My first time to hear the name Maria Callas was in a movie about her life. This was called “Callas Forever,” (2002) starring Fanny Ardant and Jeremy Irons. I was intrigued with the personality and captivated by her voice (which was dubbed in). At this point she was long passed (1977 in Paris, France) and there was no chance of seeing her in concert. I began to immerse myself in everything I could find about her. Documentary, video clips of her singing, and I read Arianna Huffington’s book “Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend,” which also came out in 2002. The funny thing is; I don’t really like opera. When I was reading Ms. Huffington’s book, I kept wondering what an aria was. Somehow I missed the part where she had explained that this is what you call an operatic solo.
I have since attended a couple of operas and I have tried listening to other sopranos but I just don’t get the same feelings as I do when I listen to Ms. Callas. It is hard to explain. It seems to be that I am in love with the person, not the genre and the passionate way she projects herself. I get the same feelings when I listen to a gypsy violin, especially when it is played to sound like a bird singing. This is when the violin is transformed to become another entity as if it is shapeshifting. I like other instruments (except the flute) and I appreciate other violinists but not quite as much as a gypsy violin player.
Her story is rather romantic. Father leaves, mother pushing her daughter to sing from the age of three, her great love marries Jacqueline Kennedy. What is also sad is the bracelet that Aristotle Onassis gave to I believe four women, including Ms. Callas and Kennedy, which all said the same thing and looked the same as well. This did not make me think too highly of him as a partner. At the end of Ms. Callas’s life, she died alone. Perhaps her life could become an opera on its own.
My favorite fairy tale moment (though it is said to be true), in Ms. Huffington’s book was a time when Ms. Callas had been practicing on the terrace of her mother’s home. Suddenly a man’s voice could be heard, with an equally gifted sound, singing from behind a hedge or was it a tree in the distance. Evidently she never did meet this person but the singing took place a few times and with a particular song which I do not recall.
When I was a young girl, my best friend used to play classical music records at the highest volume so that they could permeate our environment and I was forced to immerse myself in a genre that, at that time, I did not appreciate. Most kids our age were doing this with head banging music, which neither of us liked. Now, I find myself doing this with Ms. Callas’s music. If it is not loud one cannot hear it upstairs while on the computer.
One documentary that I saw, Maria Callas: The Callas Conversations, had interviews with various journalists. In order to sing opera, one has to become something of a linguist and she spoke quite a few languages besides her native Greek dialect. One can learn so much about the art of speaking a language by watching Ms. Callas talk. When she was speaking to a British journalist in English, she was in a very conservative room and she was more subdued or composed in her body language. A lot like my grandma used to say “Sit up straight, legs crossed, hands folded in the lap like a lady.” She even spoke with a British accent (and an American one with another interview on YouTube here in the US). When she was speaking to an French journalist, the room had a more dramatic look to it and suddenly her command of this language was accentuated with hand gestures and a stronger voice. This is quite a talent to envy.
From what I understand, she was a difficult woman to deal with. At the same time, one can imagine that because her life was a never ending drama, it must have been hard to leave the stage. Today, we talk about famous women being divas. At the same when I hear about this, I wonder how appropriate it is for the person, or shall I say are they just doing it on purpose. There are also famous women who aren’t divas, including great singers. When we make a word out to be a given, it loses its luster.
If you haven’t had a chance to immerse yourself in the aria’s of Ms. Callas, make it a point to do so. She had a lot of critics, just as most famous people do and so it might not be to your liking. If you are not a fan of opera, you might find yourself opening up to a new sound in your home.