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Music: Callas’ Tosca

3 minute read

If any soprano is custom-built for the role of Floria Tosca, it is Maria Meneghini Callas. From her first entrance at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera last week, she made the Puccini heroine a creature of fierce temperament; hers was a believable embodiment of a jealous beauty who was willing to make the supreme sacrifice for her lover, and who carves up a would-be seducer with a fruit knife. In addition to her flawless acting, Callas was in full command of her remarkable voice—never luscious, but potent as TNT. She might have been good under any circumstances, but playing opposite a tangibly evil George London as Scarpia and supported by an orchestra made almost superhuman by Conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, she left the audience limp.

Act II was hair-raising. Callas entered Baron Scarpia’s den looking like the Queen of the Night in her black velvet and ermine gown and glittering tiara. Her lip curled shrewishly at Scarpia’s overtures, but she staggered when she heard her lover’s tortured screams. She wound up her big show-stopping aria, Vissi d’Arte, on her knees just in time to receive the ovation that greeted it. Meanwhile, Mitropoulos, silhouetted against the stage lights, was kneading, soothing, irritating, roiling his orchestra, bouncing around in the climaxes like a marionette on a string. With a start, Callas took the knife from the table, furiously plunged it into Scarpia’s chest, then, her head waggling insanely, unable to look directly at the corpse, she placed the candles at his shoulders and made her getaway.

When it was over, and everybody else was killed off too, the audience came back to reality and howled like the West Point cheering section while Maria Callas curtsied, hugged herself and blew kisses through 14 long curtain calls. Tenor Giuseppe Campora, who had given a vocally beautiful performance, doggedly appeared with her every time, although toward the end he began to look rather tired of keeping up with Callas.

In a single performance of Aïda last week, the Met introduced three young newcomers. In the singing department, there were La Scala’s big-voiced Soprano Antoinetta Stella, 27, and lyrical Tenor Carlo Bergonzi, 32. Both suffered from debutitis, but recovered, and will probably become Met regulars. Most spectacular newcomer was Trinidad’s rangy (6 ft. 6 in.) Dancer Geoffrey Holder, who appeared in the big ballet that sprawls in the middle of the opera. Holder made a startling appearance, his long brown body bare except for a white bikini and a brilliant, feather-patterned headdress. In a primitive tribal dance that recalled his appearance last year in Broadway’s House of Flowers, Holder leaped and writhed with a fierce catlike virility that more than matched Verdi’s triumphal music.

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