During the post World War II period, many were enthralled by the operatic soprano voice of Maria Callas. Enduring myopia, poverty and eventually vocal decline, Maria Callas’s vocal talents are still best-selling albums to this day.
Maria Callas was born to Greek parents on December 2, 1923. Her original birth certificate stated her name to be Sophia Cecelia Kalos. Her father changed the name to “Callas” to make it more manageable. Callas grew up in a home of a dysfunctional marriage. Her parents were ill-matched from the beginning and the marriage had financial and personal strains. In 1937, Maria’s mother took her and sister and returned to Athens. Callas and her mother never had a good relationship and by 1950, Callas seized communication altogether with her mother. Maria received her musical education in Athens, studying with Maria Trivella. Originally she was not looked on as beautiful, as a young girl, she wore glasses to help her see better and was “pudgy” according to critics. Once Maria was able to train her voice, her critics soon looked past her “larger” body and were infatuated in her voice.
Callas made her Opera debut at the Athens Opera on July 4, 1941. In 1945, she returned to America and was heard by Zenatello. Zenatello acquired Callas for La Gioconda in the Arena at Verona. Her career soon took off and she was demanded in theaters.
Maria made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on October 28, 1956. Unfortunately during this time, an article was published by Time magazine stating they had done an interview with her mother and she was portrayed as an ungrateful daughter. The New York public did not take well to Callas and reacted coldly to her debut. However, by the end of the act, Maria received 16 curtain calls.
Her career spanned until her last performance on July 5, 1965. Her vocal decline forced her to cancel several shows previously and her myopia began to make it harder to see on stage.
Maria Callas is best known for her 9 year love affair with Aristotle Onassis. Before meeting Onassis, Callas was married to Giovanni Battista Meneghini. She was introduced to Onassis at a party in 1957. They began an affair that attracted much publicity in the media and on September 3, 1959, Maria left her husband for Onassis. Sources claim that Callas and Onassis had a child who died shortly after childbirth. Other sources state she had an abortion. However, it was know that Callas was unable to bear children. Her relationship with Onassis ended in 1968, when Onassis dropped Callas for Jacqueline Kennedy. Maria was completely devastated by this and close friends said she never recovered form the heartache. The death of Aristotle Onassis on March 15, 1975, is considered to be one of the major factors behind Maria’s death.
Another problem that plagued Callas was her weight. When she began her career, she was a full-figured woman that weighed “no more than 200 pounds”. In 1953, Callas decided she needed to have a thinner face to accommodate her stage persona. During 1953 and 1954, Callas lost 80 pounds and was praised by critics for now being “the most beautiful woman on stage.” It has long been debated that her weight loss caused vocal strain to her voice, while others claim her voice softened when she lost the weight.
At age 53, Maria Callas died in Paris of a heart attack on September 16, 1977. A funerary liturgy was held in Paris and her ashes were interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. After being stolen from the cemetery, her ashes were later recovered and scattered over the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece.
The artistic genius of Maria Callas has left a long-lasting effect on operatic soprano. Michelle Krisel calls Callas “the performer who changed the standard by which all opera singers are judged.”