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'Maria By Callas': The Legendary Opera Singer's Life In Her Own Words

Soprano Maria Callas sings at the Theater de Champs Elysees in Paris, France, under the direction of Maestro Georges Pretre, June 5, 1963. (Jean-Jacques Levy/AP)
Soprano Maria Callas sings at the Theater de Champs Elysees in Paris, France, under the direction of Maestro Georges Pretre, June 5, 1963. (Jean-Jacques Levy/AP)

With Jane Clayson

We talk with the director of a new documentary about the life of Maria Callas, to this day one of the most electrifying singers in opera.


Tom Volf, producer of the new, award-winning documentary, “Maria By Callas,” (@mariabycallas). Author of “Maria By Callas” and “Callas Confidential.” (@tomvolf)

Gregor Benko, music historian. He saw several of Callas’ final performances in New York in 1974. Co-author of “Chopin’s Prophet: The Life of Pianist Vladimir de Pachmann.”

Carmen Giannattasio, Italian soprano, known for her bel canto repertory. She has performed at La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, London’s Royal Opera and many more theaters around the world. In 2002 she won first and audience prize at the Operalia competition in Paris. (@cargiannattasio)

Watch on YouTube.

Photos From The Film

From The Reading List

The Boston Globe: “Revisiting the operatic life of Maria Callas” — “Presumably, it wasn’t George Kalogeropoulos’s intent when he changed the family name to Callas that it would rhyme with ‘goddess.’ But serendipity has a way of getting the job done. His daughter was named Maria.

“It’s not only impossible but ridiculous to say that a single pianist — or guitarist — or opera singer — is the best or most talented. What can be said, however, is that one is the most storied, the most electrifying, the one who truly stands apart: like Glenn Gould — like Jimi Hendrix — like, yes, Maria Callas.

“Watching a few minutes of ‘Maria by Callas’ shows that it wasn’t just her artistry, overwhelming as it was, that made Maria Callas Maria Callas. Tom Volf’s distinctive and affecting documentary makes plain how much the persona also owed to appearance and intelligence and life history.”

Watch on YouTube.

Houston Chronicle: “Review: ‘Maria by Callas’ hits high and low notes of opera star’s life” — “‘Maria by Callas’ is Callas 2.0. There is no narration, other than quotes from Callas herself. We see archival footage, but no one ever tells you that this guy is Luchino Visconti and that guy is Giovanni Meneghini, or even who those people were. Likewise, nobody explains why Callas appears to weigh 200 pounds in 1952, is somewhat lighter in 1953 and is thin thereafter.

“For Callas novices, this approach might work, at least for adventurous souls who like diving, not easing, into swimming pools, and who seek to learn new languages through total immersion. But for Callas lovers, this approach is nothing but a pleasure, a jazz riff on a classic song — you know, the one about the great soprano with the strange, ugly-beautiful voice, whose own life became something worthy of an opera.

“Those who know Callas know that there is frustratingly little footage of her in performance – some TV appearances, a few stage appearances, most notably her legendary Paris concert of 1958; and, best of all, the second act of her Feb. 9, 1964, ‘Tosca’ from London’s Covent Garden. (That was the same night, incidentally, that the Beatles first appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’)”

Washington Post: “The documentary ‘Maria by Callas’ is a deliciously sensuous portrait of the late opera superstar” — “For anyone going through withdrawal after seeing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ may I present for your consideration ‘Maria by Callas’? In this immersive, often deliciously sensuous documentary portrait of the late opera star Maria Callas, viewers are treated to another rise-and-fall story of a great but tortured artist, this one punctuated by the occasional real-life bed of roses and pleasure cruise.

“For those too young to know who Maria Callas was, a trip to YouTube or Wikipedia will bring you up to speed: Long before Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, she was that rare opera singer who was also a household name, as famous for her striking beauty and effortless glamour as for her tonal range and lyrical interpretive skills. To observe the New York-born Callas arriving in Rome or Milan or Paris or New York, in a cloud of furs, flowers, poodles and pearls, is to understand the fundamentals of diva style, imitated but never equaled by such successors as Madonna, Rihanna and, most recently, Lady Gaga.

“Callas’s command of her own persona is on regal, extravagant display in Tom Volf’s film, in which the director uses the subject’s own words — from letters, diary entries, television interviews and her own memoirs — to narrate a succession of ravishing, rarely seen images, including some of her most famous (and notorious) performances, and candid footage of costume fittings and home movies.”

Stefano Kotsonis produced this show for broadcast.

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