|ED SULLIVAN WITH MARIA CALLAS AND GEORGE LONDON, NOVEMBER 25, 1956|
He also realized that there was a great middlebrow audience out there, viewers who enjoyed seeing the latest Broadway plays and New York operas but didn’t have much of a chance to see them in person, and he was dedicated to giving them that opportunity through his show. Recreations of scenes from plays, musicals, and operas were common, with the singers and actors appearing in costume on a reproduced set. It wasn’t enough, thought Sullivan, to recreate the performance; he wanted to recreate the experience as well.
And that’s how, in November of 1956, the great Maria Callas came to be on The Ed Sullivan Show. Callas had made her Met debut on opening night of the 1956-57 season in Bellini’s Norma. On November 19, she would premiere perhaps her most famous role, that of Puccini’s Tosca. Sullivan knew the headlines that would be generated by Callas’ debut on American television, and booked Callas to appear on the show.
Maguire recounts some of the behind-the-scenes tension; Callas, a diva to the last, refused to do Tosca, preferring to save it for the paying customers at the Met. Sullivan, in turn, threatened to boot her off the show if she didn’t fulfill her half of the bargain. The result, of course, was this performance, from November 25, 1956. The first person you’ll see is Rudolf Bing, the general manager of the Metropolitan, followed by scenes from Act II of Tosca, featuring the Canadian bass-baritone George London as the villainous Count Scarpia. The orchestra is under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulos.
In 1956, opera and theater were not uncommon on television. Aside from an occasional appearnce on PBS, where are the outlets for such programming today?