20 March 2023

100 Years of Maria Callas

2023 marks 100 years since the birth of soprano Maria Callas (December 2, 1923 - September 16, 1977). Scala Archives traces the most significant moments in the Divina's life through vintage photos and videos.

2023 marks 100 years since the birth of soprano Maria Callas (December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977). Scala Archives traces the most significant moments in the Divina’s life through vintage photos and videos.

Maria Anna Cecilia Sofia Kalos was born Dec. 2, 1923, in New York City, from Greek parents who had moved to the US following the loss of their firstborn son. Callas’ father, a pharmacist, opened a business in Manhattan and ensured Maria a comfortable childhood and a safe place to return to at various stages of her life.

At age 8, in 1931, Maria began taking singing and piano lessons with “Mrs. Sandrina.” She continued to taking lessons in Greece, where she moved with her mother and sister in 1937. Maria graduated from the Athens Conservatory with soprano Maria Trivella. Her first success came in 1939 with the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana.

Maria remained in Greece when war broke out but in 1945 moved back to New York to her father. After failing an important audition at the Metropolitan Opera House, Maria Callas adapted and took a job as a nanny. She none the less continued to study and continued to spend time with singers and musicians. Thanks in part to her friendship with the bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, Maria was able to participate in the Verona Festival in Italy. Her debut at the Verona Festival was a success but Callas’ real debut came in 1848 in Rome with the Turandot at the Terme di Caracalla. Her years as soprano at La Scala in Milan, where she went in 1951, confirmed her Italian and international success.

Maria Callas in ‘Norma’

The 1950s are noted in the artist’s career for her ample discography but also for Callas’s “great transformation”. Transformation which refers to her sudden weight loss – between 1952 and 1954 the singer lost 36 kilos – of which much has been said. Musically speaking the height of the artistic rise was followed by a quick fall. 

“That voice fascinated us like a spell, a prodigy that could not be defined in any way, we could only listen to it as prisoners of an incantation, of a turmoil never explored before. But one cannot fully render the storm of emotions she aroused in those who heard her for the first time. For Maria is a gift from God that cannot be defined in time; Maria has always been there and will be there forever. “

cit. Franco Zeffirelli

Thanks to footage from the Luce Institute, we can appreciate the soprano’s voice and admire her elegance.

Opening of the opera season at RAI 1955, featuring Maria Callas singing Norma
Venice Film Festival, 1956

Throughout the 1960’s the Divine, as Maria Callas was nicknamed, was greatly loved by the press who followed her meeting with Onassis, her out-of-wedlock son, her gowns and social evenings, JFK’s birthday at New York’s Madison Square Garden (May 19, 1962), and much more.

Maria Callas on holiday with the Onassis family, Portofino. Maria Callas, Sarah Churchill, Mme Onassis and Mrs Antonella Piaggio-Agnelli.
Maria Callas reads some news of curiosity from a foreign newspaper

Fatigued by a complex personal life (broken love stories, depression and all that was documented by the press), it was thanks to cinema that the singer returned on the scene in the 1970s. Her friendship with Pier Paolo Pasolini as well as Renzo Rossellini’s insistence brought to life Medea and a new and even more intense Callas.

Maria Callas died in Paris on September 16, 1977. 

The Divina’s last years are narrated by Franco Zeffirelli in his film “Callas Forever” (2002), which was the last feature films directed by the maestro. Here is a gallery of photos on set.

Take a look at a gallery with the most beautiful photos depicting Maria Callas available in our archives

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