Maria Callas

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Maria Callas still regarded as one of the greatest singing actresses of all time

Maria Callas (or Kallas), born as Maria Anna Sophie Cecilia Kalogeropoulos (Greek name: Μαρία Καλογεροπούλου) on 2nd December 1923 in Brooklyn, New York, the same year that her parents (George and Evangelia Kalogeropoulos) had emigrated to the USA (Long Island, New York in August 1923). From early on her great talent for music presented itself and in 1931 she began piano and solfeggio lessons. Her first contact with music is shown in a film from 1935 in which Callas under the pseudonym of Nina Foresti talks and then sings the aria 'Un bel di vedremo' from Madame Butterfly.

In 1937 Maria Callas returned with her mother to Greece and having already demonstrated her vocal gifts was allowed to study free of charge at the National Conservatory and studied in the class of Maria Trivella. However, the first decisive influence on her came during the period 1939-1943 when she studied at the Athens Conservatory under Professor Elvira de Hidalgo. Her teaching, which frequently lasted from morning to evening, is considered as having played a decisive role in shaping Callas' artistic personality. In relation to her golden voice, the critic Jacques Bourgeois noted that "she is like the Acropolis, the more she decays, the more beautiful she is". Even after her death in 1977 she lives on in the memories of everyone as an irreplaceable soprano, and as a major actress with a glorious career in the world of opera.

In 1939 she performed the role of Santuzza in "Cavalleria Rusticana" in a student performance at the Athens Conservatory. In 1940 she appeared with the Conservatory in the role of Amelia in "Un Ballo in Maschera" and as Aida in the opera of the same name by Verdi. On 27th November of the same year she made her first professional performance in the National Opera House where she played Beatrice in "Boccaccio" by Suppe. For the next five years (1940 - 1945) she collaborated with the National Opera House. She sang Tosca, Cavalleria, Smaragda in "Protomastora" by Manolis Kalomiris, Martha in "Tiefland" by d' Albert and Leonora in "Fidelio". On August 3 1947 she made her first impressive appearance in the arena of Verona with "La Gioconda" by Ponchielli. During the same year she performed Isolde in Vienna. In 1948 she triumphed with Turandot. One triumph succeeded the other. In 1949 she appeared in Buenos Aires with Norma at the Theatro Collon. In 1950 she played in Mexico in the role of Leonora in "Il Trovatore", Fiorila in "Il Turco in Italia" in Rome, Traviata at the Communale of Florence. During the same year once again at the Communale of Florence she performed the role of Helen in "I Vespri Siciliani" and Eurydice in "Orpheus and Eurydice". on April 2, 1952 she appeared for the first time at La Scala, Milan as Constanza in "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail" by Mozart. She sang Armida in Florence, Lucia and Jilda in "Rigoletto" in Mexico, and Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth" at La Scala. In 1953 during the Florence Music Month (May) she presented a wonderful performance of Medea in the opera of the same name by Cherubini. Of course, the titles do not stop here. Her magnificent career continued...

For six years (1954-1960) she dominated La Scala in Milan. Her career took off. She played Alcistis, Elizabeth in "Don Carlos", Julia in "La Vestale", Madalena in "Andrea Chenier", Rozina in "Il Barbiere di Siviglia", Fedora, Anna Bolena, Iphigenia at Taurus, Amelia in "Un Ballo in Maschera", Imogen in "Il Pirata" and Paulina in "Poliuto". Her performance in "Traviata" in 1955 under the direction of Lucino Visconti was triumphant. In 1957 she returned to Athens and appeared in the Athens Festival. In 1960-61 she sang at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus both Norma and Medea under the direction of Alexis Minotis. In 1962 she excelled in Medea directed by Alexis Minotis and in costumes designed by Giannis Tsarouchis. In 1964 she had a new artistic triumph in the opera of Paris with Norma. On July 5, 1965 she appeared for the last time in an opera. It was at Covent Garden in London in "Tosca" directed by Franco Zefirelli. In 1970 she appeared in a film version of "Medea" directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. In 1973 she ended her career with Giuseppe di Stefano directing "I Vespri Siciliani" by Verdi. The 8th December 1973 is considered to be her last public appearance, with Maria Callas singing arias at the Opera House of Paris. That day the public brought her back on stage for 10 encores. The cry "Viva Maria" shook the hall and the stage was flooded with bouquets. It was truly an unrepeatable, exceptional artistic career from which nothing can be omitted. The successes of Callas are the pieces of a mosaic constituting her uniqueness. She was like no other.

Maria Callas with Aristotle Onassis.

In referring to Callas, Antonio Gringielli, for 24 years director of La Scala, Milan, he who knew and gave artistic advice to the great tragedian, said, "Maria Callas does not have a difficult character, she just has a character with personality". The personal life of Maria Callas even today continues to hold her legend alive. Her obsession with dieting and in particular her love for Aristotle Onassis and their 9 year relationship were constant food for the cosmopolitan article writers of the time who while contributing to the creation of her legend often times also followed her private life suffocatingly closely. Her marriage to the industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini in 1949, many times her senior, and the position of other men in her life such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano were much commented on by the public.

Her death from a heart attack on 16th September 1977 in her apartment in Paris seems like an incident which has never occurred. Her body was incinerated and her ashes scattered across the Aegean Sea, its blue waters becoming her eternal, permanent home.

In her last interview, Maria Callas herself spoke openly: "You know, it is a very strange feeling to be a living legend while I am still on the earth. Perhaps it would be better if all those people who admired my voice decided to consider me immortal following my death. If that happened I would sit on some cloud, looking down and I would enjoy the view instead of sitting and worrying about whether I could manage to get out the high notes." Through her interviews and her biographies the sensitive, human side of Maria Callas is revealed, the woman who loved, was admired and deified.

Maria Callas' life was incomparable, unique and unrepeatable like she herself. Many have identified her name with opera and the art of opera itself while roles such as Medea for example are hard to accept performed otherwise now. The image of Maria Callas is one of the 'absolute Diva' and in this way she will remain indelibly marked on the best pages of world music history.