MARIA CALLAS – Part One
Maria Callas (1923 – 1977), was an American-born Greek soprano and one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. Critics praised her bel canto technique, wide-ranging voice and dramatic interpretations. Her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini and further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini. Her musical and dramatic talents led to her being hailed as La Divina.
Born in New York City and raised by an overbearing mother, she received her musical education in Greece and established her career in Italy. Forced to deal with the exigencies of wartime poverty and with myopia that left her nearly blind onstage, she endured struggles and scandal over the course of her career. She turned herself from a heavy woman into a svelte and glamorous one after a mid-career weight loss, which might have contributed to her vocal decline and the premature end of her career. The press exulted in publicizing Callas’s allegedly temperamental behavior, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi and her love affair with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Although her dramatic life and personal tragedy have often overshadowed Callas the artist in the popular press, her artistic achievements were such that Leonard Bernstein called her “the Bible of opera” and, in 2006, Opera News wrote of her: “Nearly thirty years after her death, she’s still the definition of the diva as artist—and still one of classical music’s best-selling vocalists.”
“It was a flawed voice. But then Callas sought to capture in her singing not just beauty but a whole humanity, and within her system, the flaws feed the feeling, the sour plangency and the strident defiance becoming aspects of the canto. They were literally defects of her voice; she bent them into advantages of her singing.”
Ethan Mordden, author
Callas’s Italian opera debut took place at the Verona Arena in August 1947, in a performance of La Gioconda. In 1949 she married Giovanni Battista Meneghini, an older, wealthy industrialist, who assumed control of her career until 1959. It was Meneghini’s love and support that gave Callas the time needed to establish herself in Italy. Though her voice captivated audiences, as her fame increased, Callas developed a reputation as a demanding diva.
In 1954, Callas made her American debut in Norma at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The performance was a triumph. In 1956, she had the opportunity to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Within three years of the performance, Callas’s health began to rapidly decline, as did her marriage.
In 1957, while still married to Meneghini, Callas was introduced to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis at a party given in her honor. The affair that followed received much publicity in the popular press, and in November 1959, Callas left her husband.
During the 1960s, her performances grew fewer and farther between, as a result of her frequent cancellations. Michael Scott asserts that Onassis was not why Callas largely abandoned her career, but that he offered her a way out of a career that was made increasingly difficult by scandals and by vocal resources that were diminishing at an alarming rate. Franco Zeffirelli, on the other hand, recalls asking Callas in 1963 why she had not practiced her singing, and Callas responding that “I have been trying to fulfill my life as a woman.”
Though she formally retired from the stage in the early ’60s, Callas made a brief return to performing with the Metropolitan Opera from January 1964 through July 1965. Her final operatic performance was in Tosca at Covent Garden on July 5, 1965.
The relationship with Onassis ended in 1968, when he left Callas in favor of Jacqueline Kennedy.
In 1969, the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini cast Callas in her only non-operatic acting role, as the Greek mythological character of Medea. From October 1971 to March 1972, Callas gave a series of master classes in New York. She staged a series of joint recitals in Europe in 1973 and in the U.S., South Korea. Her final public performance was on November 11, 1974, in Sapporo, Japan.
Callas spent her last years living largely in isolation in Paris and died at age 53 on September 16, 1977, of a heart attack. Her ashes were scattered over the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Greece, according to her wish.
More to read:
Wikipedia: Maria Callas
Κοινο_Τοπία: Μαρία Κάλλας: Μια προσέγγιση στο μύθο της
Σαν σήμερα: Μαρία Κάλλας