Everything MARIA CALLAS - on Classical TV


The life and voice of Maria Callas - all online at Classical TV... 







Maria Callas: Living And Dying for Art And Love

Directed by Steve Cole, this documentary focuses on Zeffirelli's Tosca to give an insight into Callas as a performer and to tell the tragic story of the end of her career. The film includes rare footage of Callas in the Tosca production, as well as a wealth of documents and interviews.


Read Classical TV's exclusive psychic "interview" with La Divina herself, Maria Callas - in honor of Halloween.








Though an international opera star, Callas made only seven appearances at New York's Metropolitan Opera - in part due to Rudolph Bing canceling Callas' contract in 1958.


Because of her marked weight loss in the '50s, rumors flew as to Callas' method of dropping 80 pounds; Callas even filed a lawsuit against Rome's Pantanella Mills pasta company for its claim Callas lost weight by eating its "physiological" brand of pasta.


During her lifetime, Callas played only one non-operatic role: the title character of Medea in Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo's Pasolini's 1969 movie. The filming process was supposedly grueling for Callas.


Five years before she died, Callas taught a series of classes at Juilliard in New York; decades later, the classes inspired Terrence McNally's play, Master Class.


A media circus surrounded Callas' affair with Aristotle Onassis in the '60s - and the scandal was ripe for speculation: talks of a secret abortion and continued liaisons between Callas and Aristotle even after he left Callas for Jacqueline Kennedy persisted for years.


A disturbed prankster actually stole and moved from their resting place in Pere Lachaise Cemetery Maria Callas' ashes; after authorities recovered the ashes, Greek pianist and friend of Callas Vasso Devetsi ordered the ashes spread across the Aegean Sea.








Not everyone loved the Callas voice, notes Michael Clive. Even her most ardent admirers admit it was flawed and deteriorated prematurely. Nonetheless, Maria Callas made indelible impression on all who heard her, and changed opera singing forever.



Maria Callas was the modern exemplar of the operatic diva. She died unexpectedly in 1977 at age 53; until then her career had flared like a dangerous comet, casting a glorious light but burning those who came too close, none more than herself. “Suicide!” shouted headlines about her death in her adopted city of Paris. Heart failure, medical authorities reported later. Perhaps both were correct; the always-emotional Callas was devastated when she lost her longtime companion Aristotle to the woman who became Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It’s said she never recovered.


There’s more than prurient gossip-mongering in raking over the juicy, tabloid-worthy facts of Callas’ life; they are part and parcel of her artistry and of an operatic era gone by. Much about her singing is controversial, but this much is universally agreed: what set her apart from all other singers was the blazing theatricality of her musicianship. Everything about the way she sang — the shadings of color and dynamics, the incredible expressiveness and precision of phrasing, the superb enunciation and controlled emphasis of each syllable — combined to express the emotional core of the music. And rightly or wrongly, there is tacit understanding among opera-lovers that this incomparable expressiveness was rooted in the real-life melodrama of her own biography: the early privations in Depression-era New York, the broken home and her parents’ separation, the resettlement in Greece with a mother who seemed both possessive and resentful, the work from childhood singing to support her family, and the rage that never left her.


Born Sophia Cecelia Kalos in New York, Maria began her opera studies at age 13 at the Greek National Conservatoire. The size of her voice and talent was evident from the beginning, as was her consuming drive to learn: she devoured lessons and practiced with the focus of a laser, then haunted the conservatory to learn what she could from other students’ lessons. With Europe engulfed by World War II, Maria was still adolescent and was large, ungainly and self-consciously myopic when she began to sing supporting roles at the Greek National Opera. Still, those of a mind to scout talent recognized her potential immediately. They heard not just beautifully prepared performances by a very young singer, but an instrument that could take her seemingly anywhere — liquid in tone, huge in size and range, passionate in intensity, yet with a flexibility almost unknown in large, weighty voices. And it had a distinctive edge, almost with the suggestion of a sob, that intensified the expressiveness of its changing colors.


The glories and scandals of Callas’ career were so tumultuous that they seemed to unfold with impossible speed. But because she began headlining so young, her career spanned more than two decades even though it was cut short. She sang full-tilt through 1964, and made abortive attempts to revive her career after that. For opera fans, the following highlights are essential knowledge:


* The hat trick. Win bar bets by challenging friends to name the soprano who performed Bellini’s Elvira and Wagner’s Isolde at Venice’s Teatro la Fenice within the space of a week. Of course, they may already know the legendary story of how Callas, already cast in the monumentally arduous Tristan und Isolde on unusually short notice, stepped in for an indisposed soprano in I puritani in 1949, triumphing in both. One searches vainly for a sports analogy to reflect the comically remote odds against her — perhaps winning in the marathon and the shot-put in the same track meet. After this, Callas’ international stardom was assured.

* The “Meneghini Revolution.” Some Callas biographers (and there have been hundreds) argue that in seeking her artistic and emotional independence, Callas succeeded only in fleeing from one exploiter to another — notably from her manipulative mother to the wealthy Italian industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini, who is credited with transforming her into a woman of elegance and slimness. There is continued speculation about Callas’ precipitous weight loss: approximately 80 pounds from late 1953 to early 1954. Having married Meneghini in 1949, she had become his Galatea, Maria Meneghini Callas. Suddenly she was sleek and graceful, wearing couture as if she were born to it, and moving with newfound confidence onstage.

* The fact that you are already a Callas fan. Whether or not you’ve heard her recordings or seen her videotaped performances, you have already enjoyed the artistry of Maria Callas. That’s because without exception, all opera singers analyze the Callas legacy to understand the range of expressive possibility she brought into each role. Your favorite singers could not sing as they do if they had not studied how Callas sang as she did.

* The stage effect. In the strength of her technique, her electric presence and her dramatic impact, Callas the actress has few peers in the history of either theater or opera — and certainly none in the extent of her influence on operatic stage technique. The hallmarks of Callas’ stage manner include her economy of gesture, her ability to listen and react, and most of all her sensitivity to the music: the score was the wellspring of all Callas’ interpretive ideas. Once she had redefined what was possible, clutch-and-stumble histrionics became obsolete in the opera house, and audiences demanded greater credibility.

* The lore. Callas’ career has given rise to an endless stream of anecdotes — about her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi and other sopranos (greatly exaggerated), her temper and capricious cancellations (likewise), and most of all about the intensity of her acting, which often left audiences overwhelmed or even frightened. Of her famous Traviata directed by Luchino Visconti, though no consumptive could sing like that, her Act IV made audiences feel the horror of watching their heroine die. She was Tosca to the life, and seemed really to be at the point of murder in Act II. My favorite: during a run of Cherubini’s Medea in Dallas in 1958, Callas appeared so terrifyingly vengeful that Teresa Berganza, singing the role of Neris, reportedly feared for the safety of the two children and rushed them off stage.


If she hadn’t died in 1977, Maria Callas might now be enjoying a queenly retirement. After all, she is recognized not only as the singer who influenced operatic performance more than any other, but also as an inaugural jet-setter and icon of elegance and taste. She would now be old enough to command grande-dame status, if not too old to enjoy it. Or perhaps she would have chosen a life of Garbo-like seclusion, snubbing enemies real and imagined, nursing her wounds as her fans, vociferous as ever, keep the flame of her diva-hood burning.


-- Michael Clive







From sketchwriter and Telegraph contributor Frank Johnson, an extract from a new collection edited by his widow recalls the thrill of performing at Covent Garden, aged 14, with the legendary Maria Callas


Maria Callas, an avid chef and recipe collector, had an impressive oyster recipe in her repertoire


For a Dolce and Gabbana fashion show, the designer features Maria Callas portraits on graphic t-shirts, along with prints of vintage opera playbills, including Norma and La Traviata


A review of the production: Barbara Walsh plays Maria Callas in Master Class at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn







As part of All-Time Classics, we bring you "Six Degrees of Mozart" ... for Maria Callas. The great Mozart's musical, and sometimes personal, influence is pretty much everywhere imaginable. See where Callas falls in the web of Mozart:


* Maria Callas believed that "most of Mozart's music is dull."


* Callas once said that Mozart is sung too delicately, "as though singers were on tiptoes" and that Mozart's music should be sung as if it were by Verdi.


* Between 1939 and 1965, Callas gave over 600 performances in 41 operas and operettas, but only one was a Mozart opera: four performances as Constanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail at La Scala in 1952.


* Among Callas's test recordings for EMI in 1953 were two takes of "Non mi dir" from Don Giovanni.


* Callas released an album of arias by Beethoven, Weber and Mozart, on which she sang three Don Giovanni arias and one – "Porgi amor" – from Le Nozze di Figaro.


* The Spanish singer and teacher Elvira de Hidalgo (1891-1980), like her most famous student, Maria Callas, rarely recorded Mozart; one of the rare instances is her "La ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni.