One-hundred and so minutes of letting Maria Callas tell her story through personal letters, archival film-strips, interviews, and arias lets us understand more about the Greek-American operatic sensation. Maria tells us that she was pushed into her career by her mother and later by her husband, who both rejoiced in the glow of her fame. She sacrificed having a family for her career. Maria talks of destiny, undramatically.
Callas was born in New York in 1923. Her father changed his name from Kalogeropoulos to Kalo. She furthered the change to Callas, but she grew up as Cecilia Sophia Anna Maria Kalogeropoulos in Brooklyn. The family was caught in Greece during the war.
Maria Callas is direct, forthright, and comfortable with herself. Her strength is balanced by her vulnerability. Her childhood and early student days are not detailed. She tells us that she lied about her age to get into the conservatory in Athens. She was thirteen, not the required seventeen. Her mother was ambitious and strict. Maria was only allowed five minutes in front of the mirror. Her teacher Madame Elvira de Hidalgo defines her a a hard worker with expressive eyes. Hidalgo used one method “bel canto”. The voice was kept light, flexible, and penetrating. Maria’s Greek debut was in 1941. Her American in 1945. We hear nothing about the use of tapeworms to control her weight. But much is revealed about her friendship and nine-year love affair with Aristotle Onassis.
Callas calls Onassis “Aristo”. Her interview with David Frost shows her charming, sincere, and spontaneous. She calls Onassis the “finest of friends.” Maria describes him as ” full of life” and then ” the source of life”. She left her husband for Aristo, who made her feel feminine and liberated. She describes Onassis as boyish, generous, and never petty. The paparazzi hounded them.
After he caddishly abandoned her for a marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, Maria was devastated. She quit the stage for four years. Unrequited love was more than the stuff of opera. Her letters to Aristo speak of him being “her very breath”. When he did return to her admitting that his marriage to Jackie was a mistake she replied with a truthful twinkle in her eye that it was her mistake. She reflects that she put a man on a pedestal. Her affair a failure: her friendship a success. She tells Frost that one must have no resentment. One must forgive.
Callas loved France. Paris in 1963 was respectful of her fame. “People let you be. They leave you alone~don’t smother you.” Callas spoke beautiful French and beautifully of the French. In 1975, Callas saw Aristotle for the last time in his hospital room in Paris.
Director Tom Volf places music in the forefront. Chronologically, we see aged video of performances in Florence 1952, Milan 1954 & 1957 ,New York and Chicago 1956. Her performance of Bellini’s ” Norma” zeroes in on her upset fans. Callas’ bronchitis cut the second act even with Bellini in-house.
Rome in 1958 has her dubbed a tempestuous tigress. We see her with flowers in her arms in Lisbon, a prima donna of pure electricity.
Callas’ ardent fans see her mostly in winter colors of white, black, and tomato red. Poodles are her pets of choice, and she surrounds herself with all sizes. Her eyes flash as she tells us that she likes to cook, and collect recipes. Operatic star Joyce DiDonato reads Callas’s words when her own voiceovers were not found.
Callas’ forty-year career, from her spat with Rudolph Bing and the MET to powerful and riveting performances, stand against her Tosca in longing, fire, and grace. Callas died in Paris of a heart attack in 1977. She was just 53. Her “scandals” seem vindicated in this documentary. In her own words:” I am not an angel and do not pretend to be. That is not one of my roles. But I am not a devil either. I am a woman and a serious artist, and I would like so to be judged.”