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Mihai Cosma, about the Callas 100 Gala

Monday, 11 December 2023 , ora 10.16

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary opera artist Maria Callas, on Friday, December 8th, 2023, the National Radio Orchestra presents the gala entitled "Callas 100." The program includes excerpts from famous operas such as Gioachino Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata," or Georges Bizet's "Carmen," among others. Soloists include sopranos Aida Pascu, Daria Lupu, mezzo-soprano Camelia Cuzub, tenors Andrei Petre, Mihai Urzicana, baritone Alin Munteanu, and bass Alexandru Matei. The Academic Radio Choir, prepared by Ciprian Țuțu, is also participating, and the event is conducted by Ciprian Teodorașcu. Regarding this gala, musicologist Mihai Cosma stated:

The idea originates from the personality of Maria Callas, celebrated these days worldwide. There is no exaggeration whatsoever. I enjoy perusing the international press and all television channels, major magazines, not to mention opera theaters, concert institutions, all of which pay tribute to the centenary of Maria Callas, marking 100 years since the birth of this soprano who, it has been said since her lifetime, revolutionized opera.

A compelling personality. There have been other great names in opera; we can think of Caruso and other names that have shone in the musical interpretation firmament. However, as I reflect on it, it seems difficult to find a name that has the impact Maria Callas had on the entire music entertainment industry.

She is unique in this regard. Why is she celebrated worldwide? Firstly, for this fantastic personality, for being an exceptional performer, as I mentioned earlier, but also because she was a public figure. Perhaps among the few singers who were a celebrity recognized on the street, present at events at the White House, for instance, or at inaugurations and social occasions.

She was always surrounded by journalists overwhelmed by paparazzi, interviews, photographs, a kind of Hollywood star who, however, did not perform on the big screens but appeared on the opera stage. This made the world eager for information, photographs, stories - what did Callas do? This, ultimately, as it happens today with major public figures, comes to be perceived by the person in question as pressure, as a kind of too aggressive intrusion into every moment of life, whether it is a public or private stance; journalists do not spare you.

Callas was hunted by journalists, and this certainly contributed to her fame. Therefore, we cannot say that this constant presence in the spotlight did not help her career, but, as I mentioned, it also represented pressure. She performed in many places. She practically began her career in Italy, although she also sang in the United States where she was born, but her career started in Italy. She began in significant venues, debuting very young at the Arena di Verona, then in significant theaters like Teatro alla Scala, Naples, Rome-basically, in all the major theaters with tradition, reputation, and influence in the musical world.

She played many roles, unusually many, especially considering her short earthly existence. She passed away at just 53 years old. A rich and extensive career. Why did people like Callas on stage? That could be a question.

Her voice is immediately recognizable. It has a unique timbre. Just listen to a few measures. That's Callas. However, I couldn't say that it is the most beautiful voice. I don't know, maybe if we compare it with Pavarotti's timbre, for example. Pavarotti's timbre is beautiful, unquestionably. Callas's timbre, you either like it or you don't. It's not through the timbre, let's say, that she imposed herself, but through the truth and intensity of her emotions. When she appeared on stage, she wasn't Callas anymore; she was that character living in that context, experiencing those feelings, giving everything, and burning on stage with a flame so vivid, true, and moving that people loved her. They didn't even stop to say if it's the most beautiful voice or not. It's the most beautiful interpretation, clearly, yes. The answer was yes.

We come to what will happen on Friday, December 8th, 2023, on the stage of the Radio Hall. The National Radio Orchestra, conductor Ciprian Teodorașcu is a name we know, but the soloists will be young Romanian performers. Why were they chosen for such a moment?

As I mentioned at the beginning, the entire musical world celebrates Maria Callas. It would have been unnatural for such an event not to happen in Romania. Of course, we didn't have the chance to see her here. There have been so many great artists who have come to Romania, but not Callas. That doesn't mean her records didn't reach us, that the Radio doesn't often broadcast her performances. Here we are, nearly 50 years after the artist's death, and her recordings remain valuable.

Callas is known in Romania. She will be celebrated in Romania. The Radio Choirs and Orchestras dedicated a special concert, a milestone event. So the idea was, let's look into the future, let's see if there are young people who have the dreams that Maria Callas had in her youth, who would like to go as far as possible, who would like to sing beautifully, who would like to have this interpretation, this experience, this dramatic truth.

So, we turned to the freshest generation of singers, so young that some are still in school. Some are still at the Conservatory, pursuing a master's or doctorate, while others have recently graduated. They are enthusiastic, eager to make art, to pay homage to Maria Callas, to present themselves to the public on this occasion.

We have now chosen a repertoire based, of course, on what Maria Callas used to sing. It is a concert dedicated to her. We will listen to those distinctive sound signatures, such as the aria "Casta Diva," perhaps the most prominent sonic image.

When we say Maria Callas, we think of Norma. Another very vivid image in the memory of those who love opera is the aria from Tosca - "Vissi d'arte," a famous recording she made after performances at Covent Garden in 1964. And we continued in this way, arias, duets, and scenes from operas, sung at the time by Maria Callas or recorded because she made a lot of recordings, both individual arias and complete operas. A repertoire of Callas performed by young individuals dedicating their lives to a career that may someday reach a certain height.

The program is very diverse. We also have soprano voices because it is dedicated to a soprano - Aida Pascu and Daria Lupu, the sopranos you will see on the Radio stage. Camelia Cuzub, a mezzo-soprano who comes from the Radio Choir, is a member of the Academic Radio Choir. The tenors are Andrei Petre and Mihai Urzicana, the baritone is Alin Munteanu, and the bass is Alexandru Matei. This is the team that will ensure a very diverse repertoire. As you can see, the voices are varied, precisely for the audience to perceive this evening as a colorful and diverse offer with different timbral characteristics. We hope it will be something special and that people will remember Callas and what we envisioned in honor of the centenary.

Translated by Ramona Ana-Maria Ionescu,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year I
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu