Callas the Great

Beaver’s Pick
Rupprecht Mayer

Royal Opera House Covent Garden---La Bohéme
Photo Credit: Andrea Puggioni

Yes, Callas. And she was great! You never got to see her live, on stage. And recordings from that time are so rare. Back in the day, singers used to sing for flesh and blood people, not just for recordings. Or CDs, whatever they’re called now. But those few live recordings that exist, they really capture the atmosphere. The space, the audience. You really feel the dialogue between the artist and her audience. We adored her, we followed her. Everywhere. Milan’s La Scala, in 1955; then in 1959, in Edinburgh. We were there! Walter and I, I mean. My late husband, you knew him? Of course you knew him. You’ve heard him; you’d recognize his voice. No, he never sang himself. But in Lisbon, during La Traviata, 1958, if I’m not mistaken, the coughing during the “E strano” aria? That was him. Maybe you weren’t paying attention. I can understand that. But in this immortal Tosca recording from 1965, in Paris, you definitely heard him. By that time his coughing had become so distinctive, almost a kind of barking. Unmistakable! I listen to these records over and over again. Callas, di Stefano. And my beloved Walter’s coughing! Soon afterwards I had to take him to Davos. The lungs. He never came back.

Today’s recordings? No comparison. So sterile. Nothing but studio. And you know what? Now they’re beginning to delete the sounds of the audience from those old recordings. They simply run them through computers, they say. The other day, my niece gave me a CD as a present, with the famous concert at Covent Garden, 1965. You know. That was just before Davos. I waited to hear my dear Walter’s five coughs in the “Caro nome” aria. But they were gone! Deleted! You can’t do this to an audience. What a lack of piety. My poor Walter. Great as Callas was, but I can do without stuff like that!


Rupprecht Mayer was born 1946 near Salzburg. After some 20 years living and working in Taiwan, Beijing, and Shanghai, he recently resettled in Bavaria. He translates Chinese literature and writes short prose and poetry in German and English. Publications: English versions appeared in Atticus, Bicycle Review, Frostwriting, Hobart, Mikrokosmos/Mojo, NAP, Nano Fiction, Ninth Letter, Orange Quarterly, Postcard Shorts, Prick of the Spindle, Radius, Whole Beast Rag (forthcoming) and Washington Square Review. For more of his work, see his website. Email: rupprecht_mayer[at]

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