Monday, December 2, 2013

December 2: Opera legend Maria Callas was born on this date in 1923...

... she died on September 16, 1977 from a heart attack at her home in Paris. She was 53 years old.

Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos was an American-born Greek soprano; perhaps the best-known opera singer of the post-World War II period. 
She made her debut in 1947, and during those 20 years she exerted a distinctive influence on opera. She combined an impeccable bel canto technique with great dramatic gifts, making her the most famous singing actress of the era.

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Tall, slim, commanding, exotically beautiful, Callas had a unique combination of electricity and brains.
Callas sparked new interest in the largely forgotten bel canto operas of the 19th century; the  compositions of Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini, most of which had not been heard since the era when they were written. They were considered too difficult and too uninteresting musically to be worth reviving. Miss Callas showed that they could be sung, that the melodies and all the embellishments that were thought to be for virtuoso display could be turned to genuine dramatic use. It opened up a whole new repertory for singers such as Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills to follow the path set by Miss Callas.

An extremely versatile singer, her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria, such as Spontini’s La Vestale, and the belcanto operas of Donizetti and Bellini, to late Verdi and the verismo operas of Puccini.

HIGHLY Recommended (Links to ENTIRE Amazon Website):

Maria Callas - At Covent Garden 1962 and 1964Maria Callas - La Callas... ToujoursMaria Callas ~ Complete Studio RecordingsMaria Callas: Complete Recordings DeluxeMaria Callas 100 Best ClassicsBellini: La Sonnambula (complete opera) with Maria Callas, Fiorenza Cossotto, Antonino Votto, Chorus & Orchestra of La Scala, MilanVerdi: Aida

She was born in 1923 in New York City. In 1937, when Maria  was 13,  her mother Evangelia took Maria and her sister Jackie back to Greece. Maria received her musical education in Athens. Initially her mother tried to enroll her at the prestigious Athens Conservatoire, without success. At the audition her voice, still untrained, failed to impress, while the conservatoire’s director Filoktitis Oikonomidis refused to accept her without her satisfying the theoretic prerequisites (solfege).

She won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, where one of her teachers was Elvira de Hidalgo, a famous Spanish soprano in her day. She remembered Maria as being "square and fat, but she put such force, such sentiment, such wonderful interpretation into all she sang. She would want to sing the most difficult coloraturas, scales and trills. Even as a child her willpower was terrific."

Before she was 15, the student was singing the dramatic role of Santuzza in Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana." Four years later she made her official debut with the Athens Opera.
At the end of World War II, she went back to New York on her own. She auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera and was offered the title roles in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" and Beethoven's "Fidelio." "Fidelio" was to have been sung in English. She turned down the offers. "Opera in English is so silly," said Callas. "Nobody takes it seriously."

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Early in her career she sang as many as 16 roles in one season. Her own interest in bel canto grew in 1948 in Venice, when she learned the difficult part of Elvira in Bellini's "I Puritani" in five days in order to substitute for an ailing singer.
She finally made her United States debut in 1954, with the Chicago Lyric Opera, in the role of Norma. Two years later, on Oct. 29, she sang the same part for her debut at the Metropolitan Opera. By this time her reputation was such that announcements of her appearances generated long lines outside the box office of the houses where she was to sing.

Although critical reaction was usually mixed because of the individual timbre of her voice and perceived  flaws in her technique, she was ecstatically received for her musicianship, her personal appeal and the originality of her characterizations.


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