June 19, 2007

He Hit Me First!

[UPDATE: More comments from me and IOZ in that initial thread, and a follow-up post from IOZ, with another comment from me about a story from one of Callas's Juilliard master classes.]

Well, he did. IOZ, that is, here.

Needless to say, I was compelled to respond with this comment:
Shame on you, IOZ. Shame, shame, SHAME. Shame eternal, everlasting, and of excruciating pain.

I half suspect this may have been designed to get a rise out of me: "the ruined Maria Callas..." You succeeded. I heard -- and saw -- the "ruined Maria Callas." The largely ruined Callas in her final Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera (March 25, 1965, not that I remember anything in particular about that night, or the two days and nights I stood on line to get a standing room ticket) -- when, despite a voice in shreds, she delivered a performance consistently shot through with greatness of a kind one is privileged to witness but a few times in one's life. And the final 20 minutes or so of Act II were among the most shattering experiences of my life. (You remind me that I should repost a description of that performance at my blog.)

And I saw the almost completely ruined Callas in two recitals on her final tour with di Stefano. They were embarrassing and awful in countless ways, and horribly painful for those of us who knew what incomparable greatness Callas had once embodied -- and they were certainly inconceivably painful for Callas herself. But that was all she had left of herself then. It is kindest, and the smallest of deserved tributes to what she had once been, not to dwell on the details. Yet even then, even then, you could hear and see what a superlative interpretative artist, and what a masterful musician, she had been, even if she could only offer the smallest of fragments of what her supreme artistry was at one time. (I also saw five or six of her Juilliard master classes in the early '70s, which were attended by every luminary of the music world who was in New York for one reason or another during that period -- I mean, every luminary, Bernstein, Schwarzkopf, and on and on. They were endlessly fascinating and illuminating. On several occasions, as when Callas launched into Rigoletto's "Ebbene, piangi" (from the baritone's "Cortigiani!" aria), you suddenly realized: "Oh, my God! That's how it should be performed! Of course!" You could hear the collective gasp throughout the entire audience. It was immensely powerful and bloodcurdling -- and she had almost no voice left at that point. Knowledgeable musicians and opera fans still talk about that Rigoletto moment, 30 years later.)

To use Callas as a reference point for Drum...well. Again, it might be kindest not to expound on the intellectual crime this represents. (I refrain altogether from commenting on the final part of your description of the "ruined Maria Callas." If you think that corresponds in any meaningful, justified manner even to Callas's final recital albums or performances, think again, buster. And then again. Still one more time.) I think perhaps you might much more effectively have mentioned Florence Foster Jenkins -- but even that comparison doesn't really work. Jenkins at least provided considerable entertainment value.

I do like Drum's "probably right" and "it's possible that it would make sense..." I actually love it: the prog-libs are filled with fervor and denunciatory moral clarity when it comes to the most crucial issues of our time -- say, the latest mewlings of Richard Cohen or Joe Klein. But when it comes to trivial matters of war and peace, and life and death..."probably" and "possible" mark the furthest reach of their intellectual commitment.

Inspiring, that's what it is. For dirt worms.
A lengthy essay about the incomparable artistry of Callas, here.