Greece 2007: Year of Maria Callas

by Ninni Radicini
February 14, 2007

Maria Callas The first day of January 2007 in Greece was inaugurated the year dedicated to Maria Callas. An initiative of remarkable historical and cultural meaning, in the thirtieth anniversary of her tragic disappearance: for those who have spent the years in which her voice and her presence on the stage have delighted the world and who instead has been able only to listen for the echo of her name, symbol, together with Greta Grace, being unobtainable star. Was not random what taken place few days before, when the greek premier Konstantinos Karamanlis has honoured the foreign leaders a series of 20 cd and dvd with the recordings of the concerts of the "biggest opera voice".

Event of vanguard, which involves every sector of the show institution world, of the Hellenic society, with a program for all the year: theatrical foreign artists representations, initiatives to the Festival of Athens, concerts in the ancient Agorą, galą at the Opera In Paris, exhibition to the Thessaloniki Festival Film, television programs. Several corporations are ready to contribute in determinant way. Between them, the cultural center "Athenaeum" (1), institution dedicated to the Maria Callas memory preservation and the promotion of her works.

Every year organizes a concert in her honour at the Attic Herod Theatre and the Grand Prix "Maria Callas" (March 09-17), competed for work voices, in cooperation with the cultural center of Athens and with the Culture ministry. In this edition there will be a special prize to the best interpretation of "Violetta", the personality of the "Traviata" by Giuseppe Verdi, Callas executed, in a memorable way, in '58 in Lisbon. For Greece is a collective engagement such to the one faced between the 1997 and the 2004 for the organization of the Olimpycs Of Athens. All Hellenic people contributed to his realization and the event success, become the symbol of the modern Greece.

Maria is born on December 2nd, 1923 at New York. Her name of baptism is Maria Anna Sophie Cicely Kalogeropoulos. The father was working as chemist at Manhattan and in 1929 changed the surname in "Callas". He had emigrated from Greece together with the wife, Evangelia (2). In 1937 they divorced for character incompatibility. Maria and her sister got back to Greece with the mother and took the original surname. The cultural liveliness and the parent's ambition were determinant for the initial formation of Maria, who started taking lessons of piano, tool used in a systematic way for the practices during his career soon (3). In 1938 she was admitted at the Conservatory of Athens (Ethnikon Odeio) and on April 2 of the year later rose in stage for the first time: plays the role of "Santuzza" in the "Cavalleria Rusticana", by Pietro Mascagni. (4)

She was noticed in several secondary roles in the representations of the Greek National Work, and was engaged by the Real Theatre in Athens. On January 21st, 1941, made the debut, as professional, in the role of "Beatrice" in "Boccaccio", Franz von Suppé operetta. Were the years of the Second world war and Greece was under nazi occupation. The liberation, happened in 1944, was followed by the civil war. She decided to get back to United States and take the surname "Callas" again. After declining the offers of Metropolitan of New York for the "Madam Butterfly" by Giacomo Puccini and the "Fidelio" by Ludwig van Beethoven, in '47 accepted that one for the "Turandot" by Giacomo Puccini, to take to scene to Chicago with a theatrical company founded by the theatrical agent Eddie Bagarozy and the Italian manager Ottavio Scotto.

The theatrical company was not able to make the debut for financial reasons, but she, through the colleague Nicola Rossi Lemeni, had the possibility of knowing Giovanni Zanatello, stage manager of the "Arena" in Verona, which engaged her for the "La Gioconda". She arrives to Italy, to Naples, on June 27th, and makes the debut in Verona where made the debut on August 2nd. In '49 married the industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini and the notoriety reached accepting to interpret, at the theatre "La Fenice" in Venice, the role of "Elvira" in "I Puritani", replacing Margherita Carosio, at that moment in not optimum conditions. The definitive consecration took place on December 7, '51, to the stair with "I Vespri siciliani", to which a contract with Emi followed.

The decision to slim his figure will prove to be determinant for the career continuation. To the incontestable aesthetic benefits, the disagreeing opinions on as it can have affected the vocal qualities are opposed. Someone, in fact, thinks that she was originally soprano means, changed she in soprano with the exercise.

However the international notoriety had the contraindications. Mass medias started being interested of her life, past and present. If the rivalry with Renata Tebaldi can be considered, mostly, in behalf the audience and the experts, that were discussing on the differences (the classical style of Tebaldi against that more eclectic and dramatic than Callas), of different sign were other events. The not easy reading relationship with the mother became public subject after a service on "Time" in '56, shortly before the debut to the Metropolitan Opera (5).

Also on the professional versant did not lack complex situations as what regarded Eddie Bagarozy, which was affirming to be her agent, and a problem with the "Scala" of Milan, with regard to a not specified in the contract representation of the "Sonnambula" by Vincenzo Bellini. Also her private life was followed by the reporters and a lot of space had, history, since the beginning with the Greek shipowner Aristotelis Onassis, who knew in '57, the same year in which, of return in Greece to take part in the Festival of Athens, it was had as "the voice made of gold of the Twentieth Century".

Did fuss when on January 2, 1958 in Rome, in front of an audience between which there were also high authorities institutional, settled to go out of scene after the first act of the "Norma", affirming to have had a sudden faint. In the November 1959 the separation from the husband and the Onassis relationship had repercussions on the career but not on the notoriety: decreased the concerts but increased the presence on the international set jet. Then for the first 60's, up to the return in scene in the January 1965 with the "Tosca" by Giacomo Puccini, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and, few months later, the "Norma" by Vincenzo Bellini: theatrical work more executed in her career. The excellent checkings induced her to continue and the year later the "Tosca" acted at New York and Paris. Passed from the almost total scene exit to a frenetic engagement, on May 29 in Paris, in the conclusion some "Norma", she had a faint.

In 1966 she decides to take the Greek citizenship again. This choice, what marks the definitive conclusion of his marriage, in the symbolic meaning represents the return to his world, after many years spent in a dimension totally several. In her Greece she could find her history. Origins cannot cancel themselves, above all whats bring to a millenary civilization back.

In 1969 Pier Paolo Pasolini direct she in the role of Medea, in the homonymous film drawn by the Euripides's drama: only cinematography role of his career. The director said on the choice: "have thought at once in Medea knowing that the personality would have been Maria Callas (...). This barbarity of her, who comes outside in her eyes, in her features, but not directly shows, on the contrary, the surface is almost smooth, in other words the ten years pass to Corinth, would be a little the life of Callas. She comes outside a world rural, greek agricultural, and then has educated herself for a middle class civilization. Therefore in some ways I have tried to concentrate in her personality what she is, in her complex totality."

In 1975, the famous tenor Giuseppe convinces her to participate with him to a series of concerts in for the world. The last concert, the December 11th to Sapporo (Japan), will be also the last one of her career. In '75 dies Aristotelis Onassis. She lives in Paris, far from everything. September 16th, 1977 is found lifeless in her flat. Circumstances have never been definitively clarified. The funereal ceremony took place on September 20th in Paris, in orthodox Greek Agios Stephanos cathedral (Saint Stephen). Her ashes were scattered in the Aegean sea, to wide some coast Greek, like her wished.


(1) On September 16th, 2006, in the anniversary of the disappearance of Maria Callas, the Athenaeum Center has organized russian pianist compositor's concert Mikhail Pletnev. The day was also corresponding anniversary to 250th from the Mozart birth and 150th from the Schumann birth.

(2) Between the 1890 and the first 1920s, beyond 400 thousand Greeks landed at Ellis Island. This subject is at the center of the most recent Maria Iliou documentary, "The Journey: The greek american dream", realized in cooperation with the historian Alexander Kitroeff. Between the biggest originating personalities Greek born in Usa, besides Maria Callas, Dimitris Mitropoulos (director of New York Symphony orchestrates in the 1950s), John Brademas, the first greek-american to be elected to the Congress in '59 and the director Elijah Kazan.

(3) In the June 2006, the show "Aristotelis Onassis: Beyond the myth ", to the Benaki museum, between the 500 photographs and the 300 objects, there was the Steinway piano on which Maria Callas was practising, the score of the "Tosca" and a few her notes.

(4) In 2006, the National Conservatory, founded by the compositor Manolis Kalomiris, celebrated the 80th anniversary of its building.

(5) "Maria Callas and Swarovski: Jewels on stage at tea Metropolitan Opera" is the title of the show prepared at New York (until March 3, 2007 to Metropolitan House Opera). A collection of photographic material and objects of Maria Callas, which testify the quality of the jewels worn by her.

(6) In April 2006, in the show "Vip 1961-1997: Cross the Aristotelis Sarrikostas lenses", dedicated the famous greek photographer, there is also a photo, taken at the beginning of the 70's, which represents Callas in a pensive laying. Next, the photo of the marriage between Aristotelis Onassis and Jackie Kennedy in '68, in the Skorpios island. The show was including 100 black and white photos of famous personalities which lived or visited Greece in the 60's and 70's (example: Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot, and - among the Hellenic personalities - Giorgos Seferis, Odysseas Elytis, Mercouri Mercouri).

The Research Center of the Foundation "Teatro Stabile di Torino" (Italy) has inserted this article (italian version) among the documentation concerning Maria Callas, present into their library.

Flag of Greece Book Cover The contemporary Greece 1974-2006 by Rudy Caparrini, Vincenzo Greco, Ninni Radicini The contemporary Greece (1974-2006)
by Rudy Caparrini, Vincenzo Greco, Ninni Radicini
preface by Antonio Ferrari, "Corriere della Sera" journalist, corresponding from Athens
publishing house: Polistampa, 2007
* The book is in italian version only

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