The Greek Opera Diva with the “Diamond Voice” – 100 years since her birth

The Greek Opera Diva with the “Diamond Voice” – 100 years since her birth

Maria Callas is not only one of the greatest voices in the history of opera but also a proud national symbol for Greece. With her unique voice, she managed to conquer the greatest Operas of the world, bringing glory not only to the art of opera but also to our country. Callas’ worldwide fame highlights Greece’s indelible contribution to the world of music and culture.

Last Saturday, December 2, 2023, fans of all ages honored the legend of the great diva of opera at the celebrations of the Maria Callas Museum of the Municipality of Athens, on the 100th anniversary of her birth. More than 1000 visitors rushed to discover and get to know even better an artist who left a special mark on the world stage.

The journey

Maria Sophia Anna Kaikilia Kalogeropoulou, as was her full Greek name, was born on December 2, 1923 in New York City. She was the daughter of the pharmacist Georgios Kalogeropoulos of Meligalas, Messinia, and Evangelia Dimitriadis of Stylida, Fthiotida.

From an early age she began to be interested in music, taking her first piano-solfege lessons and at the age of 11 she won first prize in a children’s voice competition. Her first role was “Saducha” in Mascani’s opera “Cavalleria Rusticana”, in a performance by the students of the conservatory. In 1939 she enrolled at the Athens Conservatory in the singing class of the famous Elvira de Indalgo (an important opera singer at the beginning of the 20th century), under whom she learned the high technique of the roles of the Italian romantic repertoire.

In 1940 she joined the Lyric Stage of the then Royal Theatre and in 1941 she made her first appearance as “Beatrice” in the operetta Boccaccio by Soupet. Thereafter and until 1945 she starred in Tosca (1942, 1943), D’Albert’s Cabo (1944, 1945), Rusticana’s Cavalleria (1944), Manolis Kalomiris’ Protomaster (1944, the only Greek work she sang), Beethoven’s Fidelio (1944) and the operetta The Beggar Student by the Viennese composer Karl Mileker (1945). In September 1945 she returned to her hometown, where her father lived, to further her international career, changing her surname to Callas.

Although she remained unemployed until 1947, she did not give up and after a successful audition she was commissioned to sing “Gioconda” in Amilcare Ponchielli’s opera of the same name at the Arena in Verona.

In 1951 she also sang La Scala in Milan (the den of her great rival Renata Tebaldi), with Verdi’s Sicilian Vespers. After the “La Scala” in Milan, it was the turn of the Metropolitan Opera of New York (MET) to bow to the Maria Callas phenomenon in 1956. The Greek diva would fully impose her terms, forcing director Randolph Bing not only to pay her the largest sum the company had ever paid for an artist, but also to declare that Callas’ first MET appearance was the most exciting night of his life. In the summer of 1957, she performed at the Herodeion as part of the Athens Festival and was literally acclaimed. The following year, he collaborated with Alexis Minotis and Yannis Tsarouchis for a new production of Cerubini’s Medea at the newly renovated Dallas Opera. This production was transferred in 1959 to London’s Covent Garden and it was at this triumphant “premiere” that Callas met Aristotle Onassis, the great unrequited love of her life.

In 1965 he retired permanently from lyric performances, despite the excellent Tosca he sang at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Her swan song was Norma, performed in Paris on May 29, 1965. In the third act of Bellini’s opera she collapsed on stage and was carried unconscious to her dressing room. Despite her efforts to overcome her personal problems, she returned to artistic activity by acting in the film version of Euripides’ Medea, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1969), recording albums, teaching opera at the Juilliard School of Music in New York and giving recitals with an old acquaintance, the Italian tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano, who also had vocal problems. Her last performance was in Sapporo, Japan on 11 December 1974.
Maria Callas was much more than just a performer. She was a figure who brought out the inner pain through every note and every scene rendered in a compelling performance.
She didn’t just sing roles on stage, she lived through them. Her voice was an instrument that drew out the intensity of emotion and expressiveness that made her recognizable in every note she emitted. Her technique was precise, but it was her emotional depth that made her performances so stirring.

Her career was marked by amazing successes and personal difficulties. She managed to conquer the stages of the world’s greatest opera houses, while at the same time facing her own demonic inner journeys. This combination of success and personal turmoil enabled Maria Callas to devote herself fully to her art, as it was a way to express her soul and face life’s challenges.

Even after her death, Callas continues to be a symbol of love and dedication to art. Her voice remains alive through recordings that are now heard by millions of listeners worldwide. Callas’ humanity, with its joys and difficulties, make her a figure who inspires and moves even today. She represents the essence of true art, expressing the human soul in a way that leaves an indelible mark on the world of music.