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Maria Callas: The Legend of a Great Diva

Maria Callas
September 16 marks the 36th anniversary of the silencing of the voice of the great Greek soprano, Maria Callas, who died of a heart attack, in Paris, robbing the world of one of its greatest talents ever at the age of only 53. Her name was written in golden letters in the history of opera and she turned into a worldwide legend.

Her full name was Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos. She was born on Dec. 3, 1923 at a hospital in Manhattan. Her childhood was rather difficult because of the tumultuous relationship of her parents, which ended when her mother Evangelia took Maria Callas and her older sister back to Greece shortly before the World War II.

The great soprano remembered with bitterness her childhood and blamed her mother, who made her work and sing from a very young age. “My sister was thin, beautiful and friendly and my mother always preferred her. I was the ugly duckling. Ugly, clumsy and unwanted. I will never forgive her for depriving me from my childhood,” she had said in an interview to the magazine Time in 1956.

Calla’s course to glory and international recognition began in February 1941 with the National Opera of Greece. After the end of the World War II, her teacher encouraged her to move to Italy and chase her dream for a position at La Scala in Mila. She made her debut at LA Gioconda at the Roman theatre of Verona where later, she met her husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini.

They got married in 1949 and the rich businessman Meneghini, who was much older, undertook to guide her carrier. During this period, the soprano began to understand that her weight is a problem for her performance at the scene. Her friends told journalists of her comments, making her furious.

In May 1953, she realized that she needed a slimmer silhouette to interpret the dramatic roles with greater success. She lost nearly 36 kilos within a year and changed her wardrobe. Her transformation wasn’t left unnoticed by the international press which gave her rave reviews for that as well as her vocal abilities and her stage performance.

In 1957, Callas met the shipowner Aristotle Onassis at a party given in her honor. Their relationship was stormy and powerful, as their characters were. Callas had already gained the nickname “tiger” because of a wild facial expression when she got angry in front of some photographers and she was characterized as an artist with an intense temperament.

Callas broke up with Meneghini in 1959 and she left her career aside in order to stay next to Onassis. For nine years, she waited for the shipowner from Smyrna to ask her hand in marriage. In 1968, Onassis suddenly decided to marry Jackie Kennedy, the widow of the American President, John F. Kennedy. Her world collapsed and according to witnesses of her friendly environment, she fell into depression. Her last performance took place in December 1974 in Japan.

Greece’s National Opera (GNO) paid tribute to great Greek soprano Maria Callas on Sept. 15 to remember her life, featuring an unprecedented musical stroll across the city center of Athens. Thousands of Greeks and foreign visitors followed step-by-step that night and gave a warm applause to a dozen Greek artists who participated in the musical event which was divided into five acts.

Starting from the courtyard of the Acropolis Museum and ending in front of the National Archaeological Museum, fans of music and Callas walked from one spot to another around the city where the Divina grew up, to enjoy free open air performances of famous operas.

GNO orchestra musicians and sopranos interpreted extracts from arias which have become associated with some of Callas’ most outstanding performances, from classic operas such as Georges Bizet’s Carmen, Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco and La Traviata and Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Tosca.

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