January 05, 2017

Maestro Georges Prêtre reminisces about Maria Callas

An extract from a rare archival interview, the late French conductor talks about his Carmen.

"I believe it was a concert in Germany where something strange happened. Maria was singing, I conducted the orchestra, and then towards the middle I don’t know what happened; I was listening to Maria, I had stopped conducting [laughs], the orchestra stopped, because of me! And I had to start up again. I was no longer aware of being on the podium.

"Maria always gave so much. There was always so much to draw from her. Her phrasing. The phrasing is so important. She wasn’t only singing; it was a real instrument, it was such incredible music. She was always the same. She always closed her eyes, always very serious at the first rehearsal, never refusing to redo a passage for her colleagues, for the orchestra. She was an artist in the deepest sense of the word.

"I think that Maria, for all her goddess-like dramatic allure, was in the end like a child. The last time I saw her unfortunately was when she died; she was like a little girl. What troubles me the most is to talk about her in the past tense. It’s terrible. I still feel like I could telephone her in half an hour."

Vale, Georges Prêtre; the legendary French conductor passed away today at the age of 92. With Maria Callas he made a legendary 1964 recording of Bizet's Carmen.

Georges Pretre CarmenPhoto by Sabine Weiss