Maria by Cal­las

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Tosca Norma Maria by Cal­las.

The so­prano Maria Cal­las was mostly revered by opera-lovers — a rep­u­ta­tion that con­tin­ues in pos­ter­ity — but in some quar­ters she was re­viled, which adds spice to di­rec­tor Tom Volf’s bio-documentary The film’s pre­dom­i­nant voice is that of Cal­las her­self, ei­ther through ex­tended in­ter­view footage (with Ed­ward R. Mur­row, Bar­bara Wal­ters, and oth­ers) or through her let­ters and di­aries (as in­toned by opera singer Joyce DiDonato). To hear Cal­las speak is in it­self in­struc­tive. You could imag­ine that her unique, ov­ere­nun­ci­ated ac­cent de­rived from a youth spent in both her na­tive New York and Greece; but as it grows more pro­nounced with pass­ing years, it seems in­creas­ingly part of the ex­otic fan­tasy per­sona she cu­rated for her­self.

The in­ter­view seg­ments of the film seem sim­i­larly con­trived, and only the most in­gen­u­ous viewer would con­sider tak­ing her words, or her stud­ied naiveté, at face value. Of­ten she spouts plat­i­tudes about art, but one wishes her in­ter­locu­tors had pressed her to be more spe­cific. Her com­ments fre­quently turn out to be arias in self-pity: “I would have pre­ferred to have a happy fam­ily and have chil­dren. I think that is the main vo­ca­tion of a woman. But des­tiny brought me into this ca­reer. I couldn’t get out. I was forced into it quite fre­quently, first by my mother, then by my hus­band. I would have given it up with plea­sure. But des­tiny is des­tiny, and there’s no way out.”

The hus­band to which she was re­fer­ring was her first, the in­dus­tri­al­ist Gio­vanni Bat­tista Menegh­ini, who pre­ceded the ship­ping mag­nate Aris­to­tle Onas­sis, whom she ceded to Jac­que­line Kennedy. Notwith­stand­ing the ador­ing crowds, the bil­low­ing flo­ral bou­quets, and the suc­ces­sion of Rolls-Royces, Cal­las de­picts her­self as a frag­ile soul who was un­justly vic­tim­ized. She laments that, af­ter bail­ing out mid­way through a 1958 per­for­mance of in Rome, she was shocked by “the wave of vi­o­lence and cru­elty that would be un­leashed upon me. … They made me pay dearly for my suc­cess.”

Al­though the sto­ry­line largely traces Cal­las’ celebrity, Volf also in­cludes ex­tended film takes of her stage per­for­mances, warts and all. They have been col­orized with sen­si­tiv­ity, such that footage fa­mous to opera afi­ciona­dos be­comes more vivid: for ex­am­ple, Cal­las in her deep red, gold-trimmed gown (de­signed by Mar­cel Es­coffier) in Zef­fer­elli’s 1964

pro­duc­tion at Covent Gar­den. Some dicey singing emerges along the way — sus­tained high notes go­ing way­ward, vo­cal wob­ble in the later years — but these un­hur­ried seg­ments af­ford oc­ca­sional glimpses of the dra­matic com­mit­ment that earned Cal­las her star­dom. — James M. Keller

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.