Maria Anna Sophie Kalogeropoulos, more commonly known as Maria Callas, was born in 1923 on Long Island, New York. Although she was technically American, Maria’s parents hailed from Greece, and she spent most of her career performing in Italy.
Maria was an opera singer characterized by some critics as a soprano, and by others as a mezzo-soprano later in her career. She studied at the National Conservatoire in Athens beginning in 1938 and quickly made her operatic debut in 1941 as Beatrice in “Boccaccio”. While in Athens, the singer performed such operas as “Tosca”, “Tiefland”, “Cavalleria Rusticana”, “Fidelio”, and “Der Bettelstudent” at the Palas Cinema before returning to the U.S. in 1944 to reunite with her father. After trying out for the Metropolitan Opera and failing to secure a role there or any other place in New York, Callas went into true hustler mode: When she heard Tullio Serafin was looking for a dramatic for “Tristan und Isolde”, Callas told him that she already knew the score, even though she had only briefly looked through the part. She sight-read the opera’s second act for Serafin, and he was so impressed with her “knowledge of the role” that he gave her the part. Callas went to Italy, where she started to perform less classical roles and focused more on Italy’s bel canto roles. Soon after, she was coined La Divina because of her amazing vocal ability and her particular gift for the use of other languages in her music.
More on this incredible woman, after the jump!
Despite Callas’ cunning tactics to find work, and her impressive vocal range, she was not without critics. Her rumored hot temper and impulsive decisions landed her in the limelight quite a few times. Midway through her career, Callas reached a weight of approximately 200 pounds. She felt her weight was affecting her vocals and that she had to work too hard during her performances and was subsequently always worn out. As a result, from 1953-1954 Callas lost around 80 pounds before appearing as Cherubini’s “Medea”. Although some noted that her vocals suffered, because she was no longer able to sustain as much power behind her voice, Callas became as popular as ever as soon as she got svelte. Then in 1958, blaming her ailing health, Callas prematurely walked out of a performance of “Norma” that was attended by the President of Italy. She also walked out of another engagement after refusing to do an encore performance. Then, there was the supposed rivalry between Callas and singer Renata Tebaldi, in which Tebaldi claimed Callas did not have “heart” when she sang, and Callas supposedly retorted that comparing her with Tebaldi “was like comparing champagne with cognac”. Lastly, Callas divorced her husband and proceeded to have a very sordid and public affair with Aristotle Onassis (pre-Jackie). According to some biographers, Callas continued to see Onassis when he was with Jackie, and that they supposedly even had a child who died shortly after birth.
Callas’ story is especially relevant today in the age or overexposure of Hollywood stars. Certainly, comprehensive press coverage of an event escalates problems and can contribute to flaring tempers. Just think of the umbrella-wielding “Bald Britney”! She was definitely pushed to the limit and it was all captured on camera. Female stars in Hollywood also receive their fair share of criticism for their weight fluctuations, and their habits are closely monitored and recorded in attempts to sensationalize headlines. Additionally, we have seen first hand when the papers and fans build rivalries between stars out of nowhere: In the rivalry for “Blond Popstar”, the gossip magazines seemed to pit Britney, Jessica Simpson, and Christina Aguilera against each other.
Rather than focus on the negative, Callas spoke of the supposed rivalry in a positive way by saying the newspapers created a big interest in two otherwise ignored opera singers (she and Tebaldi). Callas was brave enough the sue those who did not honor their written contracts after they hired her, and in a few of those cases, the decision was in her favor. She may have been difficult, but as Rudolph Bing noted, she was the most difficult “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.”
Callas was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007, and was voted “Greatest Soprano of All Time” by BBC Music Magazine in the same year.
For more on Maria Callas and her amazing career, please visit: www.callas.it
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