Clic To be read and listened to when one has time and quietness: it ’ s not any slide!
G. Donizetti: LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR “Ardon gli incensi” Registrazione dal vivo del 1952 - Città del Messico Delibes – LAKME’ – “Dov’è l’indiana bruna” Lord, What must Your Angels’singing in Heaven be like, if You sent such a Voice to earth? Singing has nothing to do with pride, but with an endeavour at elevating towards those Heavens, where everything is harmony” - Maria Callas
– The tale of the Ugly Duckling turning into a Royal Swan has never been truer! Listen why! Doctor George Kalogheropulos, an apothecary, and his wife Evanghelia have two children: Jackie and Vassily, who dies very young. Evanghelia becomes pregnant again, and is sure to bear another baby boy, when the couple decides to migrate from Athens to America, in 1923. In America George changes his very long Greek family name into Callas . On the 4th of December of the same year (not the 2 nd ), in New York, another girl comes into the world. The disappointment is so big that the mother refuses to see her for many a day. The girl is called Maria and doesn’t receive much love, as she is not wanted, is big, fat, with pimples and awfully short-sighted, as much her sister is thin and refined
Evanghelia is a middle class woman (she belongs to a family of soldiers), with deep frustrations. She longs for a brilliant and luxurious life that her husband cannot afford. Realizing that Maria has a good voice, she sees through her the possibility to make up for what she lacks! Maria will remember with sadness her refused childhood, burnt by a neurotic mother compelling her to study music obsessively and take part in infant prodigy competitions. When she is thirteen, her mother leaves her husband and goes back to Greece with the two girls. She hopes to find there more help for the career that she has definitely chosen for her. She makes her study with Mrs.Elvira De Hidalgo, who will confess later to have felt somehow puzzled about that fat, awkward little girl, full of pimples and short-sighted who wanted to become a singer. But as soon as Maria starts singing, all puzzlement disappears. She becomes one of her favourite pupils: and the little girl will see in her the loving mother that she has never had. Then comes the war and the three women have to go through all the anguish of that tragic period, in a Greece invaded by Nazis and Fascists. But one cannot say they suffer hunger, because Jackie’s rich fiancée as well as Italian and German soldiers, enraptured by the little girl’s voice , supply them with food!
I – The first papers mentioning her when still very young are the German ones, in reportages from Athens. When the war is over, being accused of collaborationism, Maria returns to America, where she finds her father, but is not successful as a singer. At 23 she leaves for Italy, where she is engaged for a series of performances at Verona’s Arena. We are in mer of 1947. At the station she is robbed of her suitcase and left only with the clothes she is wearing and no money. But Luck has at last decided to help her and makes her meet Veronese industrialist Battista Meneghini who is thirty years older than she and has a considerable bank account. Beside economic support, she finds in him as well the father who has never been capable or able to be near her. After many ups and downs, they get married. Being Meneghini a connoisseur of “Bel Canto” (opera), he realizes what a treasure has come into his hands and leaves his own activity to become his wife’s manager.
With her husband’s help, many doors begin to open; but Maria’s voice and personality are a big puzzle for opera fans, as they don’t fit any pattern known so far! Maria moves her body, bustles about, acts with passion, whereas the audience has been accustomed to see nice, motionless statues whose only worry was to shoot high notes and high Cs from the chest! Lovers of tradition don’t accept her and set against her Renata Tebaldi, a traditional soprano with a very beautiful voice. Young people, instead, are enthusiastic about the new wind which Maria is bringing on to the stage. If one deeply examines this "rivalry" between the two “ prime donne ” and the furious dispute (to physical fights) between Callas ’ and Tebaldi ’ s fans, one can see the dawning of ’ 68 as well as Feminism, even if, in the mid-fifties they were still far: Renata, easy-going, quiet, motherly, very discreet was the prototype of the mother-woman, characterizing that period; Maria, thin, nervous, volitional, pugnacious and polemic was the prototype of modern, free women, who can ’ t be happy with husband, children and housework only, but are determined to get what they are after.
Norma The two different positions, at last, are reconciled when Teodoro Celli, a music critic, explains the characteristic of Maria’s voice: she is not a mere soprano, but a dramatic soprano gifted with agility, whose voice has such a wide range as to cover all the notes attainable by human voice, from the highest to the lowest. It’s over a hundred years since such a voice appeared … To be short: Maria revives the great lyrical tradition of the nineteenth century, such as Malibran’s and Pasta’s. Being still very fat and awkward, Maria understands, contrary to many of her colleagues, the importance of looks as well, in a society which is becoming a society of images. Besides, in her longing for perfection, she is urged by the need to be as near as possible to her heroines …in order not to make ridiculous, for example, a Traviata weighing a hundred kilos who dies of phthisis, or make Scarpia yearn for a Tosca wearing size 56!
Twenty years separate those photos. The British magazine “Harpes & Queens”, in June 2005 includes Maira Callas among the most beautiful women of the twentieth century.
– It is 1952. Maria disappears for a while and then she reappears ethereal, filiform, very elegant, as only great ladies and mannequins can be! The metamorphosis kicks up a great fuss and stirs up the press. Maria stops being only a singer, however exceptional, and becomes a cover star! In the meantime, at theatres, the struggle between Traditionalists and Innovators goes on, and the duel Callas-Tebaldi is lived, by the audience as well as by the press, with a passion that the lyric theatre had not known since at least a century … That is, since the times of Verdians and Wagnerians … Between the lines of such a contrast one can see a contrast between two different ways of being a woman, that only a few caught at the time: Renata, shy, quiet, giving importance to motherly and home values in addition to music, stood for the typical woman of the fifties, the one always walking one step behind her man …Maria, proud, warlike, some times arrogant, with Mr Callas (apparently) at her side, was the New Woman, beginning to stand out; the one who, within a few years, would lead to feminist fight. In short, Opera, which seemed doomed to oblivion on account of public indifference, regains, after many decades, papers’first pages.
. “ La Traviata” On resuming singing Maria is also able, with her voice and temperament, to face operas which had been forgotten for lack of voices able to interpret them. – This is the case with “Medea” by Cherubini, “La Vestale” by Spontini, and with many other operas lost in oblivion. Beside that, with her highly dramatic vein, she revives very popular operas such as “Lucia di Lammermoor” ,”Tosca” and many others, which had been deprived of all their pathos by interpreters only worrying about their voice and quite incapable of an emotional and psychological approach to characters. In other words, opera heroines stop being mere singing dolls and become again, thanks to her, women of flesh and blood, with passions, joys, sorrows. On the stage, SHE doesn’t act, she LIVES the feelings, which are, after all, everybody’s feelings and passions. Many people listen and cry. Applauses reach an enthusiasm which can be compared to stadiums’.
Norma – She achieves her artistic best around the middle of the fifties, when begins an unbelievable cooperation with Luchino Visconti who adores Maria and teaches her to use as much as she can the talent for interpreting that nature has already granted her. With Visconti, beside a great artistic understanding, develops a very deep relationship based on mutual respect and fondness. Particularly talked about was a “Traviata”, which excited enthusiasm with innovators, while causing the rebellion of traditionalists. A “Traviata”, which remained anyway an unexcelled model of artistic and techinical perfection, to the point that only thirty years later a soprano (very young Tiziana Fabbricini) found the courage to crush the taboo and appear at the Scala as Violet.
– Renown has in the meantime reached the top … At first Milanese society, then the international jet set, open their homes to her … A guest of honour, revered, fondled… In the 50’-60’ of the twentieth century Maria is as famous as Caroline of Monaco or Lady Diana would be years later… Papers overflow with photos and articles concerning her … She is beautiful, refined, glamorous, speaks four languages fluently and has that particular look especially characterizing people grown up in New York … Her husband, of very great help at the beginning, is becoming a problem … Maria is little over thirty and he, over sixty … He has remained the provincial that he was, and is well at ease only when sitting before “salame” and red wine, speaking dialect or, at best, an Italian with a strong Venetian accent. Parties around the world, of course, bore him and send him to sleep! Besides, he has changed his wife into a hen with golden eggs and requires stratospheric rewards for her performances. In such a way he estranges himself from impresarios and theatre superintendents, as well as from envious colleagues
– Maybe Maria, too much applauded, adored and paid, has lost her head and the sense of limit as well … We read about fights, overbearingness, inadmissible freaks … , only forgiven because they are HER’s … Her, for whom the audience queues up for days on end, maybe spending the night on a sidewalk for a theatre ticket. In short, everything is exasperated by the sensation she makes. Bewtween 1958 and 1959 the tensions and misunderstandings between Maria, the World of Opera and the press become so high that she begins to be gradually emarginated: one by one, the great theatres do not offer her contracts any longer. The last to slam the door in her face is the Scala, of which she has been the uncontested queen for five years! The international press enjoys massacring the Goddess, once even too much worshiped, and her mother starts kindling the fire with a hail of interviews highlighting a very rich, but reckless daughter, compelling her to earn a living as a saleswoman !
La magnifica preda Evaghelia’s venomous statements are given very much emphasis in international press: Callas, then, is not only the Tiger kicking her colleagues on the stage, but also a degenerate daughter! To newspapers, Maria never tells what the relationship to her mother is really like, but to her friends she tells of how, mother and sister, have been choking her all the time with unending money requests ... It’s easy to guess that in such a matter, as well in others, Meneghini had a hand: after the separation, Evanghelia, properly “subsidized”, will go again into the shade. It is amidst this very difficult situation that in Maria’s life appears Onassis, at the time considered the richest man in the world. He, a well-known playboy, has since long caught sight of her.
– In the spring of 1959, when her crisis is at the brim, he invites her and her husband to a cruise on the Mediterranean aboard his yacht “Christina”, as big and luxurious as to be unrivalled. The yacht is the shop-window of his society conquests; with his love affairs, on the contrary, he is very discreet, as he doesn’t want to spoil his family life, for which he, as a genuine Greek, cares a great deal. Arì has put his eyes on Maria because she, beside being beautiful and renowned, is a Greek like him, which thing makes him very proud! And he is also struck by the fact that Kings and Heads of State are at her feet, whereas he is hardly put up with, only on account of his extreme wealth! The two Greeks, who have reached the top of success, find a perfect mutual understanding! During those long days of cruising the blue of the Greek sea, through Arì, Maria discovers her country (up to then neglected due to her exclusively international life), and her womanliness.
Il panfilo Christina Being imbued with moral values, she resists Arì’s pressing wooing; things precipitate on the day of the Assumption (August 15 th ), her name-day. The cruisers land to pay homage to orthodox Patriarch Athenagora who receives them in his church. Athenagora invites Maria and Arì to get near, joins their hands and blesses them as the two Greeks who, at that moment, give most prestige to their home–country. “But this is a wedding!”, Meneghini is reported to have exclaimed. The truth is that Maria thinks the Patriarch’s gesture has sealed as a blessing her love for Arì.
A priestess of Music, all given up to studying, to pursue artistic perfection almost maniacally, Maria has not had, so far, the time, possibility and fancy to think of something else. She has had “affairs” before getting married, but it is obvious that she has never been convinced and engaged enough as to give free course to Love… A thiry-year- older husband hasn’t improved things. Maria confesses to her dearest friends to have had a poor sexual life for nine out of the ten years of her married life and to have known physical pleasure only with Pirate Onassis, at 36!
But Maria is too passionate, too famous, and has discovered to be Greek to the core. Things get out of control for both …after furious fights with Athina and Meneghini, the two lovers cut the Gordian knot and start appearing in public, giving up all caution: just the two of them in a well-known Milanese restaurant. The relationship becomes official! Obviously Athina, seeing such an impudent betrayal reported in the world press, asks for divorce, not at all well liked by Arì, who, maybe for the first time in his life, has lost his head, but would like to keep wife (with whom he also has very solid business ties), and mistress! Maria leaves her husband in despair, as she would like to have Arì only.
Meneghini throws in her face, supported by most of the press, to have had such a reward after being her Pygmalion, but omits saying how much his patrimony has grown since when he has left the family business to become his wife’s manager! Maria moves to Montecarlo, where very young prince Ranieri is but a dummy and Onassis the real boss. She keeps her previous engagements, but doesn’t seem to intend to continue her career. Grace Kelly, since short a princess, accepts the situation tight-lipped, officially because Maria and Arì are lovers, but as a matter of fact because Maria deprives her of the stage .
In order to get rid of both Onassis and Callas, Grace Kelly asks for help her overseas billionaire friends who, in fact, little by little, buy everything, turning the Greek shipper into a minor partner. Maria moves to Paris, a city that returns her love .
- Maria is getting tired of criticism, struggles to the knife with her denigrators, envious colleagues, grudging critics. The only thing she cares for is a quiet life near her Arì. But the latter’s children make ruthless war on her, for destroying their parents’marriage, one of the reasons why Arì never married her. Now that she is backed by this “Croesus”, though, all the world starts again to pay homage to her, from the press, which overflows with reports on the “Great Love”, to the great world theatres, the Scala at the top, which overwhelm her with all kinds of proposals. With her triumphant reappearance at the Scala Maria takes her revenge. Then she sings at Epidaurus, in her newly discovered home-country, all the time arousing the audience’s as well as mass media’s great enthusiasm. But her voice is no longer the same, nor is her will to be on the stage.
After a nine year- relationship with ups and downs, as is the case with most couples, Maria has not lost the hope of marrying Onassis. But, all at once the Greek adventurer marries Jackie, since not long President Kennedy’s widow. Maria will learn the news from the papers! After her husband’s and Bob’s murder, Jackie is terrorized. She has deep fears concerning herself and her children. She wants to fly away from America, protected by a very rich man. She is said to have wooed for a long time, unsuccessfully, Gianni Agnelli, to resort then to the much less charming, but extremely richer Onassis. Onassis, beside adding another diamond, among the most coveted, to his collection, finds it very convenient to marry Jackie, as this allows him to hinder once for all some rather heavy outstanding matters of his with American justice. Maria will learn this piece of news from the papers and that will be the day when she will begin to let herself die. We mentioned before Ari’s children’s hostility towards a new marriage of their father’s. Totally invented, instead, must be the story of a child of Maria’s and Ari’s, dead immediately after birth. Strictly dogged by “paparazzi”, with photos appearing on newspapers every other day, how could have Maria concealed a pregnancy: moreover her dearest friends had never had that impression!
– It’s a squalid marriage, preceded by a contract drawn by a team of seasond lawyers … It even enumerates the times the husband can go to bed with his wife! This wedding will greatly damage Jackie’s image, up to then considered an icon! Even too obvious that America’s widow has sold herself to the highest bidder!
. For Maria it is a devastating stroke, even if Onassis is as shameless as to call her again a few days after the wedding, playing in an off-hand manner the same little game he had tried with his wife! Amongst denials, tears and complaints, Maria is now a slave to this man, unable to escape a sadomasochistic relationship with no way out. Onassis kows it very well and takes advantage of it. The relationship starts again, and he often takes Maria out, cynically, so as to be seen in public with her, every time with a train of photographers: a message of contempt addressed to Jackie, who, in addition to living almost all the time in America now that she in no longer afraid, has given herself to such crazy a shopping as to jeopardize even the Greek Croesus’empire! Maria plays into his hands, either because entirely dominated by him, or in the useless attempt to show the world that she is still loved! Sought after, maybe still loved by her Arì though in his own way, but “broken” inside, she cannot but try to go back to the stage to flatter herself to be someway alive.
“ Medea” di P.P. Pasolini She becomes a close friend of Pierpaolo Pasolini’s who convinces her to interpret his film “Medea”, which, however, in spite of the very good scenes, costumes and music, is not appreciated by the public, nor by the critics. Her lifelong friend Giuseppe Di Stefano, who had shared so many triumphs with her, proposes her a tournée around the world. The public applaudes with enthusiasm, but the critics are ruthless … Maria understands that what the public applauds is not her, but the memory of what she had been. So she stops her career. Desperate, she falls into Di Stefano’s arms, not only out of a real need for support, but maybe also to try, through a handsome and young-looking rival, to make jealous the enigmatic Arì, who keeps seeking after her, without opening his mind.
In the meantime the marriage with Jackie, built on very bad basis, becomes worse and worse. There is no meeting-point between the two. The tension has reached the top and divorce steps are being taken, also because young Onassis, now grown up, if once hostile to Maria, now literally hate Jackie. Everything ends the day when Alexandros, at 24, has an air crash … The father, destroyed, is compelled to give his consent to “unplug” his adored son, now cerebrally dead. It is the 23 rd of January1973. With the son, also the father starts dying, as he falls seriously ill almost at once . The funeral of Alexandros
“ I feel, lost. abbandoned…” A very bitter end for one of the most charming and famous women of the twentieth century! … In 1975 die Onassis and Pasolini and in 1976 Visconti. Maria shuts herself up in her Paris flat, a city she is very fond of and where she has moved since many years. She refuses any work proposal and, gradually, even herself to her dearest friends, who become, in such a way, impotent towards her slow, but inexorable self-destruction. She spends her time listening to records of her glorious past and playing cards with her very faithful servants, who have been with her for decades and pretend not to notice that she, now almost out, often forgets to pay them … Two awful years, among anti-depressing drugs, exciting chemicals of any kind … Death, mercifully, hits her all of a sudden on Septmber 16, 1977.
“ Great God, to die so young” – Paris, September 16,1977 The person bending over the coffin is Grace Kelly.
Thank you Maria ! [email_address] www.gabriellla.il (3 L) Her ashes thrown into the Aegeus.