The mystery and mastery of Maria Callas, for me, is not only the way to make the least dramatic dramatic, but also, at the same time, to ward off unnecessary drama with sincerity. Here, I hear a shy girl who tells her nearest and dearest how she feels. The 'Ah madre' is so loving and so true. Then she begins to explain the serenity and joy in her heart, referencing the natural world around her, and then after winning her fellow villagers' blessings and support in chorus 'Sempre, o felice Armina (forever, O happy Armina)', she betrays her feelings of bliss in the cabaletta (place your hand upon my heart...). In other words, she is human. She also wants a little bit of reassurance from the crowd around her, and so this personal quality will make her later misfortune even more understandable, if not pitiable; the accusation against her UNNATURAL (note how she pronounces Natura in this aria, so effortless and meaningful), and then her final reconciliation REAL and ultimately cathartic. Maria Callas has the power not only to arrange Armina's emotional choreography so precisely and TRUE to life, but also to withhold the unnecessary drama that might have easily portrayed the innocent virgin in a different light. Now, that's why I always come back to this aria.
One of the things that always fascinates me about Callas, her voice sounds remarkably different depending on the role. When I first discovered the studio recording of La Sonnambula years ago, I was fascinated by her "vocal characterization." Ever since that time, I have not been able to enjoy any other interpretation.
1955 was arguably her best year, starting with an unexpected but fantastic ANDREA CHENIER with del Monaco at la Scala, then the Bernstein SONNAMBULA, the Zeffirelli TURCO IN ITALIA, the legendary Giulini/Visconti TRAVIATA (her best Violetta, Lisbon 1958 pales), the Karajan BUTTERFLY recording, the famous Karajan LUCIA with di Stefano in Berlin, the second Chicago season with PURITANI , BUTTERFLY and TROVATORE (with Bjoerling), and the opening night of La Scala with her best ever NORMA. Superb!