Maria by Callas

“Maria, by Callas”
Perfect title. Minimal advertising needed. The title alone sells the ticket to the audience. I can attest to that. I saw the title online, I saw the film at a morning session that same day.

On the other hand though, I suppose that there are people out there who do not know who Maria Callas was, and is; but while this film would serve as a perfect education on the subject, my native cynicism suggests that a late life crash course in the subject may prove counterproductive. A person brought up on “Maroon Five”, “the X factor” and similar product might actually find the music produced by the immortal Callas’ unique vocal instrument to not suit their pre-indoctrinated notions of music. Its a hard old world; horrible, really, and I feel sorry for them. That said the morning session I was at was half-full, and they all seemed to like it, so there may be hope for the world ,after all.
For whatever.

For those who may not know but who have read this far anyway, Maria Callas was born in NewYork City in 1923 to Greek parents, and as a teenager, enrolled with a singing teacher when it was seen that she might have talent in that direction. To those who knew her at that time she is remembered as extremely motivated, almost driven. “The first to arrive, the last to leave. She would watch everyone else sing, the sopranos, the coloratura-everyone.” To hear her tell it, she was herded into the school by her mother and badgered into trying hard. She was the victim, forced into success against her will – almost overnight she became the prima operatic soprano in the world. But sadly the world at her feet proved to be manacles around her ankles. She was trapped by her success, rather than empowered by it. In a later time she might have taken to some form of anaesthesia – Whitney Houston, in a very similar situation took to cocaine and imploded, Callas stayed clean, lasted longer, and got gossiped about. But, like all public personalities she had a private side.

Her version of the story everyone thought they knew, this is where “Maria, by Callas” shines. For example, I knew that she got divorced to marry Aristotle Onassis and that he was a rotter who seduced her while she and her husband were his guests on his yacht the “Christina.” Over the years I had encountered the story of this scandal multiple times always illustrated with pictures of the billionaire’s huge yacht and pictures of the billionaire as a ghastly old man, taken easily twenty years after the time in question. The film really opened my eyes, at the time, “Ari” was ravishingly handsome, and it is easy to hear the love in the aged recording of Maria’s voice, and in the love, the true Maria, the probably rather simple girl who was eaten by the vast talent that was truly a blessing to the world and simultaneously a curse to her. “Maria, by Callas” is the telling of a true modern-day Greek tragedy. Be aware though, even for real fans the film is very like a “Best of Callas” album or playlist- a bombardment of the best arias from a wonderful career played in the order that appealed to the shape of the story being told rather than the operas the arias are extracted from. This makes it easy to become fatigued by the most beautiful voice in history- and to become crotchety at being dragged back to the “real” world by the story.
In any event “Maria, by Callas” is bloody marvellous and recommended to all, neophyte and fan alike. Wallow while the wallowing is good.

Review(c) Alex Rieneck 2019

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