When I first heard Maria Callas sing, I was only 8 years old. My mother had bought an medium of nan soprano's astir celebrated arias successful nan Oxfam shop and she put it connected nan grounds player, excited by her find.
The first way was Casta Diva, from Norma, which I now cognize is astir a priestess singing to nan goddess of nan moon, but backmost past I conscionable knew it was a magical portion of euphony that made everyone successful nan room — my restless mother, my ferocious stepfather, my annoying small relative — spell quiet, arsenic we each fell nether Callas's spell.
Her sound is 1 I would recognise anywhere; it has an urgency that defies you not to listen. There are opera singers pinch much beautiful voices, but Callas makes you judge successful nan music.
The look connected nan medium screen was arsenic afloat of play arsenic nan music. Large, acheronian eyes, a magnificent chemoreceptor and a wide, generous mouth. It was not a beautiful face, but successful it you could spot some sorrow and majesty. It was nan look of a queen.
Maria Callas stayed pinch maine done my stormy adolescence. Her sound could ever operation maine from my juvenile self-pity. There was thing successful nan measurement she sang that was fearless.
Maria Callas pictured successful nan sitting room of her Milan location wearing a Christian Dior evening gown successful floral people successful 1958
Angelina Jolie arsenic Callas. Jolie has said, 'I will springiness each I tin to meet nan challenge' of documenting Callas's last days successful Paris successful nan 1970s
Other girls recovered solace successful Gloria Gaynor, but it was Maria Callas who made maine consciousness I'd past my dumpy teenage years, nan taunts of nan girls astatine schoolhouse who knew my mother had near america to tally disconnected pinch her lover, and nan stepmother who slapped maine for insolence.
With Divinites du Styx (one of Maria's punchiest arias from nan French opera Alceste) arsenic my taxable song, I knew I could beryllium nan heroine of my ain story.
As I grew up, I learnt astir Maria's bonzer life. It was arsenic melodramatic arsenic immoderate of nan roles she played connected stage.
I americium fascinated by really beardown women woody pinch their destiny — I person spent nan past fewer years bringing nan life of Queen Victoria to nan surface successful nan ITV bid Victoria — and I americium not unsocial successful being intrigued by Callas.
Angelina Jolie is to play her successful a caller movie, Maria, presently shooting successful Athens and Paris. Jolie has said, 'I will springiness each I tin to meet nan challenge' of documenting Callas's last days successful Paris successful nan 1970s, earlier her decease of a bosom onslaught astatine nan property of 53, and already shots of her looking utterly fabulous — successful immoderate of Maria's ain apparel — person made it 1 of nan astir anticipated films of 2024.
Meanwhile, marking nan centenary of nan Greek soprano's birth, nan creator Marina Abramovic is presently connected a world circuit pinch her operatic tribute, The Seven Deaths Of Maria Callas, which is simply a sell-out wherever it plays.
Maria Callas lying connected a aerial mattress connected Venice Lido beach, wearing a floral swimsuit and dangling earrings successful 1950
As for me, I could ne'er rather reconcile nan sound I knew pinch Callas's story, truthful I decided to constitute a novel, Diva, astir nan female down nan legend, which will beryllium published successful Britain adjacent year.
No 1 nether nan property of 60 has heard Callas singing live, yet she remains Warner Classics' best-selling artist: I was intelligibly not nan only 1 who caught nan Callas bug erstwhile young.
Even group who cognize thing astir opera will cognize thing of her story.
She was calved Maria Cecilia Sophia Anna Kalogeropoulos successful New York, nan youngest kid of Greek immigrants. Her mother, Litsa, ever preferred her elder girl — nan blonde, petite Jackie — to nan ungainly, shortsighted, brunette Maria. But erstwhile she realised Maria had nan imaginable for greatness, she became nan eventual shape mother.
In 1937, she took her daughter, past 14, backmost to Athens to study music, leaving her hubby successful New York.
It was a unusual decision, fixed New York was not precisely a philharmonic desert, but Litsa hadn't learnt to speak English and she knew that if Maria studied successful nan U.S. she'd suffer power of her career.It was unfortunate timing. During World War II, Greece was invaded first by nan Italians, past nan Germans. Maria would recount really nan family hid a British airman during nan occupation. A neighbour betrayed them, and a unit of Italian soldiers came to hunt their flat. Maria sat astatine nan soft and started to singing Vissi D'arte from Tosca, and nan opera-loving Italians were entranced. The airman escaped, truthful nan communicative goes.
Maria Callas and her hubby Giovanni-Battista Meneghini posing successful beforehand of nan famed Bridge of Sighs successful Venice on July 22, 1957
Like galore of nan tales told by and astir Maria, 1 has to retrieve that neither she, nor her friends, ever fto facts guidelines successful nan measurement of a bully yarn.
But it is rather existent Maria ne'er forgave her mother for her domineering ways, later saying that having lived done nan German occupation, she thought her mother was 'worse than nan Nazis'.
There is nary shortage of first-hand accounts of Maria's life: her mother, sister, ex-husband and pianist each wrote books astir her. One of nan reasons I decided to constitute a caller alternatively than a curriculum vitae was that I wanted to effort to spot nan world done Maria's eyes.
In nan people of my research, I went to nan places that resonated successful her communicative — including Maxim's, nan edifice successful Paris wherever she and nan emotion of her life, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, dined; and La Scala successful Milan, wherever she had her operatic triumphs. (I was fortunate capable to spot nan fabulous headdress she wore successful Turandot.)
I went to nan ancient Greek amphitheatre astatine Epidaurus wherever she gave a seminal capacity of Norma. I discovered she and Marilyn Monroe were connected nan aforesaid measure astatine nan infamous performance for President J.F. Kennedy's 45th birthday, and I imagined what their gathering mightiness person been like.
In nan early years of her career, Callas was celebrated for her bonzer sound but, overweight and severely dressed, she was not yet an icon. It was only aft she was formed arsenic Violetta, nan consumptive heroine of La Traviata, that she decided to alteration nan measurement she looked.
Callas was media-savvy capable to understand she had to look nan portion off-stage, too, and she put herself successful nan hands of Italian designer Madame Biki, who created nan Callas 'look'
After seeing Audrey Hepburn successful Roman Holiday, she'd recovered her domiciled model... and mislaid 60lb connected a fare of steak tartare and salad.
All kinds of rumours person circulated astir her melodramatic weight loss, including integrative room and iodine injections, nan wildest being that she had swallowed a tapeworm, but I for illustration to deliberation Maria was simply a female pinch robust self-discipline who was prepared to starve herself to look nan part.
Callas was media-savvy capable to understand she had to look nan portion off-stage, too, and she put herself successful nan hands of Italian designer Madame Biki, who created nan Callas 'look': nan hairsbreadth successful a tight chignon, nan hard-won waist displayed successful elegant, fitted suits and frocks. Even off-duty, Maria took each facet of her capacity seriously.
By nan precocious 1950s, Callas was not conscionable nan astir celebrated opera vocalist successful nan world, she was besides 1 of nan astir celebrated women. She was connected nan screen of Time mag and her each quality created nan benignant of frenzy reserved these days for nan likes of Taylor Swift.
One of nan reasons I respect her truthful overmuch is that she was ne'er cowed by nan men who ran nan opera world. She knew her worth, and demanded and sewage immense fees, shocking nan classical world by asking to beryllium paid nan aforesaid arsenic world-famous conductor Herbert von Karajan.
But her assurance successful her abilities did not endear her to her contemporaries, who began to leak stories that she was difficult and capricious. I deliberation she was simply a perfectionist, a value that would beryllium admired successful a man. When Callas pulled retired halfway done a capacity of Norma successful Rome because location was a problem pinch her voice, a mob gathered extracurricular nan opera house, calling her a witch.
In my novel, it's clear that Maria (pictured successful 1954) falls for Ari because he is nan first man she believes is willing successful Maria nan woman, not Callas nan awesome singer
It was astatine this point, erstwhile she was some nan astir loved and nan astir hated vocalist successful nan world, that she met nan man newspapers called nan Golden Greek, nan multi-millionaire Onassis.
He invited Maria and her overmuch older hubby and manager, Giovanni Battista Meneghini (a man who wore a hairnet successful bed), to walk 3 weeks cruising nan Mediterranean connected his yacht. Other passengers included Onassis's wife, Tina, and Winston and Clementine Churchill. By nan extremity of nan cruise Onassis, 53, and Maria, 35, were lovers.
In my novel, it's clear that Maria falls for Ari because he is nan first man she believes is willing successful Maria nan woman, not Callas nan awesome singer.
In fact, Onassis didn't for illustration opera much, but he appreciated Maria's celebrity, and they had overmuch successful common: they were some Greek and some self-made. They understood each different successful a world wherever everyone astir them had been calved privileged and wealthy.
And they surely had a beingness connection. Although Maria had spent her life singing astir passion, I don't deliberation she knowledgeable it until she met Onassis. She didn't emotion Ari for his money; she was scrupulous astir paying her way, moreover buying her ain tickets connected Olympic Airways which Onassis owned.
There is immoderate grounds she had a kid by Onassis early successful their narration that was still-born.
I don't deliberation Maria had been willing successful having children before, arsenic her profession was each important, but to person a kid pinch him would person bound them together for ever.
Her sound was opening to neglect and she hoped that her narration pinch him would prolong her successful a life without applause.
Maria would not springiness nan Press and nan nationalist nan restitution of knowing that Onassis had surgery her heart
But to Maria's dismay, Onassis ne'er proposed. She knew he had been unfaithful to her pinch Lee Radziwill, nan socialite sister of erstwhile First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and erstwhile she recovered retired astir nan affair, Maria took an overdose. (I fishy that it was much of a outcry for thief than a superior effort to extremity her life.) What she didn't cognize was that aft JFK's assassination successful 1963, Onassis began his pursuit of nan eventual prize: Jackie herself.
Maria discovered Jackie and Onassis were to wed only 3 weeks earlier nan ceremonial was owed to return spot connected nan Greek tycoon's backstage land of Skorpios successful October 1968. It was a betrayal to adjacent thing successful an opera.
On nan nighttime of nan wedding, alternatively of taking pills aliases retreating to her bed, Maria gave nan capacity of her life.
She went to nan theatre successful Paris pinch Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and past to Maxim's, and had a very nationalist meal astatine nan array wherever she usually sat pinch Ari, smiling gaily throughout.
The photographs of a twinkling Maria ran alongside nan image of Jackie marrying Onassis connected beforehand pages astir nan world.
Maria would not springiness nan Press and nan nationalist nan restitution of knowing that Onassis had surgery her heart. But he soon realised that marrying Jackie had been a unspeakable mistake.
She had joined him for his money and nan information he could connection her and her children. He had thought marrying nan astir celebrated female successful nan world would springiness him an unbeatable advantage successful nan world of business.
But some of them were miserable, and wrong weeks Onassis was trying to spot Maria again.
And though she still loved him, she could not forgive him for having humiliated her truthful much.
Maria Callas and Giovanni Battista Meneghini leaving for nan United States Tour connected January 16, 1958, at Malpensa International Airport
One of nan galore myths surrounding Callas is that her decease successful 1977 astatine nan property of 53 — 4 years aft Onassis died — was from a surgery heart. But I deliberation nan existent calamity of Maria's life wasn't her unhappy emotion matter pinch Onassis, but nan premature diminution of her voice.
Like ballerinas and footballers, opera singers cognize they person only a finite number of performances successful them. Today, young singers are observant to gait themselves truthful that they tin spell connected singing until they are into their 50s.
But Callas was truthful talented that she could singing everything, and conductors and board ne'er stopped to deliberation what nan effect of those changeless performances would person connected her sound and nan longevity of her career.
There was 1 play successful Venice, erstwhile Callas sang Bellini and Wagner successful nan aforesaid week, which successful diversion position would beryllium for illustration competing successful a marathon and a 100-yard sprint connected successive days. The consequence was that her sound began to falter successful her mid-30s, correct astatine nan highest of her career.
For a perfectionist specified arsenic Callas, this was a disaster. She wasn't happy unless each statement she sang was flawless.
Her sound was her superpower, and erstwhile it was gone, I deliberation she struggled to find meaning.
The irony was that it wasn't conscionable nan sound that made Callas nan top opera vocalist of her time, possibly for each time, but nan value of her acting.
Maria Callas arsenic seen successful nan documentary 'Passion Callas'
Unlike nan statuesque divas of nan past who would simply 'park and bark', Maria gave a awesome melodramatic arsenic good arsenic philharmonic performance. Even erstwhile she wasn't singing, it was intolerable to return your eyes disconnected her. Her immersion successful nan domiciled was total.
I don't cognize really Angelina Jolie will play her — and already location is disapproval that nan film's creators person fixed Callas's friends and family nan acold shoulder. But aft 3 years immersed successful her bonzer life, I deliberation Callas should beryllium remembered not arsenic a tragic heroine, but arsenic a philharmonic brilliant whose awesome gift meant that she had to unrecorded her life nether nan astir aggravated nationalist scrutiny.
The thought that personification of her indomitable tone would slice distant because she had been betrayed by a man useful arsenic nan crippled of an opera, but it does not do justness to nan existent Maria Callas — nan philharmonic brilliant who has near a bequest that still speaks to audiences each complete nan world, 100 years aft her birth.
Powerful and vulnerable, perfectionist and passionate, Maria Callas, for each nan calamity successful her life, knew her worth. Perhaps that is why women, including me, are still entranced by her.
Diva by Daisy Goodwin will beryllium published by Head of Zeus connected March 14, 2024. You tin pre-order a copy.