As a person who believes in the power of the spoken and written word, I have often felt that words fare poorly in certain cases. However gifted the writer, they fail to express the magnitude and the force of certain things as in the case of love or loss… or greatness.
Maria Callas is one such case. Words often fail to express the feelings that arise when one listens to her renderings of the operatic art because Callas was not merely a soprano with an excellent voice, one technically superior. She combined what operatic stars and starters can only dream of: the passion that can breathe life into the music and make the lyrics (simple words) take shape and form so much so that you, the listener, can feel the pain, the caress, the lust and the loss.
The Prodigious Callas
Born Maria Kalogeropoulou on December 2, 1923, Callas would start off as the ‘ugly duckling’ only to emerge with the breath-taking beauty of the dark swan. It was partly thanks to her trying and traumatic relationship with her mother that Callas became the artist of such intensity.
To add insult to injury, the Greek music world would shun Callas initially (as it has done throughout history with all its prodigious children), only to remember that she is Greek when she had become larger than life.
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The rejection from her mother and from music in her homeland drove her away and she sought a new life in Italy, where she would grow to glory. As a person of passion and trauma, of course, Callas could be Callas only when she was well. Her vocal gift would literally soar to the skies taking the audiences with her. But when Callas was not well, the spirit of her voice would die out like a flag that has no wind to fly in.
What is to Become of A Bird that Cannot Sing?
And what is to become of a bird that cannot sing? Callas died alone in her Paris apartment on September 16, 1977. There has been and continues to be much speculation as to the reasons of her death. Primarily, that she gave up on life after her failed love affair with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Indeed, finding out by chance that the man you love has married another woman, and that happens to be the First Lady of the US (for other purposes), is not the best way to live. It was yet one more rejection, this time from the man she loved the most.
There have been thousands of articles and analyses on what made Callas so great. In my mind, it was not the faultless voice, the compelling stage presence or the sheer beauty of her persona – all vehicles of the finest of art. It was the adolescent naiveté, the fearlessness and the fear, the daring and the reserved, the confident and the self-conscious that gave her a gift like no other: to be able to convey passion with love.
Callas’ last desire was to have her ashes dispersed over the deep blue of her beloved Aegean Sea. Perhaps that is why the waters off the shores of Greece are so beautiful.
♫ And I close the post today… spellbound by the greatest prima donna in operatic music history: Maria Callas captivates us from 1962 Hamburg, in a rendering of “L’amour est un Oiseau Rebelle” or “Love is a Rebellious Bird” (Habanera) a vibrant aria from Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera Carmen.
Indeed it is! Enjoy!