Maria Callas, the divine opera singer: Maria Callas is one of the most renowned opera singers the world has ever known. With her sheer musical genius, she revived the bel canto form of singing and added her own personal musical style to it. Her musical talent has led the press and celebrated musicians around the world to bestow her with titles like The Bible of Opera and La Divina.
Her beautiful captivating voice that had such a magnificent presence on stage and the intense emotional notes that she carried out altered simple dramatic performances into serious and entrancing dramatic showpieces.
Maria Callas (short for Maria Kalogeropoulou) was born in New York in December 1923 to Greek parents. Her childhood does not have many happy memories to recall because of the unending rows between her parents. Maria was the third child in the family. She had an elder sister named Jackie and a brother named Vassilis, who died a year before her birth. Her father's mellow and moderate nature seriously contrasted with her mother's highly aggressive attitude.
Moreover, her mother somewhat had a fascination towards beauty, which she found only in her elder daughter, thus favoured her more and completely ignored Maria, who she considered plump and ugly. Maria was myopic at an early age and also had to wear thick glasses but alternatively she was also gifted with charming singing capabilities.
As soon as her mother discovered the younger daughter's musical talent, she began forcing her to sing from the age of five. When the family returned to Athens in 1937, Maria got basic musical education from two important musical instructors, Maria Trivella of the Greek National Conservatoire and Elvira De Hidalgo of Athens Conservatoire. Both of Maria's musical educators realized during the training sessions that she had the making of a dramatic soprano. She was an extremely dedicated student and completely devoured her lessons.
Apart from a warm tone, Maria also had an impressive control over her voice and was very cautious not to extend her notes, proving that she was a careful musician as well. Such expertise bagged her dramatic roles in the operas of famous German composer Richard Wagner. Her very first major performance was in "Tosca" by Puccini, in 1941. In the opera by Giuseppe Verdi, she elegantly carried out the role of "Aida".
Reaching the peak
Maria Callas reached the top of her career in 1949, when she undertook the challenge to perform both the roles of "Brunnhilde" and "Elvira" in the opera "I Puritani" by Vincenzo Bellini and that too in the same week. Both the works were completely different from each other and required contrasting vocal qualities.
She performed these two roles on stage with such unimaginable ease that musicians across the world would remember this musical feat as one of the main pillars behind her success and worldwide recognition. In 1951, Maria moved to Italy and joined the La Scala opera house in Milan. It is here that she performed a total of 37 musical roles and entertained audiences year after year.
It was also here that she came across Italian music director, Tullio Serafin, who became her mentor during her stay in Italy. He drew her interest towards bel canto that requires an adaptable vocal pitch, distinct articulation, a refined tonal quality and an ability to reach a high range. With sheer determination, she mastered this particular pattern of singing and was soon seen performing roles of Norma, Lucia and Rosina.
In 1953 and 1954, Maria realized that due to her fatty figure she was becoming too tired while performing and sweating profusely while moving about on stage carrying out roles of young girls. So, she resolved to lose enough weight and take on such a diet that would make her look more attractive on stage.
Maria lost 80 pounds and turned into a slender, graceful and more confident lady on stage. Her beautiful figure added a charming effect to her performances. In 1954, her presence in the United States was marked by some of her best performances that she imparted in front of the American audiences in Chicago's Lyric Opera and exactly two years later in New York City's Metropolitan Opera.
Problems and scandals
Unfortunately, such a great and talented singing maestro developed vocal problems in the late 1950s. Due to her continual vocal treatment, she completely withdrew from stage by 1962. Nevertheless she made a brief appearance once again in 1965 and performed the famous Tosca in Paris, London and New York City, reinstating herself as one of the best opera singers of the world.
The brightness of Maria's career would hide the emotional turmoil that she went through in her own private life. According to the press, these events serve as scandals that became well known as she started to achieve accomplishment in her career. In 1949, Maria's marriage to Giovanni Meneghini, a wealthy Italian businessman, 28 years older than her, caught the attention of the press.
Earlier her estranged relationship with her mother was much talked about. Maria's comments about her mother's ill treatment of her and her father were hungrily gobbled up. In fact, Callas accused her mother that she deprived her from a normal childhood that all children deserve. She even accused her mother that she pressed her daughters on dating German Nazi officers during the Second World War in Athens.
However, her marriage was no happier. Although her husband had helped her career by being her manager and encouraging her musical pursuit, Maria still felt that their marriage could not stir those passionate feelings that she so much desired to feel.
It was in the late 1950s that she came across Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The two of them bagan a passionate relationship, which resulted pretty fateful for her. Callas had fallen in deep live with Onassis and even divorced Meneghini in 1966 to be with him. What for him seemed to be another extramarital relationship, for her it was the love of her life, the man she could do anything for.
One of her biographers even stated that in 1960 Callas gave birth to the son of Onassis in Paris but the child died after a few hours. In the 1960s, Callas was gradually failing her career and when director Franco Zeffirelli asked her in 1963 why she had stopped her performances, Callas simply replied I am trying to fulfill my life as a woman.
Unfortunately, their relationship had ill fate. Onassis betrayed her with his sudden decision to marry Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of the former US president John Kennedy, without even telling her. This devastated Callas emotionally but rumors had it that Onassis continued to visit her in Paris, even after his marriage.
When Onassis died in 1975, she went into total depression. After that, Maria led a very reclusive life away from friends and social events. On September 16, 1977, she passed away at the age of 53. She probably suffered a heart attack due to overdose of sleeping pills. After her death, her ashes were distributed in the Aegean Sea as was her wish.