December 02, 2015

"That woman is a miracle!" Elisabeth Schwarzkopf on Maria Callas

We celebrate La Divina's birthday today with the fabled tribute of one great soprano to another.

The revered director Luchino Visconti told a marvellous story about a performance of Il trovatore at La Scala in 1953. He arrived late and hardly noticed a woman seated behind him in his usual box. He was eager to hear Maria Callas.

Just as the great soprano finished singing D'Amor sull'ali rosee at the end of Act Four, he heard a voice exclaim, "That woman is a miracle!" He turned around and realised it was Elisabeth Schwarzkopf - the German soprano renowned for her formidable perfectionism - with tears streaming down her face.

Schwarzkopf Callas 2

This photo of the two sopranos together was taken in 1957 (Erio Piccagliani, courtesy of Teatro alla Scala). Both became elegant icons, immortal voices of their time, recording for the same label, EMI Classics (now Warner Classics) under the guidance of legendary producer Walter Legge - Schwarzkopf's husband.

In 2014, Warner Classics completed a monumental project at Abbey Road Studios in London: re-mastering the complete Maria Callas studio recordings in high definition from the original master tapes.

This year, for the Elisabeth Schwarzkopf centenary on 9 December, the same award-winning mastermind behind the Callas project has restored Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's complete recital recordings (1952-1974) to their original glory in luminous sound for a 31-CD collectors' boxed set.