applauds his success.  In anguish Turandot ascends the stairs again, demanding that her father, the Emperor, prevent her marriage to this stranger, but the Emperor has given his oath and will not hear her pleading. Calaf, however, wants Turandot burning with love.  He now offers his own riddle, his name, which she must find before morning; if she succeeds, he will die. Turandot assents and Calaf ascends the stairs towards the Emperor  whose praises the people now sing.
 It is night in the palace gardens. To the right is a pavilion, with a richly embroidered curtain, the antechamber to Turandot’s quarters in the palace. Heralds announce the decree that none shall sleep on pain of death, as the search for the stranger’s name.  Calaf echoes the words, singing of love and of his name that none shall discover; at daybreak Turandot shall be his.  Ping, Pong and Pang emerge from the bushes, followed by other figures. They ask Calaf to say what he wants; if it is love, then he offers girls that he now leads forward; if it is riches, then they can offer gold and precious stones; if it is glory, he may escape to rule the Empire from afar. They fear for their own safety, since they face torture and death if the Prince’s name is not revealed. They end by threatening Calaf with their daggers. Shouting is heard, as soldiers drag in Timur and Liù, two who must know the Prince’s name.  Turandot appears, and they bow down to the ground, except for Ping, who comes forward to tell her that they now have the means to discover the Prince’s name. Calaf claims that Timur and Liù know nothing, but Liù steps forward and tells Turandot that she alone knows the stranger’s name and will keep it secret.  Calaf tries to protect her and on Turandot’s orders is bound, while Liù is tortured  claiming love as the reason for her strength in resistance. She is happy to suffer for her beloved Prince, as the executioner is called for.  Eventually she agrees to answer the icy-hearted Princess, telling her that, as she herself dies, so Turandot will be conquered by love. She seizes a dagger from a soldier and stabs herself, staggering forward to fall dead at Calaf’s feet.  Timur hobbles forward and kneels down by her, begging her to open her eyes, as dawn approaches. He prophesies divine vengeance, and Liù’s body is carried away to the awe of the crowd, seeking pardon for this violence. Timur follows, as the people lament Liù’s fate.  Calaf and Turandot are left alone, she rigid as a statue and veiled. Calaf calls on this Princess of death and of ice to descend to earth. He rushes forward and tears off her veil, to Turandot’s anger; he may tear her veil but not touch her soul. The Prince takes Turandot in his arms, and draws her towards the pavilion, kissing her, but she draws away, now seeking his pity.  Calaf declares his love for her, as dawn breaks; he has conquered and her heart has melted.  For the first time now she sheds tears, telling him of her first fear of him. Finally Calaf reveals to her his name.
 The scene is outside the palace. The Emperor sits enthroned at the head of a wide marble staircase. Around him are his courtiers, wise men and soldiers. The crowds gather below, singing praise to the Emperor. Turandot now tells her father that she knows the name of the stranger; his name is love. Calaf runs up to her, embracing her, while the crowd scatters flowers and rejoices at the happy outcome.
The principal sources for the complete recording of Turandot were two sets of first edition British LP pressings. Occasional pops, distortion during loud passages and extraneous noises appear to be inherent in the original master tapes.
CD 1 77:26
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan ; (Chorus Master: Norberto Mola); Tullio Serafin
Recorded 9–13 and 15 July 1957 in the Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Maynard F. Bertolet for providing source material
Close the window