Thursday, December 02, 2010

Maria Callas: La Divina

Maria Callas may be the first female opera singer whose personal life and travails in the gossip columns of the world were in danger of overshadowing her accomplishments onstage; mainly due to her involvement with Aristotle Onassis, she was drawn into conflict (at least in the public imagination) with the world's most famous widow, Jacqueline Kennedy.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAlthough she does have a legitimate claim to having been the pre-eminent diva - especially given her tempestuous rivalry with Renata Tebaldi - in terms of sheer ability Maria Callas was far from the greatest soprano. What Callas possessed in greatest abundance was a prevailing spirit; she was probably the finest actress the opera had ever seen, which meant that if she failed to hit a note, the audience was more than willing to overlook this shortcoming in favour of an appreciation for her performance as a whole.

Once a full-figured woman, in the mid-1950s Callas embarked upon a diet which dramatically reduced her weight, and which may have hastened the decline of her voice as well; the tension between the singer and the actress was always present in Callas, and in this case the actress won out...

Born in New York City to Greek parents on this day in 1923, Callas returned to Athens for her musical education at the Greek National Conservatoire, and got her start appearing in secondary roles at the Greek National Opera. Early on she showed an adept ability to perform everything from the highest soprano, coloratura, bel canto, contralto, and even allowed her to sing into the male range of tenor and high baritone.

Callas' voice remains a controversial instrument; while essentially unpretty, it is nevertheless a distinct voice, distinctiveness not being a trait which many singers consider important regardless of their metier. Most people consider her a mezzo-soprano, as that is her natural register, while others, myself included, feel that she is simply beyond categorization, as befits the woman known as La Divina.

Maria Callas was immortalized in the theatre by Terrence McNally's 1995 play Master Class, which was based on teaching she did at Juilliard in 1971-2; McNally had also based his earlier 1989 play The Lisbon Traviata around her life, as did Ethan Mordden, when writing his 1998 novel The Venice Adriana.

Maria Callas gave her final performance in Japan in November 1974; she died in September 1977 at the age of 53.

share on: facebook

1 comment:

Mathias N Oz said...

I said your name
I wore it like a badge of teenage film stars
Reminds me of one of my favorite REM songs:
Hash bars, cherry mash and tinfoil tiaras
Dreaming of Maria Callas
Whoever she is
This fame thing, I don't get it
I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it
Maybelline eyes and girl-as-boy moves
I can take you far
This star thing, I don't get it
I'll take you over, there
I'll take you over, there