Callas first sang at Milan’s legendary La Scala for the opening of the 1951–1952 season (in Verdi’s I vespri siciliani) and she became closely identified with the theatre, notably in productions directed by Luchino Visconti and his protégé Franco Zeffirelli. Spontini’s La vestale was staged for her there in 1954, Bellini’s La sonnambula in 1955, and her final La Scala performances came in 1962 with Cherubini’s Medea. ‘This wonderful record gives us … Callas at her most spell-binding and enthralling,’ wrote Gramophone. ‘Callas at La Scala … shows the diva at her most exciting and most beautiful.’
Vincenzo Bellini’s third opera, Il pirata, marked an important step in his career. Not only was it the 27 year old’s first score for the brand leader of Italian opera houses, La Scala, Milan, it also represented his first collaboration with Felice Romani, the leading librettist of the day, who was to become his regular artistic partner. Based (via a French translation) on an English play by the Anglo-Irish Gothic writer Charles Maturin, Il pirata describes how Gualtiero (José Bros) is shipwrecked during a storm on the Sicilian coast, where his former love, Imogene, (Carmen Giannattasio) has been forced into an unwilling marriage by Ernesto, the local duke (Ludovic Tézier). Tensions build between the three until Gualtiero kills Ernesto in a duel, causing Imogene to go mad with guilt. David Parry conducts this exceptional example of early romantic opera at its most dramatically potent.
Behind the near-mythical figure of the emancipated woman, the dazzling spectacle of the group tableau and vibrant seduction of the Spain of dreams, all its authenticity and brilliance have been restored to the world's most performed opera in the opera house where it was first performed in 1875. A veritable back to the origins for the masterpiece by Georges Bizet, who died at the age of thirty six, only a few weeks after finishing his controversial work, the tremendous success of which he was ever to know. By presenting it here in a brand-new version with instruments of the period, in an endeavour to rekindle the original musical and theatrical flame, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Adrian Noble have reconstructed the unusual movement of the chorus and difficult dialogue between characters as a human, carnal tragedy.