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Maria Callas

Maria Callas (Greek: Μαρία Κάλλας) (December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977) was an American-born Greek soprano and one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century. She combined an impressive bel canto technique, a wide-ranging voice, and great dramatic gifts. An extremely versatile singer, her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini; further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini; and, in her early career, to the music dramas of Wagner. Her remarkable 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 on stage, 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 Aristotle Onassis. Her dramatic life and personal tragedy have often overshadowed Callas the artist in the popular press. However, her artistic achievements were such that Leonard Bernstein called her "The Bible of opera",[1] and her influence so enduring that, 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."[2]

Contents

Early life

Family life, childhood and move to Greece

Maria Callas was born on December 2, 1923, at Flower Hospital (now Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center) in Manhattan, New York City, to Greek parents Georgios Kalogeropoulos, a chemist, and Evangelia Kalogeropoulou (née Dimitriadi), who emigrated from Greece to New York in August 1923. The name of Callas' birth certificate was Sophia Cecelia Kalos, as her father reduced their family name to Kalos soon after they arrived to the United States, though she was christened Maria Anna Sophia Cecilia Kalogeropoulou (Μαρία Άννα Σοφία Καικιλία Καλογεροπούλου).[3] Her family originated from Meligalas, in the Peloponnese, and enjoyed a high standard of living, hence her mother did not want to leave Greece.[4]

Georgios and Evangelia were an ill-sorted couple; he was easy-going and unambitious, with no interest in the arts, unlike his wife who was vivacious, socially ambitious and had held dreams of a life in the arts for herself, let alone Georgios' extramarital adventures that aggravated the situation.[5] They had one more daughter named Yakinthi (later called Jackie), born in 1917, while their son Vassilis died from meningitis in 1922 at the age of three.[6] In 1923, after realizing that Evangelia was pregnant again, Georgios made the unilateral decision to move his family to the United States, something which was greeted with "Evangelia shouting hysterically followed by Georgios slamming doors", as Yakinthi recalls. Having already moved to New York and settled in Astoria where a strong Greek community existed, Evangelia, who never forgave him for leaving Greece, was convinced she was going to have a boy and she was so disappointed by the birth of Maria, that she refused to even look at her for four days.[5]

Around age of three, Maria's musical talents began to manifest themselves and after Evangelia discovered that her youngest daughter also had a voice, she began pressuring "Mary" to sing. Callas would later recall, "I was made to sing when I was only five, and I hated it."[5] George was unhappy with his wife favoring their elder daughter as well as the pressure put upon young Mary to sing and perform.[7] The marriage continued to deteriorate and in 1937 Evangelia decided to return to Athens with her two daughters.[5]

Deteriorating relationship with mother

Callas's relationship with Evangelia continued to erode during the years in Greece, and in the prime of her career, it became a matter of great public interest, especially after a 1956 cover story in Time magazine which focused on this relationship and later, by Evangelia's book My Daughter – Maria Callas. In public, Callas blamed the strained relationship with Evangelia on her unhappy childhood spent singing and working at her mother's insistence, saying,

My sister was slim and beautiful and friendly, and my mother always preferred her. I was the ugly duckling, fat and clumsy and unpopular. It is a cruel thing to make a child feel ugly and unwanted... I'll never forgive her for taking my childhood away. During all the years I should have been playing and growing up, I was singing or making money. Everything I did for them was mostly good and everything they did to me was mostly bad.[8]

In 1957, she told Norman Ross, "Children should have a wonderful childhood. I have not had it – I wish I had."[9] On the other hand, biographer Pestalis-Diomidis asserts that it was actually Evangelia's hateful treatment of George in front of their young children which led to resentment and dislike on Callas's part.[5] However, according to Callas' husband and her close friend Giulietta Simionato, Callas related to them that her mother, who did not work, pressured her to "go out with various men", mainly Italian and German soldiers, to bring home money and food during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II. Simionato was convinced that Callas "managed to remain untouched", but Callas never forgave Evangelia for what she perceived as a kind of prostitution forced on her by her mother.[5] In an attempt to patch things up with her mother, Callas took Evangelia along on her first visit to Mexico in 1950, but this only reawakened the old frictions and resentments, and after leaving Mexico, the two never met again.[10] After a series of angry and accusatory letters from Evangelia lambasting Callas's father and husband, Callas ceased communication with her mother altogether.[10]

Education

Callas received her musical education in Athens. Initially, her mother tried to enroll her at the prestigious Athens Conservatoire, without success. At the audition, her voice, still untrained, failed to impress, while the conservatoire's director Filoktitis Oikonomidis refused to accept her without her satisfying the theoretic prerequisites (solfege). In the summer of 1937, her mother visited Maria Trivella at the younger Greek National Conservatoire, asking her to take Mary as a student for a modest fee. In 1957, Trivella recalled her impression of "Mary, a very plump young girl, wearing big glasses for her myopia":

The tone of the voice was warm, lyrical, intense; it swirled and flared like a flame and filled the air with melodious reverberations like a carillon. It was by any standards an amazing phenomenon, or rather it was a great talent that needed control, technical training, and strict discipline in order to shine with all its brilliance.[5]

Trivella agreed to tutor Callas completely, waiving her tuition fees, but no sooner had Callas started her formal lessons and vocal exercises than Trivella began to feel that Mary was not a contralto, as she had been told, but a dramatic soprano. Subsequently, they began working on raising the tessitura of Mary's voice and to lighten its timbre.[5] Trivella recalled Mary as "A model student. Fanatical, uncompromising, dedicated to her studies heart and soul. Her progress was phenomenal. She studied five or six hours a day. ...Within six months, she was singing the most difficult arias in the international opera repertoire with the utmost musicality".[5] On April 11, 1938, in her public debut, Callas ended the recital of Trivella's class at the Parnassos music hall with a duet from Tosca.[5] Callas recalled that Trivella "had a French method, which was placing the voice in the nose, rather nasal... and I had the problem of not having low chest tones, which is essential in bel canto... And that's where I learned my chest tones."[11] However, when interviewed by Pierre Desgraupes on the French program L'Invitee Du Dimanche, Callas attributed the development of her chest voice not to Trivella, but to her next teacher, the well-known Spanish coloratura soprano Elvira de Hidalgo.[12]

Callas studied with Trivella for two years before her mother secured another audition at the Athens Conservatoire with de Hidalgo. Callas auditioned with "Ocean, Thou Mighty Monster." De Hidalgo recalled hearing "tempestuous, extravagant cascades of sounds, as yet uncontrolled but full of drama and emotion".[5] She agreed to take her as a pupil immediately, but Callas's mother asked de Hidalgo to wait for a year, as Callas would be graduating from the National Conservatoire and could begin working. On April 2, 1939, Callas undertook the part of Santuzza in a student production of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana at the Olympia Theater, and in the fall of the same year she enrolled at the Athens Conservatoire in Elvira de Hidalgo's class.[5]

De Hidalgo would later recall Callas as "a phenomenon... She would listen to all my students, sopranos, mezzos, tenors... She could do it all."[13] Callas herself said that she would go to "the conservatoire at 10 in the morning and leave with the last pupil ... devouring music" for 10 hours a day. When asked by her teacher why she did this, her answer was that even "with the least talented pupil, he can teach you something that you, the most talented, might not be able to do."[14]

Early operatic career in Greece

Maria Callas with her teacher

After several appearances as a student, Callas began appearing in secondary roles at the Greek National Opera. De Hidalgo was instrumental in securing roles for her, allowing Callas to earn a small salary, which would help her and her family get through the difficult war years.[5]

Callas made her professional debut in February 1942 in the small role of Beatrice in Franz von Suppé's Boccaccio.[5] Soprano Galatea Amaxopoulous, who sang in the chorus, later recalled, "Even in rehearsal, Mary's fantastic performing ability had been obvious, and from then on, the others started trying to find ways of preventing her from appearing."[5] Fellow singer Maria Alkeou similarly recalled that the established sopranos Nafiska Galanou and Anna (Zozó) Remmoundou "used to stand in the wings while Mary was singing and make remarks about her, muttering, laughing, and point their fingers at her".[5] Despite these hostilities, Callas managed to continue and made her debut in a leading role in August 1942 as Tosca, going on to sing the role of Marta in Eugen d'Albert's Tiefland at the Olympia Theater. Callas's performance as Marta received glowing reviews. Critic Spanoudi declared Callas "an extremely dynamic artist possessing the rarest dramatic and musical gifts", and Vangelis Mangliveras evaluated Callas's performance for the weekly To Radiophonon:

The singer who took the part of Marta, that new star in the Greek firmament, with a matchless depth of feeling, gave a theatrical interpretation well up to the standard of a tragic actress. About her exceptional voice with its astonishing natural fluency, I do not wish to add anything to the words of Alexandra Lalaouni: 'Kaloyeropoulou is one of those God-given talents that one can only marvel at.'[5]

Following these performances, even Callas's detractors began to refer to her as "The God-Given".[5] Some time later, watching Callas rehearse Beethoven's Fidelio, rival soprano Remoundou asked a colleague, "Could it be that there is something divine and we haven't realized it?"[5] Following Tiefland, Callas sang the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana again and followed it with O Protomastoras at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus theater at the foot of the Acropolis.

During August and September 1944, Callas performed the role of Leonore in a Greek language production of Fidelio, again at the Odeon of Herodus Atticus.[5] German critic Friedrich Herzog, who witnessed the performances, declared Leonore Callas's "greatest triumph":[5]

When Maria Kaloyeropoulou's Leonore let her soprano soar out radiantly in the untrammeled jubilation of the duet, she rose to the most sublime heights.... Here she gave bud, blossom, and fruit to that harmony of sound that also ennobled the art of the prima donne.[5]

After the liberation of Greece, de Hidalgo advised Callas to establish herself in Italy. Callas proceeded to give a series of concerts around Greece, and then, against her teacher's advice, she returned to America to see her father and to further pursue her career. When she left Greece on September 14, 1945, two months short of her 22nd birthday, Callas had given 56 performances in seven operas and had appeared in around 20 recitals.[5] Callas considered her Greek career as the foundation of her musical and dramatic upbringing, saying, "When I got to the big career, there were no surprises for me."[15]

Main operatic career

After returning to the United States and reuniting with her father in September 1945, Callas made the round of auditions.[5] In December of that year, she auditioned for Edward Johnson, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, and was favorably received: "Exceptional voice—ought to be heard very soon on stage".[5] Callas maintained that the Met offered her Madama Butterfly and Fidelio, to be performed in Philadelphia and sung in English, both of which she declined, feeling she was too fat for Butterfly and did not like the idea of opera in English.[15] Although no written evidence of this offer exists in the Met's records,[10] in a 1958 interview with The New York Post, Johnson corroborated Callas's story: "We offered her a contract, but she didn't like it—because of the contract, not because of the roles. She was right in turning it down—it was frankly a beginner's contract."[5]

Italy, Meneghini, and Serafin

The Villa in Sirmione where Callas lived with Giovan Battista Meneghini between 1950 and 1959.

In 1946, Callas was engaged to re-open the opera house in Chicago as Turandot, but the company folded before opening. Basso Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, who also was to star in this opera, was aware that Tullio Serafin was looking for a dramatic soprano to cast as La Gioconda at the Arena di Verona. He would later recall the young Callas as being "amazing—so strong physically and spiritually; so certain of her future. I knew in a big outdoor theater like Verona's, this girl, with her courage and huge voice, would make a tremendous impact."[16] Subsequently he recommended Callas to retired tenor and impresario Giovanni Zenatello. During her audition, Zenatello became so excited that he jumped up and joined Callas in the Act 4 duet.[7] It was in this role that Callas made her Italian debut.

Upon her arrival in Verona, Callas met Giovanni Battista Meneghini, an older, wealthy industrialist, who began courting her. They married in 1949, and he assumed control of her career until 1959, when the marriage dissolved. It was Meneghini's love and support that gave Callas the time needed to establish herself in Italy,[16] and throughout the prime of her career, she went by the name Maria Meneghini Callas.

After La Gioconda, Callas had no further offers, and when Serafin, looking for someone to sing Isolde, called on her, she told him that she already knew the score, even though she had looked at only the first act out of curiosity while at the conservatory.[15] She sight-read the opera's second act for Serafin, who praised her for knowing the role so well, whereupon she admitted to having bluffed and having sight-read the music.[15] Even more impressed, Serafin immediately cast her in the role.[15] Serafin thereafter served as Callas's mentor and supporter.

According to Lord Harewood, "Very few Italian conductors have had a more distinguished career than Tullio Serafin, and perhaps none, apart from Toscanini, more influence".[14] In 1968, Callas would recall that working with Serafin was the "really lucky" opportunity of her career, because "he taught me that there must be an expression; that there must be a justification. He taught me the depth of music, the justification of music. That's where I really really drank all I could from this man".[11]

I puritani and path to bel canto

The great turning point in Callas's career occurred in Venice in 1949.[17] She was engaged to sing the role of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre at the Teatro la Fenice, when Margherita Carosio, who was engaged to sing Elvira in I puritani in the same theater, fell ill. Unable to find a replacement for Carosio, Maestro Serafin told Callas that she would be singing Elvira in six days; when Callas protested that she not only did not know the role, but also had three more Brünnhildes to sing, he told her "I guarantee that you can."[14] In Michael Scott's words, "the notion of any one singer embracing music as divergent in its vocal demands as Wagner's Brünnhilde and Bellini's Elvira in the same career would have been cause enough for surprise; but to attempt to essay them both in the same season seemed like folie de grandeur".[10] Before the performance actually took place, one incredulous critic would snort, "We hear that Serafin has agreed to conduct I puritani with a dramatic soprano... When can we expect a new edition of La traviata with [baritone] Gino Bechi's Violetta?"[10] After the performance, critics would write, "Even the most skeptical had to acknowledge the miracle that Maria Callas accomplished... the flexibility of her limpid, beautifully poised voice, and her splendid high notes. Her interpretation also has a humanity, warmth, and expressiveness that one would search for in vain in the fragile, pellucid coldness of other Elviras."[18] Franco Zeffirelli recalled, "What she did in Venice was really incredible. You need to be familiar with opera to realize the enormity of her achievement. It was as if someone asked Birgit Nilsson, who is famous for her great Wagnerian voice, to substitute overnight for Beverly Sills, who is one of the great coloratura sopranos of our time."[13]

Scott asserts that "Of all the many roles Callas undertook it is doubtful if any had a more far-reaching effect."[10] This initial foray into the bel canto repertoire changed the course of Callas's career and set her on a path leading to Lucia di Lammermoor, La traviata, Armida, La sonnambula, Il pirata, Il turco in Italia, Medea, and Anna Bolena and reawakened interest in the long-neglected operas of Cherubini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini.[13][16] In the words of soprano Montserrat Caballé,

She opened a new door for us, for all the singers in the world, a door that had been closed. Behind it was sleeping not only great music but great idea of interpretation. She has given us the chance, those who follow her, to do things that were hardly possible before her. That I am compared with Callas is something I never dared to dream. It is not right. I am much smaller than Callas.[16]

As with I puritani, Callas also learned and performed Cherubini's Medea, Giordano's Andrea Chénier, and Rossini's Armida on a few days' notice.[16][19] Throughout her career, Callas displayed her vocal versatility in recitals that combined dramatic soprano arias alongside coloratura pieces, including in a 1952 RAI recital in which she opened with Lady Macbeth's "letter scene", followed by the "Mad Scene" from Lucia di Lammermoor, then by Abigaile's treacherous recitative and aria from Nabucco, finishing with the "Bell Song" from Lakmé capped by a ringing high E in alt (E6).[19]

Important debuts

Callas made her official debut at La Scala in Verdi's I vespri siciliani in December 1951, and this theater became her artistic home throughout the 1950s.[13] La Scala mounted many new productions specially for Callas by directors such as Herbert von Karajan, Margherita Wallmann, Luchino Visconti (notably the 1955 La traviata) and Franco Zeffirelli.[16] She was notably instrumental in arranging Franco Corelli's debut at La Scala in 1954, where he sang Licinio in Spontini's La vestale opposite Callas's Julia. The two had sung together for the first time the year previously in Rome in a production of Norma. Anthony Tommasini wrote that Corelli had "earned great respect from the fearsomely demanding Callas, who in Mr. Corelli finally had someone with whom she could act."[20] The two collaborated several more times at La Scala, singing opposite each other in productions of Fedora (1956), Il pirata (1958) and Poliuto (1960). Their partnership continued throughout the rest of Callas's career.[21]

Callas made her American debut in Chicago in 1954, and "with the Callas Norma, Lyric Opera of Chicago was born."[22] Her Metropolitan Opera debut, opening the Met's seventy-second season on October 29, 1956 was again with Norma,[23] but was preceded with an unflattering cover story in Time magazine which rehashed all of the Callas clichés, including her temper, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi, and especially her difficult relationship with her mother.[7][17] As she had done with Lyric Opera of Chicago, on November 21, 1958, Callas gave a concert to inaugurate what then was billed as the Dallas Civic Opera, and helped establish that company with her friends from Chicago, Lawrence Kelly and Maestro Nicola Rescigno.[24] She further solidified this company's standing when, in 1958, she gave "a towering performance as Violetta in La Traviata and that same year, in her only American performances of Medea, gave an interpretation of the title role worthy of Euripides."[25]

In 1958 a feud with Rudolf Bing led to Callas's Metropolitan Opera contract being cancelled. Impressario Allen Oxenburg realised that this situation provided him with an opportunity to hire Callas for his own company, the American Opera Society, and he accordingly approached Callas with a contract to perform Imogene in Il pirata. She accepted and sang the role in a January 1959 performance that according to opera critic Allan Kozinn "quickly became legendary in operatic circles".[26] Bing and Callas later reconciled their differences and she returned to the house in 1965 to sing the title role in two performances as Tosca opposite Franco Corelli as Cavaradossi for one performance (March 19, 1965) and Richard Tucker (March 25, 1965) with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia for her final performances at the Met.

In 1952, she made her London debut at the Royal Opera House in Norma with veteran mezzo soprano Ebe Stignani as Adalgisa, a performance which survives on record and also features the young Joan Sutherland in the small role of Clotilde.[19] Callas and the London public had what she herself called "a love affair",[7] and she returned to the Royal Opera House in 1953, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1964 to 1965.[16] It was at the Royal Opera House where, on July 5, 1965, Callas ended her stage career in the role of Tosca, in a production designed and mounted for her by Franco Zeffirelli and featuring her friend and colleague Tito Gobbi.[16]

Weight loss

In the early years of her career, Callas was a heavy and full-figured woman, though she admitted to weighing "no more than 200 pounds."[15] Despite her figure, Meneghini and others considered her beautiful, but during her initial performances in Cherubini's Medea in May 1953, Callas decided that she needed a leaner face and figure to do dramatic justice to this as well as the other roles she was undertaking:

I was getting so heavy that even my vocalizing was getting heavy. I was tiring myself, I was perspiring too much, and I was really working too hard. And I wasn't really well, as in health; I couldn't move freely. And then I was tired of playing a game, for instance playing this beautiful young woman, and I was heavy and uncomfortable to move around. In any case, it was uncomfortable and I didn't like it. So I felt now if I'm going to do things right—I've studied all my life to put things right musically, so why don't I diet and put myself into a certain condition where I'm presentable.[15]

During 1953 and early 1954, she lost almost 80 pounds (36 kg), turning herself into what Maestro Rescigno called "possibly the most beautiful lady on the stage".[13] Sir Rudolf Bing, who remembered Callas as being "monstrously fat" in 1951, stated that after the weight loss, Callas was an "astonishing, svelte, striking woman" who "showed none of the signs one usually finds in a fat woman who has lost weight: she looked as though she had been born to that slender and graceful figure, and had always moved with that elegance."[27] Various rumors spread regarding her weight loss method; one had her swallowing a tapeworm, while Rome's Pantanella Mills pasta company claimed she lost weight by eating their "physiologic pasta", prompting Callas to file a lawsuit.[10] Callas stated that she lost the weight by eating a sensible low-calorie diet of mainly salads and chicken.[15] Some believe that the loss of body mass made it more difficult for her to support her voice, triggering the vocal strain that became apparent later in the decade (see vocal decline), while others believed the weight loss effected a newfound softness and femininity in her voice, as well as a greater confidence as a person and performer.[16]

Voice

Callas's voice was and remains controversial; it bothered and disturbed as many as it thrilled and inspired.[16] Walter Legge stated that Callas possessed that most essential ingredient for a great singer: an instantly recognizable voice.[28] During "The Callas Debate", Italian critic Rodolfo Celletti stated, "The timbre of Callas's voice, considered purely as sound, was essentially ugly... yet I really believe that part of her appeal was precisely due to this fact. Why? because for all its natural lack of varnish, velvet and richness, this voice could acquire such distinctive colours and timbres as to be unforgettable."[29] In compensation for the lack of classical beauty of sound, Callas was able to change the timbre of the voice and her vocal color and weight at will and according to the role she was singing, essentially giving each character her own individual voice.[16][19]

Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini has described the appeal of Callas's voice:

It is very difficult to speak of the voice of Callas. Her voice was a very special instrument. Something happens sometimes with string instruments—violin, viola, cello—where the first moment you listen to the sound of this instrument, the first feeling is a bit strange sometimes. But after just a few minutes, when you get used to, when you become friends with this kind of sound, then the sound becomes a magical quality. This was Callas.[13]

Vocal category

Callas's voice has been difficult to place in the modern vocal classification or fach system, especially since in her prime, her repertoire contained the heaviest dramatic soprano roles as well as roles usually undertaken by the highest, lightest and most agile coloratura sopranos. Regarding this versatility, Maestro Tullio Serafin said, "This woman can sing anything written for the female voice".[7] Michael Scott argues that Callas's voice was a natural high soprano,[10] and going by evidence of Callas's early recordings, Rosa Ponselle likewise felt that "At that stage of its development, her voice was a pure but sizable dramatic coloratura––that is to say, a sizable coloratura voice with dramatic capabilities, not the other way around.[30] On the other hand, music critic John Ardoin has argued that Callas was the reincarnation of the Nineteenth Century soprano sfogato or "unlimited soprano", a throwback to Maria Malibran and Giuditta Pasta, for whom many of the famous bel canto operas were written. He avers that like Pasta and Malibran, Callas was a natural mezzo-soprano whose range was extended through training and willpower, resulting in a voice which "lacked the homogeneous color and evenness of scale once so prized in singing. There were unruly sections of their voices never fully under control. Many who heard Pasta, for example, remarked that her uppermost notes seemed produced by ventriloquism, a charge which would later be made against Callas".[16] Ardoin points to the writings of Henry Fothergill Chorley about Pasta which bear an uncanny resemblance to descriptions of Callas:

"There was a portion of the scale which differed from the rest in quality and remained to the last 'under a veil.' ...out of these uncouth materials she had to compose her instrument and then to give it flexibility. Her studies to acquire execution must have been tremendous; but the volubility and brilliancy, when acquired, gained a character of their own... There were a breadth, an expressiveness in her roulades, an evenness and solidity in her shake, which imparted to every passage a significance totally beyond the reach of lighter and more spontaneous singers... The best of her audience were held in thrall, without being able to analyze what made up the spell, what produced the effect--as soon as she opened her lips".[16]

Callas herself appears to have been in agreement not only with Ardoin's assertions that she started as a natural mezzo-soprano, but also saw the similarities between herself and Pasta and Malibran. In 1957, she described her early voice as: "The timbre was dark, almost black—when I think of it, I think of thick molasses", and in 1968 she added, "They say I was not a true soprano, I was rather toward a mezzo".[5] Regarding her ability to sing the heaviest as well as the lightest roles, she told James Fleetwood,

"It's study; it's Nature. I’m doing nothing special, you know. Even Lucia, Anna Bolena, Puritani, all these operas were created for one type of soprano, the type that sang Norma, Fidelio, which was Malibran of course. And a funny coincidence last year, I was singing Anna Bolena and Sonnambula, same months and the same distance of time as Giuditta Pasta had sung in the Nineteenth Century... So I’m really not doing anything extraordinary. You wouldn’t ask a pianist not to be able to play everything; he has to. This is Nature and also because I had a wonderful teacher, the old kind of teaching methods... I was a very heavy voice, that is my nature, a dark voice shall we call it, and I was always kept on the light side. She always trained me to keep my voice limber".[31]

Vocal size and range

Callas's vocal range in performance (highest and lowest notes both shown in red): from F-sharp below the Middle C (green) to E-natural above the High C (blue)

In the years prior to her weight loss, Callas's voice was a powerful soprano, the sheer size of which was much commented upon,[18] and there were no complaints about unsteadiness even in the most exposed passages.[10] In his review of Callas's 1951 live recording of I vespri siciliani, Ira Siff writes, "Accepted wisdom tells us that Callas possessed, even early on, a flawed voice, unattractive by conventional standards — an instrument that signaled from the beginning vocal problems to come. Yet listen to her entrance in this performance and one encounters a rich, spinning sound, ravishing by any standard, capable of delicate dynamic nuance. High notes are free of wobble, chest tones unforced, and the middle register displays none of the "bottled" quality that became more and more pronounced as Callas matured."[32] In a 1982 Opera News interview with Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, Bonynge stated, "But before she slimmed down, I mean this was such a colossal voice. It just poured out of her, the way Flagstad's did... Callas had a huge voice. When she and Stignani sang Norma, at the bottom of the range you could barely tell who was who... Oh it was colossal. And she took the big sound right up to the top."[33] In his book, Michael Scott makes the distinction that whereas Callas's pre-1954 voice was a "dramatic soprano with an exceptional top", after the weight loss, it became, as one Chicago critic described the voice in Lucia,[18] a "huge suprano leggiero".[10] In performance, Callas's range was just short of three octaves, from F-sharp (F#3) below middle C (C4) heard in "Arrigo! Ah parli ad un core" from I vespri siciliani to E-natural (E6) above high C (C6), heard in the aria "Mercè, dilette amiche" in the final act of the same opera, as well as in Rossini's Armida and Lakmés Bell Song. Whether or not Callas ever sang a high F-natural in performance has been open to debate. After her June 11, 1951 concert in Florence, Rock Ferris of Musical Courier said, "Her high E's and F's are taken full voice."[18] Although no definite recording of Callas singing high F's have surfaced, the presumed E-natural at the end of Rossini's Armida—a poor-quality bootleg recording of uncertain pitch—has been referred to as a high F.[29] Author Eve Ruggieri has referred to the penultimate high note in "Mercè, dilette amiche" from I vespri siciliani' as a high F'[34], however this claim is refuted by the writings of John Ardoin as well as by the review of the complete performance in Opera News.[19][32] In a 1969 French television interview with Pierre Desgraupes on the program L'invitée du dimanche, Francesco Siciliani speaks of Callas's voice going to a high F, but within the same program, Callas's teacher, Elvira de Hidalgo, speaks of the voice soaring to a high E-natural, but does not mention the high F; meanwhile, Callas herself remains silent on the subject, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with either claim.[12]

Vocal registers

Callas's voice was noted by Walter Legge and other experts[29] for its three distinct registers. Her low or chest register was extremely dark and almost baritonal in power, and she used this part of her voice for dramatic effect, often going into this register much higher on the scale than most sopranos.[28] Her middle register had a peculiar and highly personal sound—"part oboe, part clarinet", as Claudia Cassidy described it[16]—and was noted for its veiled or "bottled" sound, as if she were singing into a jug.[28] Walter Legge attributed this sound to the "extraordinary formation of her upper palate, shaped like a Gothic arch, not the Romanesque arch of the normal mouth".[28] The upper register was ample and bright, with an impressive extension above high C, which—in contrast to the light flute-like sound of the typical coloratura soprano—she sang with the same full-throated sound as her lower registers.[16] And as she demonstrated in the finale of La Sonnambula on the commercial EMI set and the live recording from Cologne, she was able to execute a diminuendo on the stratospheric high E-flat, which Scott describes as "a feat unrivaled in the history of the gramophone."[10]

The agility of Callas's voice allowed her to sing difficult ornate music with ease and technical polish. In the words of Walter Legge, even in the most difficult florid music, there were no musical or technical difficulties "which she could not execute with astonishing, unostentatious ease. Her chromatic runs, particularly downwards, were beautifully smooth and staccatos almost unfailingly accurate, even in the trickiest intervals. There is hardly a bar in the whole range of nineteenth century music for high soprano that seriously tested her powers."[28] As part of her technical arsenal, Callas also possessed a beautiful and dependable trill in every vocal register.[35]

This combination of size, weight, range and agility was a source of amazement to Callas's own contemporaries. One of the choristers present at her La Scala debut in I vespri siciliani recalled, "My God! She came on stage sounding like our deepest contralto, Cloe Elmo. And before the evening was over, she took a high E-flat. And it was twice as strong as Toti Dal Monte's!"[16] For Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi, "the most fantastic thing was the possibility for her to sing the soprano coloratura with this big voice! This was something really special. Fantastic absolutely!"[13]

Artistry

Callas's own thoughts regarding music and singing can be found at Wikiquote.

The musician

Though adored by many opera enthusiasts, Callas was a controversial artist. While Callas was the great singer often dismissed simply as an actress[36] she considered herself first and foremost "a musician, that is, the first instrument of the orchestra."[11] Maestro Victor de Sabata confided to Walter Legge, "If the public could understand, as we do, how deeply and utterly musical Callas is, they would be stunned."[28] Callas possessed an innate architectural sense of line-proportion[16] and an uncanny feel for timing and for what one of her colleagues described as "a sense of the rhythm within the rhythm".[5] While reviewing the many recorded versions of "perhaps Verdi's ultimate challenge", the aria "D'amor sull'ali rosee" from Il Trovatore, Richard Dyer writes,

"Callas articulates all of the trills, and she binds them into the line more expressively than anyone else; they are not an ornament but a form of intensification. Part of the wonder in this performance is the chiaroscuro through her tone -- the other side of not singing full-out all the way through. One of the vocal devices that create that chiaroscuro is a varying rate of vibrato; another is her portamento, the way she connects the voice from note to note, phrase to phrase, lifting and gliding. This is never a sloppy swoop, because its intention is as musically precise as it is in great string playing. In this aria, Callas uses more portamento, and in greater variety, than any other singer. . . Callas is not creating "effects", as even her greatest rivals do. She sees the aria as a whole, "as if in an aerial view", as Sviatoslav Richter's teacher observed of his most famous pupil; simultaneously, she is on earth, standing in the courtyard of the palace of Aliaferia, floating her voice to the tower where her lover lies imprisoned." [37]

In addition to her musical skills, Callas had a particular gift for language and the use of language in music.[28] In recitatives, she always knew which word to emphasize and which syllable in that word to bring out.[16] Michael Scott notes, "If we listen attentively, we note how her perfect legato enables her to suggest by musical means even the exclamation marks and commas of the text."[10] Technically, not only did she have the capacity to perform the most difficult florid music effortlessly, but also she had the ability to use each ornament as an expressive device rather than for mere fireworks.[38] Soprano Martina Arroyo states, "What interested me most was how she gave the runs and the cadenzas words. That always floored me. I always felt I heard her saying something – it was never just singing notes. That alone is an art."[38] Callas's singing of the bel canto repertoire "created a furor, not only because she sang the florid music with an accuracy unequalled since the days of Tetrazzini, but also because she undertook it with stunning weight of tone and breath of phrasing, so bringing to it a dramatic perspective."[10] Walter Legge states that,

Most admirable of all her qualities, however, were her taste, elegance and deeply musical use of ornamentation in all its forms and complications, the weighting and length of every appoggiatura, the smooth incorporation of the turn in melodic lines, the accuracy and pacing of her trills, the seemingly inevitable timing of her portamentos, varying their curve with enchanting grace and meaning. There were innumerable exquisite felicities – minuscule portamentos from one note to its nearest neighbor, or over widespread intervals – and changes of color that were pure magic. In these aspects of bel canto she was supreme mistress of that art.[28]

The actress

Regarding Callas's acting ability, vocal coach Ira Siff remarked, "When I saw the final two Toscas she did in the old [Met], I felt like I was watching the actual story on which the opera had later been based."[39] Callas was not, however, a realistic or verismo style actress:[10] her physical acting was merely "subsidiary to the heavy Kunst of developing the psychology of the roles under the supervision of the music, of singing the acting... Suffering, delight, humility, hubris, despair, rhapsody—all this was musically appointed, through her use of the voice flying the text upon the notes."[36] Seconding this opinion, verismo specialist soprano Augusta Oltrabella said, "Despite what everyone says, [Callas] was an actress in the expression of the music, and not vice versa."[40][41] Mathew Gurewitsch adds,

In fact the essence of her art was refinement. The term seems odd for a performer whose imagination and means of expression were so prodigious. She was eminently capable of the grand gesture; still, judging strictly from the evidence of her recordings, we know (and her few existing film clips confirm) that her power flowed not from excess but from unbroken concentration, unfaltering truth in the moment. It flowed also from irreproachable musicianship. People say that Callas would not hesitate to distort a vocal line for dramatic effect. In the throes of operatic passion plenty of singers snarl, growl, whine, and shriek. Callas was not one of them. She found all she needed in the notes.[42]

Ewa Podles likewise stated that "It's enough to hear her, I’m positive! Because she could say everything only with her voice! I can imagine everything, I can see everything in front of my eye."[38] Opera director Sandro Sequi, who witnessed many Callas performances close-up, states, "For me, she was extremely stylized and classic, yet at the same time, human—but humanity on a higher plane of existence, almost sublime. Realism was foreign to her, and that is why she was the greatest of opera singers. After all, opera is the least realistic of theater forms... She was wasted in verismo roles, even Tosca, no matter how brilliantly she could act such roles."[16] Scott adds, "Early nineteenth-century opera... is not merely the antithesis of reality, it also requires highly stylized acting. Callas had the perfect face for it. Her big features matched its grandiloquence and spoke volumes from a distance."[10]

In regard to Callas's physical acting style, Sandro Sequi recalls, "She was never in a hurry. Everything was very paced, proportioned, classical, precise... She was extremely powerful but extremely stylized. Her gestures were not many... I don't think she did more than 20 gestures in a performance. But she was capable of standing 10 minutes without moving a hand or finger, compelling everyone to look at her."[16] Edward Downes recalled Callas watching and observing her colleagues with such intensity and concentration as to make it seem that the drama was all unfolding in her head.[15] Sir Rudolf Bing similarly recalled that in Il trovatore in Chicago, "it was Callas' quiet listening, rather than Björling's singing that made the dramatic impact... He didn't know what he was singing, but she knew."[27]

Callas herself stated that, in Opera, Acting must be based on the Music, quoting Maestro Tullio Serafin's advice to her:

"When one wants to find a gesture, when you want to find how to act onstage, all you have to do is listen to the music. The composer has already seen to that. If you take the trouble to really listen with your Soul and with your Ears – and I say 'Soul' and 'Ears' because the Mind must work, but not too much also – you will find every gesture there."[14]

The artist

Callas's most distinguishing quality was her ability to breathe life into the characters she portrayed,[16] or in the words of Matthew Gurewitsch, "Most mysterious among her many gifts, Callas had the genius to translate the minute particulars of a life into tone of voice."[43] Italian critic Eugenio Gara adds:

Her secret is in her ability to transfer to the musical plane the suffering of the character she plays, the nostalgic longing for lost happiness, the anxious fluctuation between hope and despair, between pride and supplication, between irony and generosity, which in the end dissolve into a superhuman inner pain. The most diverse and opposite of sentiments, cruel deceptions, ambitious desires, burning tenderness, grievous sacrifices, all the torments of the heart, acquire in her singing that mysterious truth, I would like to say, that psychological sonority, which is the primary attraction of opera.[29]

Ethan Mordden writes, "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."[36] Maestro Giulini believes, "If melodrama is the ideal unity of the trilogy of words, music, and action, it is impossible to imagine an artist in whom these three elements were more together than Callas."[10] He recalls that during Callas's performances of La traviata, "reality was onstage. What stood behind me, the audience, auditorium, La Scala itself, seemed artifice. Only that which transpired on stage was truth, life itself."[16] Sir Rudolf Bing expressed similar sentiments:

Once one heard and saw Maria Callas—one can't really distinguish it—in a part, it was very hard to enjoy any other artist, no matter how great, afterwards, because she imbued every part she sang and acted with such incredible personality and life. One move of her hand was more than another artist could do in a whole act.[13]

To Maestro Antonino Votto, Callas was

The last great artist. When you think this woman was nearly blind, and often sang standing a good 150 feet from the podium. But her sensitivity! Even if she could not see, she sensed the music and always came in exactly with my downbeat. When we rehearsed, she was so precise, already note-perfect... She was not just a singer, but a complete artist. It's foolish to discuss her as a voice. She must be viewed totally—as a complex of music, drama, movement. There is no one like her today. She was an esthetic phenomenon.[16]

Callas-Tebaldi controversy

During the early 1950s, controversy arose regarding a supposed rivalry between Callas and Renata Tebaldi, an Italian lyrico spinto soprano renowned for the ravishing beauty of her voice.[16] The contrast between Callas's often unconventional vocal qualities and Tebaldi's classically beautiful sound resurrected an argument as old as opera itself, namely, beauty of sound versus the expressive use of sound.[16][29]

This "rivalry" reached a fever pitch in the mid-1950s, at times even engulfing the two women themselves, who were said by their more fanatical followers to have engaged in verbal barbs in each other's direction. Tebaldi was quoted as saying, "I have one thing that Callas doesn't have: a heart"[7] while Callas was quoted in Time magazine as saying that comparing her with Tebaldi was like "comparing champagne with cognac. No, with Coca Cola."[44] However, witnesses to the interview stated that Callas only said "champagne with cognac", and it was a bystander who quipped, "No, with Coca-Cola", but the Time reporter attributed the latter comment to Callas.[7]

According to John Ardoin, however, these two singers should never have been compared.[16] Tebaldi was trained by Carmen Melis, a noted verismo specialist, and she was rooted in the early twentieth century school of Italian singing just as firmly as Callas was rooted in nineteenth century bel canto.[16] Callas was a dramatic soprano, whereas Tebaldi considered herself essentially a lyric soprano. Callas and Tebaldi generally sang a different repertoire: in the early years of her career, Callas concentrated on the heavy dramatic soprano roles and later in her career on the bel canto repertoire, whereas Tebaldi concentrated on late Verdi and verismo roles, where her limited upper extension[29] and her lack of a florid technique were not issues.[16] They shared a few roles, including Tosca in Puccini's opera and La Gioconda, which Tebaldi performed only late in her career.

The alleged rivalry aside, Callas made remarks appreciative of Tebaldi, and vice versa. During an interview with Norman Ross in Chicago, Callas said, "I admire Tebaldi's tone; it's beautiful—also some beautiful phrasing. Sometimes, I actually wish I had her voice." Francis Robinson of the Met wrote of an incident in which Tebaldi asked him to recommend a recording of La Gioconda in order to help her learn the role. Being fully aware of the alleged rivalry, he recommended Zinka Milanov's version. A few days later, he went to visit Tebaldi, only to find her sitting by the speakers, listening intently to Callas's recording. She then looked up at him and asked, "Why didn't you tell me Maria's was the best?"[45]

Callas visited Tebaldi after a performance of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met in the late 1960s, and the two were reunited. In 1978, Tebaldi spoke warmly of her late colleague and summarized this rivalry:

This rivality was really building from the people of the newspapers and the fans. But I think it was very good for both of us, because the publicity was so big and it created a very big interest about me and Maria and was very good in the end. But I don’t know why they put this kind of rivality, because the voice was very different. She was really something unusual. And I remember that I was very young artist too, and I stayed near the radio every time that I know that there was something on radio by Maria.[13]

Vocal decline

Several singers have opined that the heavy roles undertaken in her early years damaged Callas's voice.[40] The mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato, Callas's close friend and frequent colleague, stated that she told Callas that she felt that the early heavy roles led to a weakness in the diaphragm and subsequent difficulty in controlling the upper register.[46]

Louise Caselotti, who worked with Callas in 1946 and 1947, prior to her Italian debut, felt that it was not the heavy roles that hurt Callas's voice, but the lighter ones.[5] Several singers have suggested that the heavy use of Callas's chest voice led to stridency and unsteadiness with the high notes.[40] In his book, Callas's husband Meneghini wrote that Callas suffered an unusually early onset of menopause, which could have affected her voice. Soprano Carol Neblett once said, "A woman sings with her ovaries – you're only as good as your hormones."[36]

Critic Henry Pleasants has opined that it was a loss of breath support which led to Callas's vocal problems, saying,

Singing, and especially opera singing, requires physical strength. Without it, the singer's respiratory functions can no longer support the steady emissions of breath essential to sustaining the production of focused tone. The breath escapes, but it is no longer the power behind the tone, or is only partially and intermittently . The result is a breathy sound—tolerable but hardly beautiful—when the singer sings lightly, and a voice spread and squally when under pressure.[47]

Michael Scott has proposed that Callas's loss of breath support was directly caused by her rapid and progressive weight-loss,[10] something that was noted even in her prime. Of her 1958 recital in Chicago, Robert Detmer would write, "There were sounds fearfully uncontrolled, forced beyond the too-slim singer's present capacity to support or sustain."[18]

While there is no filmed footage of Callas during her heavy era, photos from those years show a very upright posture with the shoulders relaxed and held back. All videos of Callas are from the period after her weight loss, and on these, "we watch... the constantly sinking, depressed chest and hear the resulting deterioration".[48] This continual change in posture has been cited as visual proof of a progressive loss of breath support.[10][38]

Commercial and bootleg recordings of Callas from the late 1940s to 1953—the period during which she sang the heaviest dramatic soprano roles—show no decline in the fabric of the voice, no loss in volume and no unsteadiness or shrinkage in the upper register.[19] Of her December 1952 Lady Macbeth—coming after five years of singing the most strenuous dramatic soprano repertoire—Peter Dragadze would write for Opera, "Callas's voice since last season has improved a great deal, the second passagio on the high B-Natural and C has now completely cleared, giving her an equally colored scale from top to bottom."[16] And of her performance of Medea a year later, John Ardoin writes, "The performance displays Callas in as secure and free a voice as she will be found at any point in her career. The many top B's have a brilliant ring, and she handles the treacherous tessitura like an eager thoroughbred."[19]

In recordings from 1954 (immediately after her 80-pound weight loss) and thereafter, "not only would the instrument lose its warmth and become thin and acidulous, but the altitudinous passages would to her no longer come easily."[10] It is also at this time that unsteady top notes first begin to appear.[19] Walter Legge, who produced nearly all of Callas's EMI/Angel recordings, states that Callas "ran into a patch of vocal difficulties as early as 1954": during the recording of La forza del destino, done immediately after the weight loss, the "wobble had become so pronounced" that he told Callas they "would have to give away seasickness pills with every side".[28] When asked whether he felt the weight loss affected Callas's voice, Richard Bonynge stated, "I don't feel it, I know it did. I heard her Norma in 1953, before she lost all that weight, and then again afterward, and the difference was incredible. Even more incredible was that the critics didn't write about it. When Callas was at her best vocally, she was fat, but she got only a quarter of the recognition that she got after she had become thin and was a great star." [49]

There were others, however, who felt that the voice had benefitted from the weight loss. Of her performance of Norma in Chicago in 1954, Claudia Cassidy would write, "there is a slight unsteadiness in some of the sustained upper notes. but to me her voice is more beautiful in color, more even through the range, than it used to be".[18] And at her performance of the same opera in London in 1957 (her first performance at Covent Garden after the weight loss), critics again felt her voice had changed for the better, that it had now supposedly become a more precise instrument, with a new focus.[18] Many of her most critically acclaimed appearances are from the period 1954–1957 (Anna Bolena of 1957, Norma, La Traviata, Sonnambula and Lucia of 1955, to name a few).

Callas's close friend and colleague Tito Gobbi thought that her vocal problems all stemmed from her state of mind:

I don’t think anything happened to her voice. I think she only lost confidence. She was at the top of a career that a human being could desire, and she felt enormous responsibility. She was obliged to give her best every night, and maybe she felt she wasn't [able] any more, and she lost confidence. I think this was the beginning of the end of this career.[13]

In support of Gobbi's assertion, a bootleg recording of Callas rehearsing Beethoven's aria "Ah! Perfido" and parts of Verdi's La forza del destino shortly before her death shows her voice to be in much better shape than much of her 1960s recordings and far healthier than the 1970s concerts with Giuseppe Di Stefano.[19]

Soprano Renée Fleming has stated that videos of Callas in the late 1950s and early 1960s reveal a posture that betrays breath-support problems:

I have a theory about what caused her vocal decline, but it's more from watching her sing than from listening. I really think it was her weight loss that was so dramatic and so quick. It's not the weight loss per se... But if one uses the weight for support, and then it's suddenly gone and one doesn't develop another musculature for support, it can be very hard on the voice. And you can't estimate the toll that emotional turmoil will take as well. I was told, by somebody who knew her well, that the way Callas held her arms to her solar plexus [allowed her] to push and create some kind of support. If she were a soubrette, it would never have been an issue. But she was singing the most difficult repertoire, the stuff that requires the most stamina, the most strength.[38]

Dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt, who lost 135 pounds after gastric bypass surgery, expressed similar thoughts concerning her own voice and body:

Much of what I did with my weight was very natural, vocally. Now I've got a different body—there's not as much of me around. My diaphragm function, the way my throat feels, is not compromised in any way. But I do have to think about it more now. I have to remind myself to keep my ribs open. I have to remind myself, if my breath starts to stack. When I took a breath before, the weight would kick in and give it that extra Whhoomf! Now it doesn't do that. If I don’t remember to get rid of the old air and re-engage the muscles, the breath starts stacking, and that's when you can't get your phrase, you crack high notes.[50]

Callas herself attributed her problems to a loss of confidence brought about by a loss of breath support, even though she does not make the connection between her weight and her breath support. Shortly before her death, Callas confided her own thoughts on her vocal problems to Peter Dragadze:

I never lost my voice, but I lost strength in my diaphragm. ... Because of those organic complaints, I lost my courage and boldness. My vocal cords were and still are in excellent condition, but my 'sound boxes' have not been working well even though I have been to all the doctors. The result was that I overstrained my voice, and that caused it to wobble. (Gente, October 1, 1977)[5]

Whether Callas's vocal decline was due to ill health, early menopause, over-use and abuse of her voice, loss of breath-support, loss of confidence, or weight loss will continue to be debated. Whatever the cause may have been, her singing career was effectively over by age 40, and even at the time of her death at age 53, according to Walter Legge, "she ought still to have been singing magnificently".[28]

Scandals and later career

Maria Callas in a casual moment, 1960s

The latter half of Callas's career was marked by a number of scandals. During performances of Madama Butterfly in Chicago, Callas was confronted by a process server who handed her papers about a lawsuit brought by Eddy Bagarozi, who claimed he was her agent. Callas was photographed with her mouth turned in a furious snarl. The photo was sent around the world and gave rise to the myth of Callas as a temperamental prima donna and a "Tigress". In 1956, just before her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, Time ran a damaging cover story about Callas, with special attention paid to her difficult relationship with her mother and some unpleasant exchanges between the two.

In 1957, Callas was starring as Amina in La sonnambula at the Edinburgh International Festival with the forces of La Scala. Her contract was for four performances, but due to the great success of the series, La Scala decided to put on a fifth performance. Callas told the La Scala officials that she was physically exhausted and that she had already committed to a previous engagement, a party thrown for her by her friend Elsa Maxwell in Venice. Despite this, La Scala announced a fifth performance, with Callas billed as Amina. Callas refused to stay and went on to Venice. Despite the fact that she had fulfilled her contract, she was accused of walking out on La Scala and the festival. La Scala officials did not defend Callas or inform the press that the additional performance was not approved by Callas. Renata Scotto took over the part, which was the start of her international career.

In January 1958, Callas was to open the Rome Opera House season with Norma, with Italy's president in attendance. The day before the opening night, Callas alerted the management that she was not well and that they should have a standby ready. She was told "No one can double Callas".[13] After being treated by doctors, she felt better on the day of performance and decided to go ahead with the opera.[10] A survived bootleg recording of the first act reveals Callas sounding ill.[19] Feeling that her voice was slipping away, she felt that she could not complete the performance, and consequently, she cancelled after the first act. She was accused of walking out on the president of Italy in a fit of temperament, and pandemonium broke out. Press coverage aggravated the situation. A newsreel included file footage of Callas from 1955 sounding well, intimating the footage was of rehearsals for the Rome Norma, with the voiceover narration, "Here she is in rehearsal, sounding perfectly healthy", followed by "If you want to hear Callas, don't get all dressed up. Just go to a rehearsal; she usually stays to the end of those."[51] The scandal became notorious as the "Rome Walkout". Callas brought a lawsuit against the Rome Opera House, but by the time the case was settled thirteen years later and the Rome Opera was found to be at fault for having refused to provide an understudy,[36] Callas's career was already over.

Callas's relationship with La Scala had also started to become strained after the Edinburgh incident, and this effectively severed her major ties with her artistic home. Later in 1958, Callas and Rudolf Bing were in discussion about her season at the Met. She was scheduled to perform in Verdi's La traviata and in Macbeth, two very different operas which almost require totally different singers. Callas and the Met could not reach an agreement, and before the opening of Medea in Dallas, Bing sent a telegram to Callas terminating her contract. Headlines of "Bing Fires Callas" appeared in newspapers around the world.[7] Maestro Nicola Rescigno later recalled, "That night, she came to the theater, looking like an empress: she wore an ermine thing that draped to the floor, and she had every piece of jewellery she ever owned. And she said, 'You all know what's happened. Tonight, for me, is a very difficult night, and I will need the help of every one of you.' Well, she proceeded to give a performance [of Medea] that was historical."[52]

Bing would later say that Callas was the most difficult artist he ever worked with, "because she was so much more intelligent. Other artists, you could get around. But Callas you could not get around. She knew exactly what she wanted, and why she wanted it."[13] Despite this, Bing's admiration for Callas never wavered, and in September 1959, he sneaked into La Scala in order to listen to Callas record La Gioconda for EMI.[7] Callas and Bing reconciled in the mid 1960s, and Callas returned to the Met for two performances of Tosca with her friend Tito Gobbi.

In her final years as a singer, she sang in Medea, Norma, and Tosca, most notably her Paris, New York, and London Toscas of January–February 1964, and her last performance on stage, on July 5, 1965, at Covent Garden. A television film of Act 2 of the Covent Garden Tosca of 1964 was broadcast in Britain on February 9, 1964, giving a rare view of Callas in performance and, specifically, of her on-stage collaboration with Tito Gobbi.

Maria Callas during her final tour in Amsterdam in 1973.

In 1969, the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini cast Callas in her only non-operatic acting role, as the Greek mythological character of Medea, in his film by that name. The production was grueling, and according to the account in Ardoin's Callas, the Art and the Life, Callas is said to have fainted after a day of strenuous running back and forth on a mudflat in the sun. The film was not a commercial success, but as Callas's only film appearance, it documents her stage presence.

From October 1971 to March 1972, Callas gave a series of master classes at the Juilliard School in New York. These classes later formed the basis of Terrence McNally's 1995 play Master Class. Callas staged a series of joint recitals in Europe in 1973 and in the U.S., South Korea, and Japan in 1974 with the tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano. Critically, this was a musical disaster owing to both performers' worn-out voices.[7] However, the tour was an enormous popular success. Audiences thronged to hear the two performers, who had so often appeared together in their prime. Her final public performance was on November 11, 1974, in Sapporo, Japan.

Onassis and the final years

In 1957, while still married to husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Callas was introduced to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis at a party given in her honour by Elsa Maxwell after a performance in Donizetti's Anna Bolena.[10] The affair that followed received much publicity in the popular press, and in November 1959, Callas left her husband. 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.[10] 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."[13] According to one of her biographers, Callas and Onassis had a child, a boy, who died hours after he was born on March 30, 1960.[53] In his book about his wife, Meneghini states categorically that Maria Callas was unable to bear children.[54] As well, various sources dismiss Gage's claim, as they note that the birth certificates Gage used to prove of this "secret child" were issued in 1998, twenty-one years after Callas's death.[55] Still other sources claim that Callas had at least one abortion while involved with Onassis.[56] The relationship ended nine years later in 1968, when Onassis left Callas in favour of Jacqueline Kennedy. 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.[53]

Callas spent her last years living largely in isolation in Paris and died on September 16, 1977, of a heart attack. A funerary liturgy was held at Agios Stephanos (St. Stephen's) Greek Orthodox Cathedral on rue Georges-Bizet, Paris, on September 20, 1977, and her ashes were interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. After being stolen and later recovered, they were scattered over the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Greece, according to her wish.

Legacy

In late 2004, opera and film director Franco Zeffirelli made what many consider a bizarre claim that Callas may have been murdered by her confidant, Greek pianist Vasso Devetzi, in order to gain control of Callas's United States $9,000,000 estate. A more likely explanation is that Callas's death was due to heart failure brought on by (possibly unintentional) overuse of Mandrax (methaqualone), a sleeping aid.

According to biographer Stelios Galatopoulos, Devetzi insinuated herself into Callas's trust and acted virtually as her agent. This claim is corroborated by Iakintha (Jackie) Callas in her book Sisters,[57] wherein she asserts that Devetzi conned Maria out of control of half of her estate, while promising to establish the Maria Callas Foundation to provide scholarships for young singers. After hundreds of thousands of dollars had allegedly vanished, Devetzi finally did establish the foundation.

In 2002, filmmaker Zeffirelli produced and directed a film in Callas's memory. Callas Forever was a highly fictionalized motion picture in which Callas was played by Fanny Ardant. It depicted the last months of Callas's life, when she was seduced into the making of a movie of Carmen, lip-synching to her 1964 recording of that opera.

In 2007, Callas was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In the same year, she was voted the greatest soprano of all time by BBC Music Magazine.

The 30th anniversary of the death of Maria Callas was selected as main motif for a high value euro collectors' coins; the €10 Greek Maria Callas commemorative coin, minted in 2007. Her image is shown in the obverse of the coin, while on the reverse the National Emblem of Greece with her signature is depicted.

On December 2, 2008, on the 85th anniversary of Callas's birth, a group of Greek and Italian officials unveiled a plaque in her honor at Flower Hospital (now the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center) where she was born. Made of Carrara marble and engraved in Italy, the plaque reads, “Maria Callas was born in this hospital on December 2, 1923. These halls heard for the first time the musical notes of her voice, a voice which has conquered the world. To this great interpreter of universal language of music, with gratitude.”[58]

Gus Van Sant's 2008 movie Milk features selected recordings of Callas' rendition of "Tosca", which, it is suggested, was an opera of which Harvey Milk was particularly fond. Similarly, Jonathan Demme's 1993 movie Philadelphia features a recording by Callas.

A number of musical artists including Linda Ronstadt, Patti Smith and Emmylou Harris have mentioned Callas as a great musical influence,[59][60] and some have paid tribute to Callas in their own music:

  • R.E.M. mention Callas in their song "E-Bow the Letter" from the album New Adventures in Hi-Fi.
  • Enigma named a song which featured samples of Callas's voice, on their 1991 album MCMXC a.D., "Callas Went Away".
  • Buffalo Tom's 2007 album Three Easy Pieces contains the song "C.C. and Callas", which appears to be about songwriter Chris Colbourn's reflections on Callas.
  • La Diva, on Celine Dions 2007 French language album D'elles is about Maria Callas. The track samples the 1956 recording of "La Boheme".
  • Son Lux, aka Ryan Lott, samples Callas for a song on his debut album, At War With Walls And Mazes. Lott splices together several of Callas's vocal samples to form a new arrangement.
  • Singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright mentions Callas in his song Beauty Mark, from his album Rufus Wainwright. Rufus is known to be an opera fan, particularly passionate about Callas's work. In an interview to the Spanish newspaper El País he declared that one of the things anyone should do at least once in a lifetime was to listen to a Maria Callas album after a night out, if possible during sunrise. On Jonathan Ross' Radio 2 show he stated that Lord Harewood's interview of Callas is part of the inspiration for his opera Prima Donna.
  • Jason Mraz lists her performance of "O mio babbino caro" as a romantic musical influence for him.[61]
  • Ben Sollee mentions her in his song "Mute with a Bullhorn."
  • Band Faithless sampled her voice on the intro to one of their songs on Reverence, "Drifting Away".

Notable recordings

All recordings are in mono unless otherwise indicated. Live performances are typically available on multiple labels.

References

  1. ^ "PBS tribute to Callas on the Anniversary of her Death", introduction by Leonard Bernstein, 1983.
  2. ^ Driscoll, F. Paul; Brian Kellow (August 2006). "The 25 Most Powerful Names in U.S. Opera". Opera News 71 (2). 
  3. ^ Scott 1992, p. 6
  4. ^ Scott 1992, p. 4
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Petsalis-Diomidis 2001
  6. ^ Scott 1992, p. 5
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Stassinopoulos, Ariana (1981). Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671255835. 
  8. ^ "The Prima Donna", Time, October 29, 1956
  9. ^ Television interview with Norman Ross, Chicago, 1957.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Scott, Michael (1992). Maria Meneghini Callas. Boston: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 1555531466. 
  11. ^ a b c "Interview with Lord Harewood, Paris, 1968", Complete audio recording of the interview, including portions not released on DVD, The Callas Edition, on 3 CDs.
  12. ^ a b "L'Invitee Du Dimanche" hosted by Pierre Desgraupes, 1968, released on The Callas Conversations, Vol. 2 [DVD] 2007, EMI Classics
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m John Ardoin (writer), Franco Zeffirelli (narrator). (1978). Callas: A Documentary (Plus Bonus). [TV documentary, DVD]. The Bel Canto Society. 
  14. ^ a b c d Maria Callas in conversation with Lord Harewood for the BBC, Paris, April 1968. (2004-05-04). Maria Callas: The Callas Conversations. [DVD]. EMI Classics. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Interview with Edward Downes (quizmaster). La Divina Complete, CD 4. EMI Classics.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Ardoin, John; Gerald Fitzgerald (1974). Callas: The Art and the Life. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0-03-011486-1. 
  17. ^ a b Callas in her Own Words. Audio documentary. 3 CDs. Eklipse Records. EKR P-14.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g David A. Lowe, ed (1986). Callas: As They Saw Her. New York: Ungar Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8044-5636-4. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ardoin, John (1991). The Callas Legacy. Old Tappen, New Jersey: Scribner and Sons. ISBN 0-684-19306-X. 
  20. ^ Anthony Tommasini (October 30, 2003). "Franco Corelli, Italian Tenor of Power and Charisma, and Pillar of the Met, Dies at 82". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/30/arts/franco-corelli-italian-tenor-power-charisma-pillar-met-dies-82.html?scp=4&sq=Franco%20Corelli&st=cse. Retrieved May 16, 2009. 
  21. ^ Ira Siff (January 2004). "Obituaries: Franco Corelli". Opera News. http://www.metoperafamily.org/operanews/issue/article.aspx?id=99&issueID=5&archive=true. Retrieved May 16, 2009. 
  22. ^ von Rhein, John (August 2004). "The Company That Works". Opera News 69 (2). 
  23. ^ Ross Parmenter, "Maria Callas Bows at Opening of 'Met'", New York Times (October 30, 1956), p. 1.
  24. ^ Cantrell, Scott (November 2006). "And that Spells Dallas". Opera News 71 (5). 
  25. ^ Davis, Ronald L./ Miller, Henry S., Jr.,La Scala West: The Dallas Opera Under Kelly and Rescigno, Texas A & M Univ Press, ISBN 9780870744549
  26. ^ Allan Kozinn (July 7, 1992). "Allen Sven Oxenburg, 64, Dead; American Opera Society Founder". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/07/arts/allen-sven-oxenburg-64-dead-american-opera-society-founder.html. Retrieved August 12, 2009. 
  27. ^ a b Bing, Rudolf (1972). 5000 Nights at the Opera. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co.. ISBN 0385092598. 
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth (1982). On and Off the Record: A Memoir of Walter Legge. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 0-684-17451-0. 
  29. ^ a b c d e f "The Callas Debate". Opera. September-October 1970. 
  30. ^ Ponselle, Rosa, Ponselle, a Singer's Life, Doubleday, Garden city, 1982
  31. ^ Interview with James Fleetwood, March 13 and 27, 1958, New York, release on The Callas Edition, CED 100343, 1998
  32. ^ a b Siff, Ira, "I Vespri Siciliani: Verdi:, Online edition of Opera News, March 2008
  33. ^ Opera News (December 1982).
  34. ^ Eve Ruggieri, La Callas, Succés du livre, page 85.
  35. ^ Crutchfield, Will (January 1999). "The Trill is Gone". Opera News. 
  36. ^ a b c d e Mordden, Ethan (1984). Demented: The World of the Opera Diva. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-66800-5. 
  37. ^ Dyer, Richard, "The Sopranos", Opera News, March 2001
  38. ^ a b c d e Whitson, James C. (October 2005). "The Callas Legacy". Opera News. 
  39. ^ Ira Siff, in his interview with Maestro Walter Taussig, "The Associate", Opera News, April 2001
  40. ^ a b c Rasponi, Lanfranco (June 1985). The Last Prima Donnas. Limelight Editions. ISBN 0879100400. 
  41. ^ Lebrecht, Norman (1985). The Book of Musical Anecdotes. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-02-918710-9. 
  42. ^ Gurewitsch, Matthew, "Forget the Callas Legend," The Atlantic Monthly, April 1999
  43. ^ Gurewitsch, Matthew, "Forget the Callas Legend," The Atlantic Monthly, April 1999
  44. ^ "Diva Serena, Time, November 3, 1958
  45. ^ Robinson, Francis (1979). Celebration: The Metropolitan Opera. Garden City, New Jersey: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-12975-0. 
  46. ^ Hastings, Stephen (May 2002). "The Spirit of Giulietta". Opera News. 
  47. ^ Pleasants, Henry, "Maria Meneghini Callas", Opera Quarterly1993; 10: 159–163
  48. ^ Opera Quarterly 4 (4). 
  49. ^ Stephanie Von Buchau, "Bonynge on Bel Canto", Opera News, January 22, 1994
  50. ^ Singer, Barry (October 2006). "Turning Point". Opera News. 
  51. ^ Maria Callas: Life and Art. [TV documentary, available on DVD]. EMI. 1987. 
  52. ^ Callas in her Own Words, Audio Documentary
  53. ^ a b Gage, Nicholas (2000-10-03). Greek Fire: The Story Of Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis. Knopf. ISBN 0375402446. 
  54. ^ Meneghini, Giovanni Battista (1982). My Wife Maria Callas. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0-374-21752-1. 
  55. ^ A Callas Recording Update
  56. ^ John Ardoin in Callas, La Divina (film documentary)
  57. ^ Callas, Jackie (1990). Sisters: A Revealing Portrait of the World's Most Famous Diva. Gordonsville, Virginia: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-03934-4. 
  58. ^ Chan, Sewell, "Where Callas Was Born 85 Years Ago", New York Times December 2, 2008
  59. ^ "And This Is What 48 Looks Like", New York Times, April 19, 1995
  60. ^ Patti Smith in conversation with Kurt Andersen on PRI's Studio 360 on December 24, 2009
  61. ^ Playlist: Jason Mraz - Nightline July 17, 2009 - Reggae to rock, Mraz reveals his musical influences.
  62. ^ Paul Gruber (ed.), The Metropolitan Guide to Recorded Opera, Norton, 1993, p. 415

Bibliography

  • Galatopoulos, Stelios, Maria Callas, Sacred Monster, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998, ISBN 0-684-85985-8
  • Petsalis-Diomidis, Nicholas (2001). The Unknown Callas: The Greek Years. Amadeus Press. ISBN 157467059X. 
  • Scott, Michael (1992). Maria Meneghini Callas. UPNE. ISBN 1555531466. http://books.google.gr/books?id=6C86_Ws0bxEC&dq. 
  • Seletsky, Robert E., "The Performance Practice of Maria Callas: Interpretation and Instinct", The Opera Quarterly, 20/4 (2004), pp. 587–602.
  • Seletsky, Robert E., "Callas at EMI: Remastering and Perception"; "A Callas Recording Update"; "A Callas Recording Update...updated", The Opera Quarterly, 16/2 (2000), pp. 240–55; 21/2 (2005), pp. 387–91; 21/3, pp. 545–6 (2005).
  • Stancioff, Nadia, Maria: Callas Remembered. An Intimate Portrait of the Private Callas, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1987, ISBN 0-525-24565-0

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Maria Callas (2 December 192316 September 1977) was a famous and controversial opera singer of the 20th century.

Contents

Quotes by Callas

Sourced

  • Some say I have a beautiful voice, some say I have not. It is a matter of opinion. All I can say, those who don't like it shouldn't come to hear me.
    • Chicago, November 17, 1957: Televsion Interview With Norman Ross
  • What [Tulio Serafin] said that impressed me was: "When one wants to find a gesture, when you want to find how to act on stage, all you have to do is listen to the music. The composer has already seen to that." If you take the trouble to really listen with your soul and with you ears — and I say soul and ears because the mind must work, but not too much also — you will find every gesture there. And it is all true, you know.
    • Maria Callas, on an advice from Tulio Serafin, on the "Harewood Conversations - 1968", an interview with Lord Harewood for the BBC, Paris (April 1968) on Maria Callas : The Callas Conversations (2004) EMI Classics DVD
  • I admire Tebaldi's tone; it's beautiful—also some beautiful phrasing. Sometimes, I actually wish I had her voice.
    • Discussing rival soprano Renata Tebaldi, Chicago, November 17, 1957: Televsion Interview With Norman Ross
  • What a lovely voice, but who cares?
    • On hearing a recording by Renata Tebaldi, as quoted in The Last Prima Donnas (1982) by Lanfranco Rasponi; also in The Book of Musical Anecdotes (1985) by Norman Lebrecht ISBN 0-02-918710-9
  • Don't talk to me about rules, dear. Wherever I stay I make the goddamn rules.
    • On her controversial personality and performance, quoted in Wild Women Talk Back : Audacious Advice for the Bedroom, Boardroom, and Beyond (2004) by Autumn Stephens, p. 142

Callas : The Art and the Life (1974)

Quotes from Callas : The Art and the Life (1974) by John Ardoin ISBN 0-03-011486-1
  • Bel canto does not mean beautiful singing alone. It is, rather, the technique demanded by the composers of this style — Donizetti, Rossini, and Bellini. It is the same attitudes and demands of Mozart and Beethoven, for example, the same approach and the same technical difficulties faced by instrumentalists. You see, a musician is a musician. A singer is no different from an instrumentalist except that we have words. You don't excuse things in a singer you would not dream of excusing in a violinist or pianist. There is no excuse for not having a trill, for not doing the acciaccatura, for not having good scales. Look at your scores! There are technical things written there to be performed, and they must be performed whether you like it or not. How will you get out of a trill? How will you get out of scales when they are written there, staring you in the face? It is not enough to have a beautiful voice. What does that mean? When you interpret a role, you have to have a thousand colors to portray happiness, joy, sorrow, fear. How can you do this with only a beautiful voice? Even if you sing harshly sometimes, as I have frequently done, it is a necessity of expression. You have to do it, even if people will not understand. But in the long run they will, because you must persuade them of what you're doing.
  • It takes a little more time to get into the role, but not very much more. In making a record you don't have the sense of projection over a distance as in an opera house. We have this microphone and this magnifies all details of a performance, all exaggerations. In the theater, you can get away with a very large, very grand phrase. For the microphone, you have to tone it down. It's the same as making a film, your gestures will be seen in close-up, so they cannot be exaggerated as they would be in a theater.
    • On making studio recordings
  • [Serafin was] an extraordinary coach, sharp as a vecchio lupo [sly fox]. He opened a world to me, showed me there was a reason for everything, that even fiorature and trills ... have a reason in the composer's mind, that they are the expression of the stato d'animo [state of mind] of the character — that is, the way he feels at the moment, the passing emotions that take hold of him. He would coach us for every little detail, every movement, every word, every breath. One of the things he told me — and this is the basis of bel canto — is never to attack a note from underneath or from above, but always to prepare it in the face. He taught me that pauses are often more important than the music. He explained that there was a rhythm — these are the things you get only from that man! — a measure for the human ear, and that if a note was too long, it was no good after a while. A fermata always must be measured, and if there are two fermate close to one another in the score, you ignore one of them. He taught me the proportions of recitative — how it is elastic, the proportions altering so slightly that only you can understand it. ... But in performance he left you on your own. "When I am in the pit, I am there to serve you, because I have to save my performance." he would say. We would look down and feel we had a friend there. He was helping you all the way. He would mouth all the words. If you were not well, he would speed up the tempo, and if you were in top form, he would slow it down to let you breathe, to give you room. He was breathing with you, living the music with you, loving it with you. It was elastic, growing, living.
  • I would not kill my enemies, but I will make them get down on their knees. I will, I can, I must.

Quotes about Callas

Martina Arroyo

  • I adored this lady, and I respected her work ethic. She always wanted to improve her understanding of a piece. "Casta Diva", [for instance] — what interested me most was how she gave the runs and the cadenzas words. That always floored me. I always felt I heard her saying something — it was never just singing notes. That alone is an art. It’s an art that you can try to achieve, but you can’t copy, because that’s just imitating without delving into [how she felt] about that particular fioritura. ... how many other artists since Callas have you heard and thought, "She sang gorgeously, but I never cried?"
    • Martina Arroyo, as quoted in "The Callas Legacy" by James C. Whitson in Opera News (October 2005)

Cecilia Bartoli

  • Maria Callas remains an icon with an instantly recognizable voice. But she was also the first opera singer to be equipped with the ingredients of international celebrity: charisma, glamour, wealth, she had it all, together with the touches of scandal and tragedy that made her story so compelling. Since her time, every female opera singer has been measured against this powerful role model. ... Callas modernized our metier. Her life was a tireless creative search. She was one of the first to recognize the importance of being an actress as well as a singer, and was uncompromising in her belief that, in order to achieve a complete dramatic performance, all aspects of the operatic genre require equal attention. She was a pioneer in restoring forgotten repertoire and in exploring new ways of musical interpretation. To this day, I find that many of her exemplary recordings are astounding.

Carlo Bergonzi

  • Callas studied the text, the meaning of the words, and as a result, she became a diva. She became the Great Callas. Because she studied the character, she entered the mind of the character, and she brought the character to life onstage. Today, young singers don’t have this mindset. They don’t have the kind of technique that Callas had. ...Price, Milanov and Tebaldi had stupendous voices and great careers. [But] Callas, as a performer, as someone who expressed the real meaning of the words, was the best. The best. There is no doubt about this — not only for her sound, but because she studied so much. Callas is the diva. She is important to young singers, because she was a serious singer onstage, and she left a great legacy. I don’t know, though, if they can listen and learn from what she left on her recordings.
    • Carlo Bergonzi, as quoted in "The Callas Legacy" by James C. Whitson in Opera News (October 2005); interview conducted, transcribed, and translated by Bob Kingston

Leonard Bernstein

  • Callas? She was pure electricity.
    • Leonard Bernstein, as quoted in Callas : The Art and the Life (1974) by John Ardoin

Montserrat Caballé

  • She opened a new door for us, for all the singers in the world, a door that had been closed. Behind it was sleeping not only great music but great idea of interpretation. She has given us the chance, those who follow her, to do things that were hardly possible before her. That I am compared with Callas is something I never dared to dream. It is not right. I am much smaller than Callas.

Natalie Dessay

  • I used to listen again and again to recordings by Maria Callas. She was so musical and so theatrical at the same time. That is rare! I admire the way she cares for the words, so that everything comes from the text. She takes everything from the text and the music to elaborate a character and make her really interesting and impressive. She brings her own nature to the part — what she is, her passion, her fragility, doubts, feelings, violence — everything she is. And she never betrays the text or the music. We're very different, thank goodness, and I am happy with my own voice. But I feel very close to her in terms of discipline — trying to be as disciplined as she. She is an example to follow! Maybe in the past, people were more interested in voice and beautiful sounds. Maria Callas changed that. She arrived, brought a new way of doing opera, opened the way for us. We don't have any excuse now for not doing it!
    • Natalie Dessay in "Mad About the Girl" by David J. Baker in Opera News vol. 72, no. 3, (September 2007)

Giuseppe Di Stefano

  • Callas, way above the rest. Tebaldi had a fantastic voice, like an angel's. But even when Callas's voice wasn't perfect, she had so much interpretation. Opera is storytelling. Feelings must be conveyed. Acting must be moving. And Callas had it all.
    • Giuseppe Di Stefano, upon being asked about his his favorite onstage partners; as quoted in "Stages of di Stefano" by Jonathan Kendall in Opera News (January 2000) [1]

Leyla Gencer

  • Maria had in her blood, in her veins, in her subconscious all the tradition of the Greek Tragedy. She was born that way. In fact, she had her best time during 10 years. That was very short. But the "Myth of La Callas" will continue for ever, because she did so much! She was a magnetic force on stage, the others didn't exist anymore. It's a gift of Nature, a gift of God. It' a talent, a great talent.

John Huston

  • Oh, many. A few, even superior. For sheer strength of character, I wouldn't have dared to cross swords with Callas. I would rather have gone six rounds with Jack Dempsey!
    • Response by John Huston, on being asked if he had ever met any woman who was his equal, as quoted in Playboy magazine (September 1985)

Evelyn Lear

  • The Chicago Lucia [1954], which I witnessed, absolutely blew everybody's mind, because she stopped the show in the middle of the mad scene. She bowed, [while] the audience went wild, and kept that pose for fourteen minutes. Callas was our lesson, in those days, for how one performed. She had such complete ... we say in German "souveränität" — being above everything. She had this aura of magic. People were always mystified by what she did....Tebaldi had a much more beautiful voice and didn’t have that hollow, breathy sound, which at times was just plain ugly. [But] Callas was unusual because despite the sound of her voice, the force of her personality just magnetized people. It was so present, it came across the footlights at you, that ferocity of hers. It was just all-encompassing. Callas brought the personality, the drama, the magic, the surreal quality to the bel canto roles that Sutherland never did.
    • Evelyn Lear, as quoted in "The Callas Legacy" by James C. Whitson in Opera News (October 2005)

Catherine Malfitano

  • In all her recordings, one witnesses this incredible technique at work, whether it is Puritani, Sonnambula, Lucia, Norma or Abduction, [or] turning around to sing Gioconda and Kundry. This ability to devour all of vocal music history, and take it into herself and spew out such excellent examples of all these different styles — you just think, “How is a voice able to encompass all of this?” Well, it’s not the voice, it’s the woman behind the voice.
  • No coloratura or fioritura was ever done for its own sake — it was always at the service of some expressive challenge....Her runs always gave the impression of being done so effortlessly. I liken it to the greatest ballerinas — they never made you aware of how painful it is to be en pointe. Callas transcended and transformed pain and difficulty into sheer weightlessness and ease and joy. It's absolute perfection in itself, and then on top of that she overlays expression — that's the thing I adored about this singer. She must have spent hours, days, weeks, years on this art, you know? The one I'm floored by is the Entführung that she did. ["Martern aller Arten"] is just beyond belief. I don’t think anyone has sung it better....
  • There was some wonderful demonic thing that worked inside of her to fuse the elements of technique and expression and transcend the [roles she assayed.] ... She's an inspiration to everyone that follows her, but she’s also a kind of cautionary tale for artists, so they understand that you risk a great deal when you’re that hungry.
    • Catherine Malfitano, as quoted in "The Callas Legacy" by James C. Whitson in Opera News (October 2005)

Aprile Millo

  • Listening to Callas is like reading Shakespeare: you’re always going to be knocked senseless by some incredible insight into humanity. She is a huge bonfire! The thread, the "inner serpent" that she would get in certain music was so complete — for example, in the Lucia recording, the phrase "Alfin, son tua." Lucia, at her absolute happiest moment, would have said to Edgardo, "I am finally yours." For me, the woman Lucia came to life in that moment, and I understood why she was out of her mind, you know? You’ve got it all in that one phrase.
    • Aprile Millo, as quoted in "The Callas Legacy" by James C. Whitson in Opera News (October 2005)

Ethan Mordden

  • [Callas was] An outstanding historical figure, ranking with Malibran, Viardot, Toscanini, and Mahler. She is somewhat like Viardot, Chorley's "tones of an engaging tenderness" mingled with those "of a less winning quality." 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. [Her voice] is what she had. What she made was a musical information of what was happening to her characters, a searching virtuosity. Suffering, delight, humility, hubris, despair, rhapsody — all this was musically appointed, through her use of the voice flying the text upon the notes....
  • Yes, the woman could act. At the very moment she entered, you saw in full Aida, Anna Bolena, Gioconda, felt their eyes on you even before they uttered a sound. ... The gestures — so authentically antique, yet strangely devised entirely on her own — were completely equalized into her stylistics, with one set for the Greeks and Romans, another for post-Renaissance royalty, a third for more contemporary characters. Yet, all this was subsidiary to the heavy Kunst of developing the psychology of the roles under the supervision of the music, of singing the acting....
  • She sang as if she had the most beautiful voice in the world — and sang so beautifully that she might as well have had such a voice. Thus she moved opera back a century to the age of Viardot, the acting singer.
    • Ethan Mordden, in Demented : The World of the Opera Diva (1984)

Ewa Podles

  • When I was around thirteen, fourteen years old, in communist Poland, we had no recordings at all. I don’t know how my mother found this old-fashioned recording, with Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi — you know, it was Tosca. I had only this one recording in my house, and I was listening to [it] ten times a day. I knew by heart everything — I could sing Cavaradossi, Tosca, Scarpia — each role. I was very young, and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in my life. And when I for the first time heard Maria Callas, suddenly I got proof — “Yes, I want to be a singer, I want to sing like she sings!”
  • It’s enough to hear her, I’m positive! Because she could say everything only with her voice! I can imagine everything, I can see everything in front of my eye.
  • People are funny, because they can’t be happy. If they have somebody like Maria Callas in front of them, they always try to find something wrong, something bad, a few mistakes, you know? And maybe she had three voices, maybe she had three ranges, I don’t know — I am professional singer. Nothing disturbed me, nothing! I bought everything that she offered me. Why? Because all of her voices, her registers, she used how they should be used — just to tell us something! She had a message for us, a fantastic message. She had such a big power, and then she just disappeared.
    • Ewa Podles, as quoted in "The Callas Legacy" by James C. Whitson in Opera News (October 2005)

Nicola Rescigno

  • I think the secret of Maria Callas was her willpower. Maria Callas was born with all sorts of disadvantages. Her voice was not of the most beautiful quality, and still, she made this instrument the most expressive, the most telling, the most true to the music that she interpreted. Maria was not born a beautiful woman. Maria was fat, obese, ungraceful — when you realize the type of body she was born with, like that of a pachyderm — but she turned herself into possibly the most beautiful lady on the stage.

Linda Ronstadt

Victor de Sabata

  • If the public could understand, as we do, how deeply and utterly musical Callas is, they would be stunned.

Renata Scotto

  • Listen to me, everyone speak about Callas. But I know Callas. I know Callas before she was Callas. She was fat and she had this vociaccia — you know what a vociaccia is? You go kill a cat and record its scream. She had this bad skin. And she had this rich husband. We laugh at her, you know that? And then, I sat in on a rehearsal with Maestro Serafin. You know, it was Parsifal and I was supposed to see if I do one of the flowers. I didn't. And she sing that music. In Italian of course. And he tell her this and he tell her that and little by little this voice had all the nature in it — the forest and the magic castle and hatred that is love. And little by little she not fat with bad skin and rich-husband-asleep-in-the-corner; she witch who burn you by standing there. Maestro Serafin he say to me afterwards, you know now something about Parsifal. I say, "No, Maestro, I know much more. I know how to study. And I know that we are more than voices. We are spirit, we are god when we sing, if we mean it." Oh yes, they will go on about Tebaldi this and Freni that. Beautiful, beautiful voices, amazing. They work hard. They sincere. They suffer. They more talented than Maria, sure. But she was the genius. Genius come from genio — spirit. And that make her more than all of us. So I learn from that. Don't let them take from you because you are something they don't expect. Work and fight and work and give, and maybe once in a while you are good.

Francesco Siciliani

  • In October of 1948, just after I moved to Florence to head the Teatro Comunale, Serafin called me from Rome. "Come at once," he begged. "You must hear this girl. She is discouraged and has bought a ticket to return to America. Help me convince her to stay." So, at his home, I met Maria Callas. She was tall and heavy, but had an interesting face, real presence, expression, intelligence.
    With Serafin at the piano, she did her usual repertory for me — Gioconda, Turandot, Aida, Tristan. Parts of the voice were beautiful, other empty, and she used strange portamenti. During a pause, she said she had studied with Elvira de Hidalgo, which struck me as curious, for de Hidalgo had been a coloratura. "I know coloratura pieces too," Callas explained, "but I'm a dramatic soprano." "Well," I asked, "can we hear something of a different nature?" So she sang the aria from I Puritani, with the cabaletta. I was overwhelmed, and tears streamed down Serafin's cheeks. This was the kind of singer one read about in books from the nineteenth century — a real dramatic coloratura.

Patti Smith

  • I've loved opera since I was a child. I study her; I mean of course I can't sing like that, but she has taught me a lot about discovering how to deliver the inner narrative of a song. Because I listen to her songs--I don't speak Italian or I don't speak whatever language she's singing--but I understand what she's conveying through her emotional interpretation.

Walter Taussig

  • [It was] like nothing else. Compared to nothing. I would say singers are reproductive artists, but she was a creative artist. She was in the role so much, it was fabulous, fabulous. She was very modest, very easy. But I think she saw red when she saw a journalist. But I could discuss a breath or anything with her. She didn't really have an ego when it came to the work. Her curse was that she was so musical, so intelligent, that she could take on roles that her voice couldn't handle. But what she did was always wonderful. There's a good example of what I mean. Callas — artist. Tebaldi — wonderful singer.
    • Walter Taussig, long time coach at the Met), on working with Callas, as quoted in "The Associate" by Ira Siff in Opera News (April 2001)

Renata Tebaldi

  • This rivality was really building from the people of the newspapers and the fans. But I think it was very good for both of us, because the publicity was so big and it created a very big interest about me and Maria and was very good in the end. But I don’t know why they put this kind of rivality, because the voice was very different. She was really something unusual. And I remember that I was very young artist too, and I stayed near the radio every time that I know that there was something on radio by Maria. The most fantastic thing was the possibility for her to sing the soprano coloratura with this big voice! This was something really special. Fantastic absolutely!

Jon Vickers

  • To work with her, you had to really understand how she saw your role, not how you saw it. She had a very clear-cut understanding of her role, and you had to fit into that interpretation. She was so great, [yet] she could not distance herself from a role. It was actually quite terrifying — she would at times actually cry while singing! You must only portray the emotions, not become personally involved. But Maria always became the role. She was such a servant of the text and the composer, she would tear her voice to ribbons to accomplish it!
    • Jon Vickers, as quoted in "The Callas Legacy" by James C. Whitson in Opera News (October 2005)

Luchino Visconti

  • I did it to serve Callas, for one must serve a Callas.
    • Luchino Visconti commenting on his historic productions at La Scala, as quoted in Callas : The Art and the Life (1974) by John Ardoin

Antonino Votto

  • The last great artist. When you think this woman was nearly blind, and often sang standing a good 150 feet from the podium. But her sensitivity! Even if she could not see, she sensed the music and always came in exactly with my downbeat. When we rehearsed, she was so precise, already note-perfect. ... For over thirty years, I was Arturo Toscanini's assistant, and from the very first rehearsal, he demanded every nuance from the orchestra, just as if it were a full performance. The piano, the forte, the staccato, the legato — all from the start. And Callas did this too. ... She was not just a singer, but a complete artist. It's foolish to discuss her as a voice. She must be viewed totally — as a complex of music, drama, movement. There is no one like her today. She was an esthetic phenomenon.
    • Antonino Votto, as quoted in Callas : The Art and the Life (1974) by John Ardoin

Franco Zeffirelli

  • The magic of a Callas is a quality few artists have, something special, something different. There are many very good artists, but very few who have that sixth sense, the additional, the plus quality. It is something which lifts them from the ground: they become like semi-gods. She had it. Nureyev has it, [Laurence] Olivier. But Olivier is also a case of an extremely rich knowledge of everything. He is completely coherent in his life, onstage. Whatever he does is part of a complete personality. Maria is a common girl behind the wings, but when she goes onstage, or even when she talks about her work or begins to hum a tune, she immediately assumes this additional quality. For me, Maria is always a miracle. you cannot understand or explain her. You can explain everything Olivier does because it is all part of a professional genius. But Maria can switch from nothing to everything, from earth to heaven. What is it this woman has? I don't know, but when that miracle happens, she is a new soul, a new entity.
    • Franco Zeffirelli, as quoted in Callas : The Art and the Life (1974) by John Ardoin

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Simple English

Maria Callas (December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977) is an American-born Greek soprano, one of the most famous and most controversial opera singers of the 20th century. She possessed a highly distinctive voice of great range and power and was one of the finest singing-actresses the operatic stage has ever known. She was dubbed La Divina (The Divine One) by her admirers. She was mainly associated with the Italian repertoire, particularly Bellini's Norma, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Verdi's La traviata and Puccini's Tosca.

Life and Career

Born Maria Kalogeroupoulou in New York City, to Greek parents, she returned to Greece in 1937 with her mother and older sister. There, she studied singing with Elvira de Hidalgo, and made her debut while still a teenager with the Athens Opera in 1939.

After a short return to America to visit her father in 1945, she made her Italian debut in Verona in 1947, as La Gioconda. She met conductor Tullio Serafin who became her mentor and guided her towards the bel canto repertoire. She sang her first Norma in Florence in 1948, and the following year, as a last minute replacement, she appeared as Elvira in Bellini's I puritani in Venice, which was to be her first great success.

In 1949, she married industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini who became her manager. She was sometimes known as Maria Meneghini Callas after her marriage.

Shorthly after, she made her debut at La Scala in Milan, where the major part of her career and greatest triumphs were to take place place. In collaboration with conductors like Carlo Maria Giulini, Leonard Bernstein, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, and directors like Franco Zeffirelli and Luchino Visconti, lavish productions of works such as Cherubini's Medea, Spontini's La Vestale, Bellini's La sonnambula and Norma, Donizetti's Anna Bolena and Poliuto, Verdi's La traviata and Un ballo in maschera, were made especially for her to great acclaim.

She also made guest appearances at the Royal Opera House in London, the Berlin State Opera, the Paris Opéra, the Lyric Chicago Opera, the Dallas Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

In 1958, she met Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis which led to her divorce from Meneghini, and slowly began withdrawing from the stage. Her final appearance was in Tosca in London in 1965, however she made a last world concert tour in 1973-74 with her often partner tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano, but by then her voice was almost gone.

Maria Callas died of a heart attack in Paris, France, at the age of 53.

Reference

  • The Complete Dictionary of Opera & Operetta, James Anderson, Wings Books, 1993.


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