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as Cal­las set­tles into a volatile duet on the world stage with ship­ping mag­nate Aris­to­tle Onas­sis. Longer in­ter­views with David Frost and oth­ers pro­vide a ru­mi­na­tive through line.

This largely di­aris­tic ap­proach pits her serene self-image, com­plete with shape-shift­ing ac­cents—a cool New Yorker on Amer­i­can TV, a French or Ital­ian aris­to­crat or earthy Greek peas­ant when talk­ing to Euro­pean press—against the re­al­ity of the woman as a mer­cu­rial hand­ful. Most cru­cially, there are com­plete per­for­mances of her key arias, sung in “the only lan­guage I re­ally know: mu­sic”, with a spe­cial em­pha­sis on fa­mous high­lights from Norma and Tosca. Her au­then­tic­ity there shines through ev­ery heart-wrench­ing note.

In­trigu­ingly, al­most all the per­for­mances are drawn from well­recorded con­cert recitals. Most of the full-cos­tume op­eras glimpsed here are taken from am­a­teur 8mm movies, with no sync sound. Volf yokes these to rough au­dio records of the same (or sim­i­lar) per­for­mances, and it’s mind-bog­gling to con­sider the ef­fort that went into piec­ing all these el­e­ments to­gether. Some of the fram­ing, es­pe­cially of smaller, more de­graded im­ages, may seem gim­micky or ex­treme. But hey, what’s more ar­ti­fi­cial than opera?

Ken Eis­ner

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