Birth: Dec 2, 1923 in New York City, NY, Unites States
Death: Sep 16, 1977 in Paris, France
The fame and legacy of Maria Callas are nearly unsurpassed in the modern history of opera. Her fame has transcended the usual boundaries of classical music, and she has been the inspiration for several movies, an opera, and a successful Broadway musical. Her extensive catalogue of recordings remains among the most coveted and controversial for both her fans and detractors.
Though American by birth, Callas (born Maria Anne Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos) was born of Greek parents, and at age 13 her mother took her back to Greece because of financial difficulties caused by the Great Depression. She studied voice at the Royal Academy of Music in Athens with Spanish coloratura soprano Elvira de Hildago and made rapid progress; she soon sang Santuzza in a student production of Cavalleria rusticana. Her professional debut came at age 16 in a minor role in Suppe's Bocaccio.
While still in Athens during World War II, Callas sang her first Tosca in 1942. In 1945, she returned to the United States and sang several auditions, but nothing came of her visit. Her first appearance in 1947 at Verona as La Gioconda brought her to the attention of Tullio Serafin; Serafin became her musical advisor for many years, acting as her coach and conductor of many of her performances.
The entire world of opera was stunned when, in 1949 - while singing Brunnhilde in Die Walkure at Venice - she agreed to sing Elvira in Bellini's I Puritani, alternating performances during the same week. That same year she traveled to Buenos Aires to sing Turandot and Norma. In 1950, she sang Aida at the Teatro alla Scala, but she did not become a regular member there until 1952. The summer of 1950 took her Mexico City where, in one month, she sang Norma, Aida, Tosca and Il trovatore. During these early years, Callas would sing nearly any role offered including Isolde, Leonore in La forza del destino, Constanza in Mozart's Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, and Elena in I vespri siciliani.
As she matured, Callas began to concentrate on a smaller core repertory, including Cherubini's Medea, Bellini's Norma, Puccini's Tosca, Bellini's La Sonnambula, and Donizetti's Anna Bolena. Most of her other roles were heard only in one series of performances. After 1959, she rarely appeared on the opera stage, but she did sing concerts in America and Europe. Her last opera performances were in June 1965, at Paris as Norma. She came out of retirement in 1973 to tour the world with Giuseppe di Stefano in a series of recitals. Although financially rewarding, the tour did nothing to enhance her reputation. In 1971, she gave a series of masterclasses at the Juilliard School of Music in New York which were quite successful. In 1977, she died of a sudden heart attack in her Paris apartment.
Maria Callas was one of the most controversial singers of the twentieth century. She had a wide range from high E to the F below the staff, and an innate feel for the style of bel canto roles, but she was most notable for bringing a commitment and intensity to her dramatic portrayals that was nearly unprecedented at the time. By 1957, her voice developed a wobble which grew worse in the following years. Always a perfectionist, she was very difficult to deal with from a management point of view: she was fired from the Metropolitan Opera in 1958 and she was estranged from Teatro alla Scala for several years. Her vocal decline coincided with the dissolution of her first marriage to Giovanni Meneghini and her affair with Aristotle Onassis.
- Richard LeSueur (All Music Guide)
Maria Callas (real name Kalogeropoulos) was born in New York on the fourth of December 1923. Her parents were Greek emigrants. As a small child Maria acquired an ear for music by listening to gramophone records and radio programmes. Piano and singing lessons followed.
The family at that time was in difficult financial circumstances. Her father was forced to give up his drugstore and found a badly paid job in the pharmaceutical industry. In Greece the standard of living was lower than in the United States and, also because of marriage problems, mother Kalogeropoulos decided to return to Greece with her two daughters. The money Maria's father sent over enabled them to lead a satisfactory life and it could pay for Maria's singing studies at one of the academies of music in Athens. Her tuition under a famous singing master took from morning till night. After several school performances she was offered a part in the Royal Opera in Suppe's Boccaccio. This formed the start of her professional career.
In 1940 Greece became engaged in the Second World War, as a consequence whereof the monthly payments from America stalled. The position Maria had with the Opera brought some compensation, and from time to time she performed for the enemy troops. In 1942 she replaced a soprano at the opera who was taken ill. With this part of Tosca she got her first publicity. In October 1944 Athens was liberated by the British Forces, for whom she worked as an interpreter for some time. Because the situation in Greece deteriorated, caused by the civil war which broke out in December 1944, and because of her bad relationship with her mother, Maria decided to return to her father in New York in September 1945. Life in New York was quite luxurious compared to life in Athens, but immensely difficult for an up-and-coming singer. The United States were over-run by singers from Italy, so competition was heavy. What should have been her debut in Chicago one day was blown off because the company went bankrupt. In the meantime her mother came back to New York, and with her the family problems. So when Maria was offered a contract for La Gioconda in Verona, she jumped at the occasion and went to Italy. The journey there was paid for with borrowed money. In Italy she met with her future husband Meneghini, as well as with her mentor Tullio Serafin and the obtrusive Italian press. Her sensational performance in Wagner's Walkure and two days later in Bellini's I Puritani received worldwide publicity. In Italy from then on she was a star and she received many offers from the gramophone record companies. Her records made her famous and popular the world over.
The press haunted her constantly and invaded her private life; her divorce from Menighini and her affair with Onassis were covered by the press all over the world. Her affair with Onassis was not only tragic to her personally, but also disastrous to her career. She contracted a throat disease which caused her voice to lose quality, but she did not take it seriously. After Onassis' marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy Maria broke down. She made several disappointing attempts to pick up her career, but her life had lost its sense to her. Her death on the 16th of September 1977 brought to an end to the tragic life of this fascinating artist.