OP1671. NORMA – Act I, Live Performance, 2 Jan., 1958, w.Santini Cond. Rome Opera Ensemble; Maria Callas, Franco Corelli, Miriam Pirazzini, Giulio Neri, etc. (E.U.) Myto 00151. - 8014399501514
“‘The Rome Walkout’ are words which portend a moment of the most dire historic significance to the world of modern Opera. Without question, the events of that evening commenced the inexorable end of the golden period of Maria Meneghini Callas. On the 2nd of January 1958, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma premiered a production of Bellini’s NORMA. Miss Callas had agreed to sing the part of Norma without an understudy. The event was to be attended by Mr. Giovanni Gronchi, the current president of Italy and as always when Miss Callas was to sing, the house was full. Radiotelevisione Italiana had positioned its microphones, ready to broadcast each note to the country. The story of what happened next is well known. As the first act came to a close, Miss Callas’ voice revealed telling signs of stress. To raucous applause, she quietly exited the stage. In exhaustion, she would leave the theatre before the second act could begin. The city exploded in protest.
Here are the words of Miss Callas herself of the events directly evening: ‘Some people said that I left the performance because of rudeness from a section of the audience. Anyone who knows me knows this is ridiculous. Hisses and yells do not frighten me, for I am fully aware of the enmity of claques. When my enemies stop hissing, I’ll know I’ve failed. They only make me furious, make me want to sing better than ever to complete the performance, but that night in Rome I was unable to sing… Many singers have had colds, and many of them have been substituted for even during the performance. It happens all the time. The opera house must either have a substitute ready, or else it must take the responsibility, Rome did neither.
In the morning a doctor sent by the opera house examined me and reported that I had bronchitis and tracheitis but could possibly sing again in five or six days. The President’s wife telephoned and said, ‘Tell Maria we know she was sick and could not continue’. Unfortunately she did not say that to the newspapers. The press demanded pictures of me sick in bed, but I am a serious artist, not a a soubrette, and I do not pose for pictures in bed. I refused, and the newspapers decided that it would be more interesting to imply that I was perfectly healthy but had lost my nerve because of the insults… My name was seriously damaged by this unjust incident’."