‘Maria’ a sensuous portrait of opera superstar
For anyone going through withdrawal after seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” may I present for your consideration “Maria by Callas”?
In this immersive, often deliciously sensuous documentary portrait of the late opera star Maria Callas, viewers are treated to another rise-and-fall story of a great but tortured artist, this one punctuated by the occasional real-life bed of roses and pleasure cruise.
Long before Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, Callas was that rare opera singer who was also a household name, as famous for her striking beauty and effortless glamour as for her tonal range and lyrical interpretive skills.
To observe the New York-born Callas arriving in Rome or Milan or Paris or New York, in a cloud of furs, flowers, poodles and pearls, is to understand the fundamentals of diva style, imitated but never equaled by such successors as Madonna, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.
Callas’ command of her own persona is on regal, extravagant display in Tom Volf’s film, in which the director uses the subject’s own words — from letters, diary entries, television interviews and her memoirs — to narrate a succession of ravishing, rarely seen images, including some of her most famous (and notorious) performances, and candid footage of costume fittings and home movies.
What emerges is a portrait of a woman of extraordinary natural gifts and work ethic, who was pressured to become a superstar by her mother and then her husband. “Destiny is destiny,” she says resignedly at one point. “There’s no way out.”
Callas finally finds true love when she meets Aristotle Onassis, with whom she carried on a legendary love affair until he met Jacqueline Kennedy. That triangle forms some of the most compelling material in “Maria by Callas,” which is at its best when it simply watches her sing.
(At the Glenwood Arts, Tivoli.)