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Callas, Maria (real name, Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos)

opera stage role greek

Callas, Maria (real name, Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos), celebrated American soprano; b. N.Y., Dec. 3, 1923; d. Paris, Sept. 16, 1977. Her father was a Greek immigrant. The family returned to Greece when she was 13. She studied voice at the Royal Academy of Music in Athens with Elvira de Hidalgo, and made her debut as Santuzza in the school production of Cavalleria rusticana in Nov. 1938. Her first professional appearance was in a minor role in Suppe’s Boccaccio dit the Royal Opera in Athens when she was 16; her first major role, as Tosca, was there in July 1942. She returned to N.Y. in 1945. Callas auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera and was offered a contract, but decided instead to go to Italy, where she made her operatic debut in the title role of La Gioconda (Verona, Aug. 3, 1947). She was encouraged in her career by Tullio Serafín, who engaged her to sing Isolde and Aida in various Italian productions. In 1951 she became a member of La Scala in Milan. She was greatly handicapped by her absurdly excessive weight (210 lbs.); by a supreme effort of will, she slimmed down to 135 pounds; with her classical Greek profile and penetrating eyes, she made a striking impression on the stage; in the tragic role of Medea in Cherubini’s opera she mesmerized the audience by her dramatic representation of pity and terror. Some critics opined that she lacked a true bel canto quality in her voice and that her technique was defective in coloratura, but her power of interpretation was such that she was soon acknowledged to be one of the greatest dramatic singers of the century. Her personal life was as tempestuous as that of any prima donna of the bygone era. In 1949 she married the Italian industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini, who became her manager, but they separated ten years later. Her romance with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis was a recurrent topic of sensational gossip. Given to outbursts of temper, she made newspaper headlines when she walked off the stage following some altercation, or failed to appear altogether at scheduled performances, but her eventual return to the stage was all the more eagerly welcomed by her legion of admirers. After leaving La Scala in 1958, she returned there from 1960 to 1962. She also sang at London’s Covent Garden (1952–53; 1957–59; 1964), in Chicago (1954–56), and Dallas (1958–59). Perhaps the peak of her success was her brilliant debut at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. as Norma on Oct. 29, 1956. Following a well-publicized disagreement with its management, she quit the company only to reach an uneasy accommodation with it to return as Violetta on Feb. 6, 1958; that same year she left the company again, returning in 1965 to sing Tosca before abandoning the operatic stage altogether. In 1971–72 she gave a seminar on opera at the Juilliard School in N.Y., which was enthusiastically received. In 1974 she gave her last public performances in a series of concerts with Giuseppe di Stefano. She died of a heart attack in her Paris apartment. Her body was cremated and her ashes scattered on the Aegean Sea. Callas was nothing short of a phenomenon, one whose popularity has only increased with time. One radio commentator’s characterization of Callas was that “If an orgasm could sing, it would sound like Maria Callas/’ She excelled particularly in roles by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi.

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