Writing about Tosca the other day got me thinking about Puccini which got me thinking about great Puccini singers which got me thinking about Maria Callas -the great soprano and one of my favorite singers in any genre and I’m not a big opera fan. Maria callas was something of the Madonna of her time and lived a diva’s life, just like one of the Verdi or Puccini (or even Wagner at an earlier stage of her career) opera’s she sang.
Dead at the age of fifty four, she was a bad tempered, plate breaking shrew. She got dissed on the cover of Time, fired by the New York Metropolitan Opera, walk outs at La Scala and, in a romance that makes everything Madonna has ever done seem like kid stuff, lost the love of her life richest man in the world Aristotle Onassis to JFK’s widow Jackie Kennedy. Aristotle married Jackie who morphed into the Jackie O of 70s legend. Towards the end of her life she lost a ton of weight and, hardly coincidentally lost her voice and soon her life.
Maria Callas didn’t have a beautiful voice but she had a complete voice, full of shadings and full of feeling. The timbre isn’t really pleasing but, like fine food, like caviar or steak tartare, it is an acquired taste and once you have acquired it you can’t let it go. Renee Fleming, possibly our best Soprano right this minute, can’t sing like Callas singing Verdi’s Macbeth or Puccini’s “Visse d’Arte“: an unbearably beautiful aria she performed in Zeffirelli’s Tosca (yeah, it all connects doesn’t it?) at London’s Royal Opera House at the end of her career.
I got into Maria Callas in 1995 after watching Terrence McNally’s play Master Class about the year Maria gave a masterclass in singing at the Julliard in 1971-1972. The play was moving but the musical interludes between acts was breathtaking.
Leonard Bernstein called her The Holy Bible Of Opera. Here she is singing “Visse d’Arte” as mentioned above:
They don’t make divas like that anymore.
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