Maria Callas’s “Je veux vivre”

Overall, of course I love Maria Callas’s interpretation of this aria. I think she finds a nice balance between a mature and full sound, yet it is also young and vibrant with a clear core timbre. She makes every return to the A section different and exciting, which I think is a huge challenge with this aria. Callas also employs lots of portamento/legato and it gives a very playful and lively quality to the piece. 

One of the biggest musical elements that I noticed and appreciated were Callas’s attention to dynamics and other markings in the score. Her execution of the dynamics are SO specific and integral, and make the entire piece so much more interesting. It gives Juliette a more dynamic feel and gives the music interest in the moments of repetition. Noticing the variation in dynamics and what that brings to the piece made me realize that I’m definitely just singing the entire aria LOUD — so I definitely need to work this into my interpretation. 

Another way that Callas creates interest and contrast is through her execution of the tempo changes. She really embraces the freedom given with the ritardando markings at high points and I think I could probably milk this more in my performance!

In the opening cadenza, Callas lingers and moves through the phrase at a different pace; often I’ve heard sopranos just blast through it or take too much time. I like Callas’s execution as it creates layers of interest within the rhythm 

For the slow “Loin de l’hiver” section, Callas employs a very different timbre and coloring in her voice. I’ve always thought of this section to be the saddest section, but her interpretation almost felt sensual and provocative to me. 

Also in this section, her style is very close to declamatory, almost like recitative. Especially the phrase “laisse-moi sommeiller.” This spoken feel makes it feel very real and authentic — this also ties into the recitative before the aria: “Laisse mon âme à son printemps.” Within her declamatory delivery, Callas is also pretty free with the rhythm in this section. I’ve always felt somewhat unsure in this section because of the slight slow in tempo, and often it feels really stuck and kind of choppy feeling (maybe because my counting of the rhythm overtook the lyricism and meaning of the text). I want to really look at this section and see what I can do to make it feel more free, somewhat sensual, lyrical, and legato. 

The coloratura section after the slow “Loin” section is definitely the most difficult part of this aria, for me. Callas does a wonderful job of articulating and reaching all the pitches. She keeps everything super light and sings through the phrase instead of arriving on each individual note. I want to work on this section with this lightness and moving through the phrase in mind. I think this will keep the line moving forward and match the building energy into the return of the A material “Douce flamme.” 

The very last two notes of this aria present an opportunity for debate. From the F to the high C, the soprano can either portamento (connect and slide through all the notes in between), or they can jump straight from F to C. I think I have always connected the notes as it helps technically keep the voice in a comfortable place, but Callas does a very clean and light jump to the high C. I almost like the tidy skip to the high note in Callas’s interpretation. Something about it is very light and reminds me that Juliette is very young! Maybe I will try out the skip and see how it feels vocally and dramatically. 

Top focus/goal: Analyze and review Callas’s performance to learn more about this aria and inform my performance

Challenges: Realizing the things that I have been leaving out/disregarding in the score! (and not getting frustrated with myself, staying motivated to implement changes)

Further topics: sensuality in “Loin” section, I would like to listen to more recordings and compare interpretations

Characterization of Juliette: There is a playfulness in this aria balanced with some sensual qualities. I think this aria can be a perfect way to show that Juliette is so young, but her potential for love and romance as a young woman is definitely present and is starting to awaken in her. Although she doesn’t want to be in love or married, the musical elements of this aria almost suggest otherwise. It would be interesting to consider that Juliette gets swept away by her own music in this aria and although she is trying to fight fate, she is also the one engaging in it.

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