Maria Callas made her much-anticipated debut at the Met on 29 October 1956, 61 years ago.
Callas was already world-famous by the time she opened the Met’s 72nd season in the title role of Bellini’s Norma. Her first appearance was preceded by a lot of media coverage, including one story in Time that touched on some of the more controversial aspects of the soprano, like her relationship with her mother.
The reviews at the time were generally positive, although Variety noted that all the pre-concert hype may have set expectations too high. Of Callas’ voice, the Variety reviewer remarked, “It has many varying qualities, mostly good. Outwardly calm and poised, possessed of a perhaps too formidable reputation for self-assurance, her acting was unhesitant if sometimes too technically calculated.”
A sense of the anticipation prior to the performance was given by Terrance McNally (who authored a play about Callas) when he wrote in the Guardian that he waited in line for three days to get standing room tickets for her debut.
This performance was recorded less than two months later, on 8 December. She sings Miss Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor.
Callas performed at the Met until 1958 when she had a falling out with Rudolf Bing that led to her contract being canceled. She later returned and gave her final performance in New York on 25 March 1965.