Album review: Mama Callas - Remastered: The Complete Studio Recording

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It is four decades since the final public appearance of Maria Callas, the legendary Greek soprano who was dubbed ‘La Divina, prima donna assoluta’ for her riveting theatrical performances and the supremacy of her bel canto technique.

The last complete set of Callas recordings was released by EMI in 1997. Warner Classics have acquired the rights to the Callas archive and have released a new boxset of her recordings. Maria Callas Remastered, The Complete Studio Recordings comprises recordings of 26 operas and 13 recital albums, on 69 compact discs, from 1949 to 1969. It includes the early wax recordings for the Italian Cetra label, which are not included in the 1997 EMI Collection. Each of the 39 recordings is available separately and as a download.

Remastering engineer, Allan Ramsay, quoted in Gramophone magazine, said that “this is the first time the tapes have been remastered at 24-bit/96kHz beyond CD quality”.

Listening to the five tracks on the press sampler, the improvement is most dramatic in the remastering of the 1949 extract from ‘The First Recital’ shellac recording. There is a marked reduction in background crackle. On the other tracks, the most discernible feature of the new remasterings is the removal of reverb on arias from the 1952 recording of La Gioconda and the 1953 recording of Tosca, which may not be to the taste of every aficionado accustomed to the warmer sound of the original.

With the 1997 EMI collection attractively priced at a fraction of the Warner Classics version, this edition will appeal to the collector with a high-end hi -fi system.

It is elegantly packaged, with CDs individually sleeved in a replica of the original artwork. Librettos and texts come on a CD-ROM, and there is a hardback book containing a biography, essays, rare photos, and copies of letters.

Cathy Desmond

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