Maria Callas died on Sept. 16, 1977. What happens at 3:30 is, for me, one of the great moments in recorded music. I write about it in the Verdi chapter of my new book:
"Love me, Alfredo, as much as I love you. Goodbye!" ... In the tense passage leading up to the outburst, the soprano adopts a breathless, fretful tone, communicating Violetta’s initially panicked response to the situation — vocal babbling, the Verdi scholar Julian Budden calls it. Then, with the trembling of the strings, she seems to flip a switch, her voice burning hugely from within. When she reaches up to the A and the B-flat, she claws at the notes, practically tears them off the page, although her tone retains a desperate beauty. Her delivery is so unnervingly vehement — here is what Björk, in her discussion of Callas, called the “rrrr” — that it risks anticlimax. Where can the opera possibly go from here? When you listen again, you understand: Violetta’s spirit is broken, and from now on she will sing as if she were already dead.