Maria Callas sings Puccini's "Tosca"

Jul 16, 2017

Hear one of the most celebrated voices of the 20th century, Maria Callas, in the benchmark recording of Puccini's "​Tosca."

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Maria Callas: Floria Tosca
Giuseppe di Stefano: Mario Cavaradossi
Tito Gobbi: Scarpia
Franco Calabrese: Cesare Angelotti
Angelo Mercuriali: Spoletta
Melchiorre Luise: Sacristan
Dario Caselli: Sciarrone/Jailer
Alvaro Cordova: Shepherd
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala in Milan
Victor de Sabata, conductor

Synopsis for Puccini's Tosca
Italian to English translation of Tosca

Maria Callas was the ultimate prima donna, with a voice and personality as unique as any in history. She lived, above all, for her craft. Whether you loved her voice or couldn't stand it, one thing was without question: no other singer could match Callas' ability to make opera human. She had in her a white hot need to make music; a passion, fire, and emotion that captivated audiences across the globe. Indeed, it's what made her the ultimate Tosca. 

For as revered as Maria Callas is today, it's always shocking to remember that her career was actually very brief. She came onto the scene as teenager and burned white hot, both on stage and in the tabloids, before burning out and retiring prematurely at just 42, with, as NPR's Tom Huizenga puts it, "only about a dozen good years." 

Throughout her brief career, Tosca played a central role for Callas. She first sang it in her native Greece when she was 19, fresh out of school, dazzling audiences even then with her exceptional emotive depth. Fame quickly found the young Callas, and she was soon starring at the prestigious Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. At each house, Tosca was a signature role. By 1963, Maria Callas had just about retired, but two years later she made a surprise return to the stage at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London. She was 42 years old, and had only a few weeks of rehearsal, but nevertheless the star stepped into the limelight for one final performance of Tosca, a fitting swan song  for the singer who captured the attention and the admiration (and the ire) of so many.

This week's performance was recorded in 1953, at La Scala. Callas was at the height of her career, and this recording quickly came to be considered the benchmark performance of Tosca.  

More about Maria Callas from NPR.

THE MUSIC

Here is Maria Callas singing "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore," from Act 2 of Tosca. It's an aria emblematic of her life (the opening line "I lived for art, I lived for love" speaks for itself), and in this 1956 recording, Callas' singular emotive skill is on full display.