Elvira de Hidalgo, New York, ca. 1910

Elvira de Hidalgo

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis


Elvira de Hidalgo, around the time of her appearance with the Metropolitan Opera as Rosina in “The Barber of Seville” New York circa 1910 (Library of Congress)

Elvira de Hidalgo (1891–1980) was a prominent Spanish coloratura soprano, who later became a pedagogue. Her most famous pupil was Maria Callas. She was born in Valderrobres, Teruel Province (Spain), as Elvira Juana Rodriguez Roglan.
She made her debut at the age of sixteen, at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, which would become her best-known role. Following her debut, de Hidalgo was quickly engaged for Paris. Her debut with the New York Metropolitan Opera occurred in 1910, as Rosina. With that company, de Hidalgo sang in Rigoletto (with Enrico Caruso) and La sonnambula (with Alessandro Bonci) in the same season. In 1916, she made her debut at La Scala, Milan, as Rosina.
In 1924, she appeared in London with the British National Opera Company, at Covent Garden, in Rigoletto.
After she married the manager of a casino, in 1933 she retired to begin a career as a vocal coach and teacher, although she continued to give occasional concerts until 1936 and made a few last recordings. She became a professor at the Athens Conservatory and then, in 1940, the young soprano Maria Callas became her student.

Elvira de Hidalgo & Maria Callas, in Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens, 1950

Elvira de Hidalgo & Maria Callas, in Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens, 1950

De Hidalgo said of Maria Callas: “I knew when I met her first that she was unique. Her dark penetrating eyes and her wide, full mouth. She would come to my studio first thing each morning and stay right through my teaching day, listening to all the other lessons. She was inquisitive and wanted as much knowledge as I could give her. If I gave her a new aria one day she had it learned and memorized by the next lesson – often a day or two later. Her dedication was complete … I was always able to relax when Callas performed, unlike the anxiety I would experience in listening to my other students. I always felt at ease and comfortable, knowing she would sing beautifully.”
In 1957, Callas wrote of the woman who had an “essential role” in her artistic formation: “De Hidalgo had one method, which was the real bel canto way, where no matter how heavy a voice, it should always be kept light, it should always be worked on in a flexible way, never to weigh it down. It is a method of keeping the voice light and flexible and pushing the instrument into a certain zone where it might not be too large in sound, but penetrating. And teaching the scales, trills, all the bel canto embellishments, which is a whole vast language of its own… It is to this illustrious Spanish artist, whom the public and the old subscribers at La Scala will certainly recall as an unforgettable and superlative Rosina and as a splendid interpreter of other important roles, it is to this illustrious artist, I repeat, with a moved, devoted, and grateful heart, that I owe all my preparation and my artistic formation as an actress and musician. This elect woman, who, besides giving me her precious teaching, gave me her whole heart as well…”
Mme de Hidalgo died, aged 88, in Milan.
Sources/More to Read:
Wikipedia: Elvira de Hidalgo
Great Voices of Opera: A Lost Identity – Elvira de Hidalgo
Buy Print:

For more, see my other posts:
Part One – Maria Callas on the beach, 1956
Part Two – Aristotle Onassis & Maria Callas, London 1959
Part Three – Piero Tosi & Maria Callas, Milano 1955




Piero Tosi & Maria Callas, Milano 1955

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Piero Tosi & Maria Callas behind the scenes of La Sonnambula directed by Luchino Visconti in the Teatro alla Scala, 1955 (Erio Piccagliani)

Piero Tosi & Maria Callas behind the scenes of La Sonnambula directed by Luchino Visconti in the Teatro alla Scala, Milano 1955 (Erio Piccagliani)

Piero Tosi
(1927- ) is an Italian costume designer, born in Florence, Italy. In the late 1940s, he studied at Florence’s Accademia di Belle Arti, under the guidance of painter Ottone Rosai. At the age of 20, Tosi landed his first professional job as costume assistant on a stage production of the classic Le chandelier. Soon after, Tosi met renowned stage and film director Luchino Visconti through school friend Franco Zeffirelli and worked as a costume assistant on Visconti’s 1949 Florentine production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. In 1951, Tosi moved to Rome, where he began his film career, scouring the streets to find clothes for star Anna Magnani to wear in Visconti’s neorealistic tale “Bellissima” (1952), the first of 12 films he made with the director. His second picture with Visconti, 1954’s “Senso”, marked Tosi’s period film debut and introduced audiences to his lush, sensual designs. “I believe,” he once stated, “that an actor’s costume has to mirror the character wearing it, and also life.” Tosi’s screen career took off in the 1960s with a string of critically acclaimed films, including Visconti’s “Rocco and his Brothers” (1960), “The Leopard” (1963) – for which he received his first Oscar nomination – and “The Damned” (1969); Vittorio De Sica’s comedy “Marriage Italian Style” (1964); the Peter Sellers farce “After the Fox” (1966); and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Medea” (1969), for which he designed ancient Greek apparel for diva Maria Callas.
In all of his designs, Tosi explored the “architecture of the body,” noting that “every eight years the human body changes completely.” Obsessed with the human form, Tosi worked to mold actor to costume as much as costume to actor. Sometimes, Tosi also designed the actor’s hair and makeup, striving for a complete and authentic look. For Visconti’s “Death in Venice” (1971), Tosi created almost 700 period costumes, representing a range of ages and types, and received his second Oscar nod for his efforts. Three more Oscar nominations followed: for the Visconti production “Ludwig” (1973), for the flashy, modern comedy “La Cage aux Follies” (1979, shared with Ambra Danon) and for Zeffirelli’s opera adaptation “La Traviata” (1982).
Tosi continued to design into the 2000s, and in 2003 received the Costume Designers Guild’s inaugural President’s Award. Today, he spends his time teaching his craft at Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, happily sharing his remarkable visual memory, his passion for authentic detail and his special language of design with tomorrow’s young filmmakers. An Honorary Academy Award was given to Piero Tosi on November 16, 2013  after a career of fifty years as a costume designer, and with five Best Costume design nominations.

From "Maria Callas & Swarovski: Jewels on Stage" exhibition

From “Maria Callas & Swarovski: Jewels on Stage” exhibition

Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo (1906–1976), was an Italian theatre, opera and cinema director, as well as a screenwriter. He is best known for his films The Leopard (1963) and Death in Venice (1971). During the years 1946 to 1960 he directed many celebrated productions of operas. Beginning when he directed a production at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala of “La vestale” in December 1954, his career included a famous revival of “La traviata” at La Scala in 1955 with Maria Callas and an equally famous Anna Bolena (also at La Scala) in 1957 with Callas.
Visconti’s direction of Bellini’s opera, “La Sonambula”, in 1955, was an early incarnation of what is now called a “concept” approach. The director insisted Maria Callas wear a dazzling white gown and her jewelry onstage, whilst playing a poor peasant girl. When Callas questioned this choice, Visconti famously responded:

“The audience is not paying to see a poor peasant girl. They are paying to see Maria Callas play a poor peasant girl.”

A significant 1958 Royal Opera House (London) production of Verdi’s five-act Italian version of “Don Carlos” (with Jon Vickers) followed, along with a “Macbeth” in Spoleto in 1958 and a famous black-and-white “Il trovatore” with scenery and costumes by Filippo Sanjust at the Royal Opera House in 1964. In 1966 Visconti’s luscious “Falstaff” for the Vienna State Opera conducted by Leonard Bernstein was critically acclaimed. On the other hand, his austere 1969 “Simon Boccanegra” with the singers clothed in geometrical costumes provoked controversy.
La sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) is an opera semiseria in two acts, with music in the bel canto tradition by Vincenzo Bellini set to an Italian libretto by Felice Romani, based on a scenario for a ballet-pantomime written by Eugene Scribe and choreographed by Jean-Pierre Aumer called “La somnambule, ou L’arrivee d’un nouveau seigneur”. The first performance took place at the Teatro Carcano (it) in Milan on 6 March 1831.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Biography – Piero Tosi
Wikipedia: Piero Tosi
IMDb: Piero Tosi
Wikipedia: Luchino Visconti
Wikipedia: La sonnambula
More to read:
Silver Screen Modes: Who is Piero Tosi?
Opera Chic: Maria Callas’ Bling at the NYC MET

For more, see my other postS:
Part One – Maria Callas on the beach, 1956
PART TWO – Aristotle Onassis & Maria Callas, London 1959

Eleanor Xiniwe of the African Choir, 1891

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Mrs Eleanor Xiniwe (nee Ndwanya) of the African Choir, 1891. Photographed by London Stereoscopic Company studios. Courtesy of Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mrs Eleanor Xiniwe (nee Ndwanya) of the African Choir, 1891 (Photographed by London Stereoscopic Company studios. Courtesy of Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The African Choir were a group of young South African singers that toured Britain between 1891 and 1893. Inspired by Orpheus M. McAdoo’s Virginia Jubilee Singers, they were a Christian choir on a mission to raise funds for a technical school in Kimberley in the Cape Colony (South Africa). The Choir’s members, drawn from seven different South African tribes, included Paul Xiniwe and his wife Eleanor, Sannie Koopman, Charlotte Makhomo Manye, Johanna Jonkers, Josiah Semouse and a Miss Gwashu. Their best known performance was before Queen Victoria at Osborne House, the royal residence on the Isle of Wight.

(Mrs. Eleanor Xiniwe) is a young lady-like, native woman, the regularity of whose features despite her sable complexion, vies with most European faces, and who has dignified and rather stately manners. – London Illustrated News, August 29, 1891

The Illustrated London News, August 29, 1891

The Illustrated London News, August 29, 1891

At some point during their stay, they visited the studio of the London Stereoscopic Company to have group and individual portraits made on plate-glass negatives. They are the first black people ever photographed in Britain. That long-lost series of photographs, unseen for 120 years, was the dramatic centrepiece of an illuminating new exhibition called Black Chronicles II. “The portraits were last shown in the London Illustrated News in 1891,” says Renee Mussai, who has co-curated the show at London’s Rivington Place alongside Mark Sealy MBE, director of Autograph ABP, a foundation that focuses on black cultural identity often through the use of overlooked archives. “The Hulton Archive, where they came from, did not even know they existed until we uncovered them while excavating their archive as part of our research project.”
The London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company specialised in carte de visites – small photographs printed on cards that were often traded by collectors or used by performers for publicity purposes – and, as their name suggests, they were all in stereo which, when seen through a special viewer, gave the illusion of a three-dimensional photograph.
Autograph ABP: Black Chronicles II
Lasca Sartoris.tumblr.com


Aristotle Onassis & Maria Callas, London 1959

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Aristotle Onassis & Maria Callas at a party at

Aristotle Onassis & Maria Callas at a party at “The Dorchester”, London 1959 (Photo: Desmond O’Neill)

Aristotle Onassis (Aristotelis Onasis; 1906 – 1975) was a Greek shipping magnate and businessman. Onassis amassed the world’s largest privately owned shipping fleet and was one of the world’s richest and most famous men. He was known for his business success, his great wealth and also his personal life.
Onassis was born in Smyrna and fled the city with his family to Greece in the wake of the Greco-Turkish War in 1922. Onassis moved to Argentina in 1923 and he got a job as a telephone engineer. Poor but clever, he eavesdropped on business calls and used the information to set up deals of his own. Onassis was soon making loads of money and buying beautiful clothes. His ability to reinvent himself as an “important businessman” during the day, yet continuing to work the phone lines in coveralls at night, was an early indication of his shrewd social and business skills.
Onassis’ first big idea came in the mid-1920s, when he overheard a phone call about a new “talkie” that would have its main character smoke a cigarette. Onassis got the idea to start his own brand of cigarettes. He chose a famous opera singer as the perfect model. To get her to smoke his brand in public, he showed up at her dressing room with a giant bouquet of flowers. Amazingly, Onassis seduced her. She, of course, smoked his brand of cigarettes.

Aristoteles Onassis in1932

Aristoteles Onassis in 1932

By the age of 25, his tobacco business made him a millionaire. Building on his wealth, he realized that the shipping magnates who hauled the tobacco made more than the cigarette manufacturer. This realization came to him at the height of the Great Depression. Just when everyone was getting out of the shipping business, Onassis was able to buy six ships for less than half of what they would normally be worth.
At the outbreak of World War II, Onassis leased his cargo ships to the Allies. His wealth grew enormously, and so did his social standing. He began dating a string of famous women. Within a few years, he met the daughter of the richest shipping magnate in the world, Athina Livanos, a woman almost half his age. They married and had two children.
Moving to Monaco, Onassis rivaled Prince Rainer III for economic control of the country through his ownership of SBM and in the mid 1950s sought to secure an oil shipping arrangement with Saudi Arabia and engaged in whaling expeditions.

“If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning” – Aristotle Onassis

In 1957 Onassis met Maria Callas during a party in Venice promoted by Elsa Maxwell. They embarked on an affair despite the fact they were both married. After this first encounter, Onassis commented to Spyros Skouras: “There [was] just a natural curiosity; after all, we were the most famous Greeks alive in the world.” The affair received much publicity in the popular press, and in November 1959, Callas left her husband. The relationship ended in 1968, when Onassis left Callas in favor of Jacqueline Kennedy. The two married on Onassis’ privately owned island. However, the Onassis family’s private secretary, Kiki, writes in her memoir that even while Aristotle was with Jackie, he frequently met up with Maria in Paris, where they resumed what had now become a clandestine affair.
In 1973, Onassis’s 24 year old son, Alexander, died in a terrible plane crash. He was greatly affected by the death and two years later, on March 15, 1975, Aristotle Onassis died. It was said that Maria Callas, his true love, never recovered from his death. She died two and a half years later.
Wikipedia: Aristotle Onassis
Biography.com: Aristotle OnassisWikipedia: Maria Callas
More to read:
HEC: The Life of Aristotle Onassis – The Man, the Myth, the Legend

“Αν δεν υπήρχαν οι γυναίκες, όλα τα λεφτά του κόσμου δεν θα είχαν καμία απολύτως σημασία” Αριστοτέλης Ωνάσης

Στα Ελληνικά:
Σαν Σήμερα: Βιογραφία Αριστοτέλη Ωνάση

For more, see my other postS:
Part One – Maria Callas on the beach, 1956
PART THREE – piero tosi & Maria Callas, Milano 1955

Maria Callas on the beach, Venice 1956

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Maria Callas on Venice Lido beach, Italy 1956 (Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche)

Maria Callas on Venice Lido beach, Italy 1956 (Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche)

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


Maria Callas & Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Venice Lido beach, 1956

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
Στα Ελληνικά:
Κοινο_Τοπία: Μαρία Κάλλας: Μια προσέγγιση στο μύθο της
Σαν σήμερα: Μαρία Κάλλας