A diva re­mem­bered: Key points in the life of Maria Cal­las

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Maria Cal­las died 40 years ago but her sta­tus as one of opera’s great­est stars re­mains undi­min­ished, with new re­leases of CDs and ex­hi­bi­tions planned to mark the an­niver­sary. Here are some of the turn­ing points in the life of “La Div­ina”, drawn from archives of AFP’s re­port­ing on the woman whose voice and style for­ever marked the world of opera.

Maria Kalogeropoulou blos­soms into a diva

On Au­gust 2, 1947, the cur­tain falls on the last act of Ponchielli’s “La Gio­conda” in Verona, Italy. The stand­ing ova­tion that fol­lows hails the ar­rival of Maria Cal­las as a new star. She was born Sophia Ce­cilia Anna Maria Kalogeropoulou on De­cem­ber 2, 1923, in New York, her fam­ily name later short­ened to Cal­las. Ed­u­cated in Greece, she started per­form­ing at the age of eight. In Verona she meets Gio­vanni Bat­tista Menegh­ini, a wealthy in­dus­tri­al­ist who is pas­sion­ate about opera. Twenty-eight years her se­nior, he be­comes her im­pre­sario and then hus­band in 1949.

In 1954 she loses around 30 ki­los (66 pounds) and trans­forms into the ul­ti­mate diva, tak­ing top parts in the most well-known op­eras. An AFP cor­re­spon­dent wrote at the time of her death in 1977 that Cal­las re­minded opera that it is also the­atre, and that the “long lines of paunchy and plump singers that come along to push out a tune on cen­ter stage are no longer ac­cept­able”.

The Rome scan­dal

On Jan­uary 2, 1958, Cal­las opens the Rome sea­son with “Norma” in the pres­ence of Italy’s pres­i­dent, Gio­vanni Gronchi. But at the end of the first act, she says she has lost her voice and re­fuses to con­tinue. The tem­per­a­men­tal diva is ac­cused of be­ing capri­cious as there had been whis­tles dur­ing one of her arias. But she in­sists to the me­dia: “As you could see, I could no longer speak.” Two weeks later in Paris, it is a star “ex­hausted and worn out” that an AFP jour­nal­ist in­ter­views in the mo­rose at­mos­phere of a pri­vate room at the famed res­tau­rant Maxim’s. “I suf­fered a lot that evening in Rome,” she says.

Onas­sis, her great love

In 1959 Cal­las leaves Menegh­ini to em­bark on a pas­sion­ate nine-year af­fair with ship­ping ty­coon Aris­to­tle Onas­sis. “Late at night one could see him, with Cal­las, in an Athens tav­erna where, hav­ing taken off his jacket and un­done his tie, he show­ered the or­ches­tra with gold and broke, as is Greek cus­tom, piles of plates,” AFP re­ported at the time. Their idyll ends in 1968 when Onas­sis leaves Cal­las to marry the wid­owed Jackie Kennedy.

Cal­las turns her back on opera in 1965. On Fe­bru­ary 20 she tri­umphs in “Tosca” in Paris, with an AFP jour­nal­ist de­scrib­ing the pub­lic’s pas­sion for a singer “more sen­si­tive than ever, even if she some­times lacks range”. “The moment she ap­peared in the church in the first act, in a pink dress wrapped in a large deep-or­ange scarf, her arms full of flow­ers, the ap­plause was such that it drowned out the mu­sic and the first lines were in­audi­ble,” the re­port says.

Dur­ing a per­for­mance on May 29, she falls ill. On July 5, “de­spite the ad­vice of her doc­tor,” she takes to the stage for the last time in Lon­don, with Queen Elizabeth II in the au­di­ence.

A fi­nal tour

In 1973 Cal­las un­der­takes an in­ter­na­tional tour of recitals. In Paris, AFP wrote, “bou­quets rained onto the stage”, ac­com­pa­nied by stand­ing ova­tions and cries of “Viva Maria”, even if the crit­ics were “less en­thu­si­as­tic”. “If the tech­nique, the mu­si­cal­ity of the voice are not in ques­tion, the high notes are judged as par­tic­u­larly painful.”

Her last breath

Cal­las dies at her Paris home on Septem­ber 16, 1977, aged 53, hav­ing suf­fered a heart at­tack. “I have just seen her on her bed,” says Michel Glotz, her for­mer artis­tic di­rec­tor, in an AFP re­port. “It was the im­age it­self of ‘La Travi­ata’ as she per­formed it in 1956 at Mi­lan’s La Scala. There was not a line on her face. It seems like she was just rest­ing.” — AFP

A file pic­ture taken on Jan­uary 5, 1966 of US Greek-singer so­prano Maria Cal­las, be­ing ap­plauded by the au­di­ence of the Odeon the­ater in Paris dur­ing the pre­miere of “The Bar­ber of Seville”, pre­sented by the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera of New York.

A file pic­ture taken circa 1970’s shows Opera so­prano Maria Cal­las giv­ing au­to­graphs to fans in Paris.

This file pic­ture taken on May 23, 1964 shows Opera singer Maria Cal­las per­form­ing in Vin­cenzo Bellini’s “Norma” in Paris.

This file photo taken on May 16, 1964 shows Amer­i­can singer Maria Cal­las ar­riv­ing at the Opera de Paris. La Seine Mu­si­cale dis­plays an ex­hi­bi­tion about Cal­las from Septem­ber 16. — AFP photos

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