Michael Shae is a Senior Editor at The New York Review. (April 2015)

Don Carlos Rediscovered

Bulgarian bass-baritone Boris Christoff (1914–1993), in costume as Philip II in Verdi's opera <em>Don Carlos</em> at Covent Garden.

With Don Carlos Verdi intended, as the English critic and musicologist Andrew Porter wrote, “to give a new nobility and purpose to grand opera.” The result, according to Porter, is Verdi’s “most ambitious opera.” But such a grandiose vision proved unwieldy. One imagines that in the end Porter would have agreed with Julian Budden’s broad-minded conclusion: “When performed with sufficient musical and dramatic understanding any combination of versions can be made to sound convincing.”

A New Callas

Maria Callas in Luigi Cherubini’s <i>Medea</i>, Covent Garden, London, 1959
Maria Callas converted me to opera. I am sure I am not unique in this, except in the particulars. In my early college years I immersed myself in recordings of the nineteenth-century symphonic repertory—Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, the Russians—but for a long time I refused to listen to opera, would …

A Definitive New Callas

Maria Callas in <em>La Sonnambula</em> at La Scala, circa 1955

Maria Callas converted me to opera. I am sure I am not unique in this, except in the particulars. In my early college years I immersed myself in recordings of the nineteenth-century symphonic repertory—Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, the Russians—but for a long time I refused to listen to opera, would listen to an overture and then rush to change the record before the singing started. Then one day my roommate put Callas’s 1953 Tosca on the turntable and dropped the needle onto “Vissi d’arte.”

Slide Show: Houdon’s Sensuous Sculpture

In “The Best Faces of the Enlightenment,” from the April 8 issue of The New York Review, Willibald Sauerländer writes about a new exhibition of the work of Jean-Antoine Houdon, whom he calls “the last and probably greatest French sculptor of the eighteenth century.” In his works—a selection of which can be seen in this slide show—the “panegyric rhetoric of the baroque” and the “flounces and wigs of the rococo” give way to “an unadorned naturalism.” “Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sensuous Sculpture” was organized by the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt, Germany, and is on view at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France, until June 27. It includes nineteen works by Houdon (1741–1828); it also includes works by some of his most important contemporaries, including Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Augustin Pajou, and Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne.