For the centenary of the birth of Maria Callas, on December 2, Warner is releasing a new box set dedicated to the diva presented as “definitive”. “It brings together everything that can be used with correct sound,” explains Alain Lanceron, president of Warner Classics. With 26 complete works, of 22 titles, which span from the beginning of 1950 to 1965. If we must indulge in a hunt for rarities, we are missing, from his Greek period, Sister Angelica by Puccini, Boccaccio by Suppé, Tiefland by 'Eugen by Albert, O Protomastoras by Manolis Kalomiris, Fidelio by Beethoven, Der Bettelstudent by Karl Millöcker. And from his Italian period The Walkyrie and Tristan and Isolde by Wagner, Orpheus and Eurydice by Haydn, The Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart, Mefistofele by Haydn, Don Carlo by Verdi and Fedora by Giordano.”
Do these tapes even exist? Tom Volf doubts it. In 2017, the director and producer created the Maria Callas Endowment Fund, the aim of which is to collect and preserve the diva's legacy. “These pieces were not recorded,” assures Tom Volf. The Maria Callas Endowment Fund collected all the original tapes that she owned and kept in her home. More than 70 hours of studio recordings, including 15 recitals and 26 operas. Live, we found more than 150 hours, with 30 recitals and 65 operas, including absolute new ones. Among the finds, the tapes of Lucia di Lammermoor, in Dallas in 1959, of Norma, in Paris in 1964, and of Tosca, in Paris in 1965.
“Added to this are rehearsals or unpublished private recordings from recent years, where she sings arias that she has never sung elsewhere such as Lucrezia Borgia, Adalgisa, Desdemona in 1972-1973, the completely unpublished melodies of Bellini (1976) , a complete aria from La Force du destin (1977), with Vasso Devetzi on piano, studio takes and rehearsals of Verdi arias in 1969. And the complete master classes at the Juillard School in 1971-1972 (more than thirty hours) and two hours of completely new master classes given in Japan in 1973,” explains Tom Volf.
Tom Volf offered these recordings to Alain Lanceron, to have them published by Warner, who exploits the catalog in a historical manner. “We made a deal with him a few years ago. But he no longer has anything that interests me,” the producer says today. It is true that the two men had disagreements.
In 2017, Tom Volf wanted to publish the 1963 recital at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, of which he found the original tapes which suggest a version of better quality than the one published until now. He had the support of Georges Prêtre for this project, just before the chef's death. But Warner refuses; Tom Volf convinces Universal to publish it. One week before being placed in the bin, the 10,000 copies were sent to the pestle. “ Not because of copyright; all of Callas' recordings are in the public domain. But because we have an agreement between majors not to use the same titles, but we already had this recital from 1963 in our catalog,” explains Alain Lanceron.
“In the sound sector, the rights of performing artists are protected for fifty years after the first of January following the performance for unpublished works and for 70 years for exploited recordings,” specifies François Pouget, lawyer specializing in artistic property law. Except for those who have the moral right to get involved. Two camps are emerging today: one made up of the entourage of the late husband of Callas' sister and the other, the members of Callas' direct family, from the paternal branch. The latter support the Endowment Fund to see the pearls of its collection published.
It remains to be seen in what quality: “We cannot put them as is on YouTube. We must clean the tapes, digitize, restore, remaster while respecting the original sound, and publish them in a way that honors Callas to contribute to his musical and artistic heritage,” said Tom Volf. As was done for Glenn Gould, Arthur Rubinstein, Mstislav Rostropovitch or Yehudi Menuhin. It remains to hear the voice of Callas. Today's techniques allow you to do everything, but by restoring, by cleaning, you lose a lot of the truth of the voice. Should we today offer the listener the umpteenth enchantment of a legendary voice or reveal for documentary purposes the real voice of the diva when she was meditating on her return, in the studio on Avenue George Mandel?