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Maria Callas

Maria Callas 1958.jpg
Callas in 1958
Maria Anna Sophia Cecilia Kalogeropoulou

(1923-12-02)December 2, 1923
Died September 16, 1977(1977-09-16) (aged 53)
Paris, France
Education Athens Conservatoire
Occupation Soprano
Giovanni Battista Meneghini
(m. 1949; div. 1959)
Partner(s) Aristotle Onassis (1959–1968)
Awards Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

Maria Callas Commendatore OMRI (born Maria Anna Cecilia Sophie Kalogeropoulou; December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977), (Greek:Μαρία Άννα Καικιλία Σοφία Καλογεροπούλου) was an American-born Greek soprano who was one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. Many critics praised her bel canto technique, wide-ranging voice and dramatic interpretations. Her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini and, further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini; and, in her early career, to the music dramas of Wagner. Her musical and dramatic talents led to her being hailed as La Divina ("the Divine one").

Born in Manhattan, New York City, to Greek immigrant parents, she was raised by an overbearing mother who had wanted a son. Maria received her musical education in Greece at age 13 and later established her career in Italy. Forced to deal with the exigencies of 1940s wartime poverty and with near-sightedness that left her nearly blind onstage, she endured struggles and scandal over the course of her career. She notably underwent a mid-career weight loss, which might have contributed to her vocal decline and the premature end of her career.

The press exulted in publicizing Callas's temperamental behavior, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi and her love affair with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Although her dramatic life and personal tragedy have often overshadowed Callas the artist in the popular press, her artistic achievements were such that Leonard Bernstein called her "the Bible of opera" and her influence so enduring that, in 2006, Opera News wrote of her: "Nearly thirty years after her death, she's still the definition of the diva as artist—and still one of classical music's best-selling vocalists."

Early life

Family life, childhood and move to Greece

Kallas House
The apartment house in Athens where Callas lived from 1937 to 1945

The name on Callas's New York birth certificate is Sophie Cecilia Kalos, although she was christened Maria Anna Cecilia Sofia Kalogeropoulos (Greek: Μαρία Άννα Καικιλία Σοφία Καλογεροπούλου). She was born at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital (now the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center), 1249 5th Avenue, Manhattan, on December 2, 1923, to Greek parents, George Kalogeropoulos (c. 1881–1972) and Elmina Evangelia "Litsa", née Demes, originally Dimitriadou (c. 1894–1982). Callas's father had shortened the surname Kalogeropoulos, first to "Kalos" and subsequently to "Callas" to make it more manageable.

George and Litsa Callas were an ill-matched couple from the beginning. George was easy-going and unambitious, with no interest in the arts, while Litsa was vivacious and socially ambitious and had dreamed of a life in the arts, which her middle-class parents had stifled in her childhood and youth. Litsa's father, Petros Dimitriadis (1852–1916), was in failing health when Litsa introduced George to her family. Petros, distrustful of George, had warned his daughter, "You will never be happy with him. If you marry that man, I will never be able to help you". Litsa had ignored his warning, but soon realized that her father was right. The situation was aggravated by George's philandering and was improved neither by the birth of a daughter, named Yakinthi (later called "Jackie") in 1917, nor the birth of a son, named Vassilis, in 1920. Vassilis's death from meningitis in the summer of 1922 dealt another blow to the marriage.

In 1923, after realizing that Litsa was pregnant again, George made the decision to move his family to the United States, a decision which Yakinthi recalled was greeted with Litsa "shouting hysterically" followed by George "slamming doors". The family left for New York in July 1923, moving first into an apartment in the heavily ethnic neighborhood of Astoria, Queens.

Litsa was convinced that her third child would be a boy; her disappointment at the birth of another daughter was so great that she refused to even look at her new baby for four days. Maria was christened three years later at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in 1926. When Maria was 4, George Callas opened his own pharmacy, settling the family in Manhattan on 192nd Street in Washington Heights, where Callas grew up. Around the age of three, Maria's musical talent began to manifest itself, and after Litsa discovered that her youngest daughter also had a voice, she began pressing "Mary" to sing. Callas later recalled, "I was made to sing when I was only five, and I hated it." George was unhappy with his wife favoring their elder daughter, as well as the pressure put upon young Mary to sing and perform. The marriage continued to deteriorate and, in 1937, Litsa decided to return to Athens with her two daughters.

Relationship with mother

Callas's relationship with her mother continued to erode during the years in Greece, and in the prime of her career, it became a matter of great public interest, especially after a 1956 cover story in Time magazine which focused on this relationship and later, by Litsa's book My Daughter Maria Callas (1960).

In 1957, she told Chicago radio host Norman Ross Jr., "There must be a law against forcing children to perform at an early age. Children should have a wonderful childhood. They should not be given too much responsibility."

In an attempt to patch things up with her mother, Callas took Litsa along on her first visit to Mexico in 1950, but this only reawakened the old frictions and resentments, and after leaving Mexico they never met again. After a series of angry and accusatory letters from Litsa lambasting Callas's father and husband, Callas ceased communication with her mother altogether.


Callas 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 [el] refused to accept her without her satisfying the theoretic prerequisites (solfege). In the summer of 1937, her mother visited Maria Trivella at the younger Greek National Conservatoire, asking her to take Mary, as she was then called, as a student for a modest fee.

Trivella agreed to tutor Callas, completely waiving her tuition fees, but no sooner had Callas started her formal lessons and vocal exercises than Trivella began to feel that Callas was not a contralto, as she had been told, but a dramatic soprano. Subsequently, they began working on raising the tessitura of her voice and to lighten its timbre. Trivella recalled Callas as:

On April 11, 1938, in her public debut, Callas ended the recital of Trivella's class at the Parnassos music hall with a duet from Tosca. Callas recalled that Trivella:

However, when interviewed by Pierre Desgraupes [fr] on the French program L'invitée du dimanche, Callas attributed the development of her chest voice not to Trivella, but to her next teacher, the Spanish coloratura soprano Elvira de Hidalgo.

Callas studied with Trivella for two years before her mother secured another audition at the Athens Conservatoire with de Hidalgo. Callas auditioned with "Ocean, Thou Mighty Monster" from Weber's Oberon. De Hidalgo recalled hearing "tempestuous, extravagant cascades of sounds, as yet uncontrolled but full of drama and emotion". She agreed to take her as a pupil immediately, but Callas's mother asked de Hidalgo to wait for a year, as Callas would be graduating from the National Conservatoire and could begin working. On April 2, 1939, Callas undertook the part of Santuzza in a student production of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana at the Greek National Opera at the Olympia Theatre, and in the fall of the same year she enrolled at the Athens Conservatoire in Elvira de Hidalgo's class.

De Hidalgo later recalled Callas as "a phenomenon... She would listen to all my students, sopranos, mezzos, tenors... She could do it all." Callas herself said that she would go to "the conservatoire at 10 in the morning and leave with the last pupil ... devouring music" for 10 hours a day. When asked by her teacher why she did this, her answer was that even "with the least talented pupil, he can teach you something that you, the most talented, might not be able to do."

Early operatic career in Greece

After several appearances as a student, Callas began appearing in secondary roles at the Greek National Opera. De Hidalgo was instrumental in securing roles for her, allowing Callas to earn a small salary, which helped her and her family get through the difficult war years.

Callas made her professional debut in February 1941, in the small role of Beatrice in Franz von Suppé's Boccaccio. Soprano Galatea Amaxopoulou, who sang in the chorus, later recalled, "Even in rehearsal, Maria's fantastic performing ability had been obvious, and from then on, the others started trying ways of preventing her from appearing." Fellow singer Maria Alkeou similarly recalled that the established sopranos Nafsika Galanou and Anna (Zozó) Remmoundou "used to stand in the wings while [Callas] was singing and make remarks about her, muttering, laughing, and point their fingers at her".

Despite these hostilities, Callas managed to continue and made her debut in a leading role in August 1942 as Tosca, going on to sing the role of Marta in Eugen d'Albert's Tiefland at the Olympia Theatre. Callas's performance as Marta received glowing reviews.

Following these performances, even Callas's detractors began to refer to her as "The God-Given". Some time later, watching Callas rehearse Beethoven's Fidelio, erstwhile rival soprano Anna Remoundou asked a colleague, "Could it be that there is something divine and we haven't realized it?" Following Tiefland, Callas sang the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana again and followed it with O Protomastoras [el] (Manolis Kalomiris) at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre at the foot of the Acropolis.

During August and September 1944, Callas performed the role of Leonore in a Greek language production of Fidelio, again at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. German critic Friedrich Herzog, who witnessed the performances, declared Leonore Callas's "greatest triumph":

After the liberation of Greece, de Hidalgo advised Callas to establish herself in Italy. Callas proceeded to give a series of concerts around Greece, and then, against her teacher's advice, she returned to America to see her father and to further pursue her career. When she left Greece on September 14, 1945, two months short of her 22nd birthday, Callas had given 56 performances in seven operas and had appeared in around 20 recitals. Callas considered her Greek career as the foundation of her musical and dramatic upbringing, saying, "When I got to the big career, there were no surprises for me."

Main operatic career

After returning to the United States and reuniting with her father in September 1945, Callas made the round of auditions. In December of that year, she auditioned for Edward Johnson, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, and was favorably received: "Exceptional voice—ought to be heard very soon on stage".

Callas maintained that the Metropolitan Opera offered her Madama Butterfly and Fidelio, to be performed in Philadelphia and sung in English, both of which she declined, feeling she was too fat for Butterfly and did not like the idea of opera in English. Although no written evidence of this offer exists in the Met's records, in a 1958 interview with the New York Post, Johnson confirmed that a contract was offered: "... but she didn't like it—because of the contract, not because of the roles. She was right in turning it down—it was frankly a beginner's contract."

Italy, Meneghini, and Serafin

Callas Sirmione
The Villa in Sirmione where Callas lived with Giovanni Battista Meneghini between 1950 and 1959
Callas Meneghini 1957
Maria Callas with her husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini in 1957

In 1946, Callas was engaged to re-open the opera house in Chicago as Turandot, but the company folded before opening. Basso Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, who also was to star in this opera, was aware that Tullio Serafin was looking for a dramatic soprano to cast as La Gioconda at the Arena di Verona. He later recalled the young Callas as being "amazing—so strong physically and spiritually; so certain of her future. I knew in a big outdoor theatre like Verona's, this girl, with her courage and huge voice, would make a tremendous impact." Subsequently he recommended Callas to retired tenor and impresario Giovanni Zenatello. During her audition, Zenatello became so excited that he jumped up and joined Callas in the act 4 duet.

It was in this role that Callas made her Italian debut. Upon her arrival in Verona, Callas met Giovanni Battista Meneghini [it], an older, wealthy industrialist, who began courting her. They married in 1949, and he assumed control of her career until 1959, when the marriage dissolved. It was Meneghini's love and support that gave Callas the time needed to establish herself in Italy, and throughout the prime of her career, she went by the name of Maria Meneghini Callas.

After La Gioconda, Callas had no further offers, and when Serafin, looking for someone to sing Isolde, called on her, she told him that she already knew the score, even though she had looked at only the first act out of curiosity while at the conservatory. She sight-read the opera's second act for Serafin, who praised her for knowing the role so well, whereupon she admitted to having bluffed and having sight-read the music. Even more impressed, Serafin immediately cast her in the role. Serafin thereafter served as Callas's mentor and supporter.

According to Lord Harewood, "Very few Italian conductors have had a more distinguished career than Tullio Serafin, and perhaps none, apart from Toscanini, more influence". In 1968, Callas recalled that working with Serafin was the "really lucky" opportunity of her career, because "he taught me that there must be an expression; that there must be a justification. He taught me the depth of music, the justification of music. That's where I really really drank all I could from this man".

I puritani and path to bel canto

The great turning point in Callas's career occurred in Venice in 1949. She was engaged to sing the role of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre at the Teatro la Fenice, when Margherita Carosio, who was engaged to sing Elvira in I puritani in the same theatre, fell ill. Unable to find a replacement for Carosio, Serafin told Callas that she would be singing Elvira in six days; when Callas protested that she not only did not know the role, but also had three more Brünnhildes to sing, he told her "I guarantee that you can". Michael Scott's words, "the notion of any one singer embracing music as divergent in its vocal demands as Wagner's Brünnhilde and Bellini's Elvira in the same career would have been cause enough for surprise; but to attempt to essay them both in the same season seemed like folie de grandeur".

Before the performance actually took place, one incredulous critic snorted, "We hear that Serafin has agreed to conduct I puritani with a dramatic soprano ... When can we expect a new edition of La traviata with [male baritone] Gino Bechi's Violetta?" After the performance, one critic wrote, "Even the most sceptical had to acknowledge the miracle that Maria Callas accomplished... the flexibility of her limpid, beautifully poised voice, and her splendid high notes. Her interpretation also has a humanity, warmth and expressiveness that one would search for in vain in the fragile, pellucid coldness of other Elviras." Franco Zeffirelli recalled, "What she did in Venice was really incredible. You need to be familiar with opera to realize the size of her achievement. It was as if someone asked Birgit Nilsson, who is famous for her great Wagnerian voice, to substitute overnight for Beverly Sills, who is one of the great coloratura sopranos of our time."

Scott asserts that "Of all the many roles Callas undertook, it is doubtful if any had a more far-reaching effect." This initial foray into the bel canto repertoire changed the course of Callas's career and set her on a path leading to Lucia di Lammermoor, La traviata, Armida, La sonnambula, Il pirata, Il turco in Italia, Medea, and Anna Bolena, and reawakened interest in the long-neglected operas of Cherubini, Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini.

As with I puritani, Callas learned and performed Cherubini's Medea, Giordano's Andrea Chénier and Rossini's Armida on a few days' notice. Throughout her career, Callas displayed her vocal versatility in recitals that juxtaposed dramatic soprano arias alongside coloratura pieces, including in a 1952 RAI recital in which she opened with "Lady Macbeth's letter scene", followed by the "Mad Scene" from Lucia di Lammermoor, then Abigaille's treacherous recitative and aria from Nabucco, finishing with the "Bell Song" from Lakmé capped by a ringing high E in alt (E6).

Important debuts

Although by 1951, Callas had sung at all the major theatres in Italy, she had not yet made her official debut at Italy's most prestigious opera house, Teatro alla Scala in Milan. According to composer Gian Carlo Menotti, Callas had substituted for Renata Tebaldi in the role of Aida in 1950, and La Scala's general manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, had taken an immediate dislike to Callas.

Menotti recalls that Ghiringhelli had promised him any singer he wanted for the premiere of The Consul, but when he suggested Callas, Ghiringhelli said that he would never have Callas at La Scala except as a guest artist. However, as Callas's fame grew, and especially after her great success in I vespri siciliani in Florence, Ghiringhelli had to relent: Callas made her official debut at La Scala in Verdi's I vespri siciliani on opening night in December 1951, and this theatre became her artistic home throughout the 1950s. La Scala mounted many new productions specially for Callas by directors such as Herbert von Karajan, Margherita Wallmann, Franco Zeffirelli and, most importantly, Luchino Visconti. Visconti stated later that he began directing opera only because of Callas, and he directed her in lavish new productions of La vestale, La traviata, La sonnambula, Anna Bolena and Iphigénie en Tauride. Callas was notably instrumental in arranging Franco Corelli's debut at La Scala in 1954, where he sang Licinio in Spontini's La vestale opposite Callas's Julia. The two had sung together for the first time the year previously in Rome in a production of Norma. Anthony Tommasini wrote that Corelli had "earned great respect from the fearsomely demanding Callas, who, in Mr Corelli, finally had someone with whom she could act." The two collaborated several more times at La Scala, singing opposite each other in productions of Fedora (1956), Il pirata (1958) and Poliuto (1960). Their partnership continued throughout the rest of Callas's career.

The night of the day she married Meneghini in Verona, she sailed for Argentina to sing at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Callas made her South American debut in Buenos Aires on May 20, 1949, during the European summer opera recess. Aida, Turandot and Norma roles were directed by Serafin, supported by Mario Del Monaco, Fedora Barbieri and Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. These were her only appearances on this world-renowned stage. Her debut in the United States was five years later in Chicago in 1954, and "with the Callas Norma, Lyric Opera of Chicago was born."

Her Metropolitan Opera debut, opening the Met's seventy-second season on October 29, 1956, was again with Norma, but was preceded by an unflattering cover story in Time magazine, which rehashed all of the Callas clichés, including her temper, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi, and especially her difficult relationship with her mother. As she had done with Lyric Opera of Chicago, on November 21, 1957, Callas gave a concert to inaugurate what then was billed as the Dallas Civic Opera, and helped establish that company with her friends from Chicago, Lawrence Kelly and Nicola Rescigno. She further consolidated this company's standing when, in 1958, she gave "a towering performance as Violetta in La traviata, and that same year, in her only American performances of Medea, gave an interpretation of the title role worthy of Euripides."

In 1958, a feud with Rudolf Bing led to Callas's Metropolitan Opera contract being cancelled. Impresario Allen Oxenburg realised that this situation provided him with an opportunity for his own company, the American Opera Society, and he accordingly approached her with a contract to perform Imogene in Il pirata. She accepted and sang the role in a January 1959 performance that according to opera critic Allan Kozinn "quickly became legendary in operatic circles". Bing and Callas later reconciled their differences, and she returned to the Met in 1965 to sing the title role in two performances as Tosca opposite Franco Corelli as Cavaradossi for one performance (March 19, 1965) and Richard Tucker (March 25, 1965) with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia for her final performances at the Met.

In 1952, she made her London debut at the Royal Opera House in Norma with veteran mezzo-soprano Ebe Stignani as Adalgisa, a performance which survives on record and also features the young Joan Sutherland in the small role of Clotilde. Callas and the London public had what she herself called "a love affair", and she returned to the Royal Opera House in 1953, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1964 to 1965. It was at the Royal Opera House where, on July 5, 1965, Callas ended her stage career in the role of Tosca, in a production designed and mounted for her by Franco Zeffirelli and featuring her friend and colleague Tito Gobbi.

Weight loss

In the early years of her career, Callas was a heavy woman; in her own words, "Heavy—one can say—yes I was; but I'm also a tall woman, 5' 8+12" (1.74 m), and I used to weigh no more than 200 pounds (91 kilograms)." Tito Gobbi relates that during a lunch break while recording Lucia in Florence, Serafin commented to Callas that she was eating too much and allowing her weight to become a problem. When she protested that she wasn't so heavy, Gobbi suggested she should "put the matter to test" by stepping on the weighing machine outside the restaurant. The result was "somewhat dismaying, and she became rather silent." In 1968, Callas told Edward Downes that during her initial performances in Cherubini's Medea in May 1953, she realized that she needed a leaner face and figure to do dramatic justice to this as well as the other roles she was undertaking.

During 1953 and early 1954, she lost almost 80 pounds (36 kg), turning herself into what Rescigno called "possibly the most beautiful lady on the stage". Sir Rudolf Bing, who remembered Callas as being "monstrously fat" in 1951, stated that after the weight loss, Callas was an "astonishing, svelte, striking woman" who "showed none of the signs one usually finds in a fat woman who has lost weight: she looked as though she had been born to that slender and graceful figure, and had always moved with that elegance." Various rumors spread regarding her weight loss method; one had her swallowing a tapeworm, while Rome's Panatella Mills pasta company claimed she lost weight by eating their "physiologic pasta", prompting Callas to file a lawsuit. Callas stated that she lost the weight by eating a sensible low-calorie diet of mainly salads and chicken. Callas never regained the weight she lost and kept her slim figure until her death.

Some believe that the loss of body mass made it more difficult for her to support her voice, triggering the vocal strain that became apparent later in the decade, while others believed the weight loss effected a newfound softness and femininity in her voice, as well as a greater confidence as a person and performer. Tito Gobbi said,


The Callas sound

Callas's voice was and remains controversial; it bothered and disturbed as many as it thrilled and inspired. Walter Legge stated that Callas possessed that most essential ingredient for a great singer: an instantly recognizable voice.

During "The Callas Debate", Italian critic Rodolfo Celletti stated, "The timbre of Callas's voice, considered purely as sound, was essentially ugly: it was a thick sound, which gave the impression of dryness, of aridity. It lacked those elements which, in a singer's jargon, are described as velvet and varnish... yet I really believe that part of her appeal was precisely due to this fact. Why? Because for all its natural lack of varnish, velvet and richness, this voice could acquire such distinctive colours and timbres as to be unforgettable." However, in his review of Callas's 1951 live recording of I vespri siciliani, Ira Siff writes, "Accepted wisdom tells us that Callas possessed, even early on, a flawed voice, unattractive by conventional standards—an instrument that signaled from the beginning vocal problems to come. Yet listen to her entrance in this performance and one encounters a rich, spinning sound, ravishing by any standard, capable of delicate dynamic nuance. High notes are free of wobble, chest tones unforced, and the middle register displays none of the "bottled" quality that became more and more pronounced as Callas matured."

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni relates that Callas's mentor Serafin used to refer to her as Una grande vociaccia; he continues, "Vociaccia is a little bit pejorative—it means an ugly voice—but grande means a big voice, a great voice. A great ugly voice, in a way."

Vocal category

Callas's voice has been difficult to place in the modern vocal classification or Fach system, especially since in her prime, her repertoire contained the heaviest dramatic soprano roles as well as roles usually undertaken by the highest, lightest and most agile coloratura sopranos. Regarding this versatility, Serafin said, "This woman can sing anything written for the female voice". Michael Scott argues that Callas's voice was a natural high soprano, and going by evidence of Callas's early recordings, Rosa Ponselle likewise felt that "At that stage of its development, her voice was a pure but sizable dramatic coloratura—that is to say, a sizable coloratura voice with dramatic capabilities, not the other way around." On the other hand, music critic John Ardoin has argued that Callas was the reincarnation of the 19th-century soprano sfogato or "unlimited soprano", a throwback to Maria Malibran and Giuditta Pasta, for whom many of the famous bel canto operas were written. He avers that like Pasta and Malibran, Callas was a natural mezzo-soprano whose range was extended through training and willpower, resulting in a voice which "lacked the homogeneous color and evenness of scale once so prized in singing. There were unruly sections of their voices never fully under control. Many who heard Pasta, for example, remarked that her uppermost notes seemed produced by ventriloquism, a charge which would later be made against Callas". Ardoin points to the writings of Henry Chorley about Pasta which bear an uncanny resemblance to descriptions of Callas:

Callas herself appears to have been in agreement not only with Ardoin's assertions that she started as a natural mezzo-soprano, but also saw the similarities between herself and Pasta and Malibran. In 1957, she described her early voice as: "The timbre was dark, almost black—when I think of it, I think of thick molasses", and in 1968 she added, "They say I was not a true soprano, I was rather toward a mezzo". Regarding her ability to sing the heaviest as well as the lightest roles, she told James Fleetwood,

Vocal size and range

Callas's Vocal Range
Callas's range in performance (highest and lowest notes both shown in red): from F-sharp below the Middle C (green) to E-natural above the High C (blue)

Regarding the sheer size of Callas's instrument, Rodolfo Celletti says, "Her voice was penetrating. The volume as such was average: neither small nor powerful. But the penetration, allied to this incisive quality (which bordered on the ugly because it frequently contained an element of harshness) ensured that her voice could be clearly heard anywhere in the auditorium." Celletti wrote that Callas had "a voluminous, penetrating, and dark voice" (una voce voluminosa, squillante e di timbro scuro). After her first performance of Medea in 1953, the critic for Musical Courier wrote that "she displayed a vocal generosity that was scarcely believable for its amplitude and resilience." In a 1982 Opera News interview with Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, Bonynge stated, "But before she slimmed down, I mean this was such a colossal voice. It just poured out of her, the way Flagstad's did.... Callas had a huge voice. When she and Stignani sang Norma, at the bottom of the range you could barely tell who was who ... Oh it was colossal. And she took the big sound right up to the top." In his book, Michael Scott makes the distinction that whereas Callas's pre-1954 voice was a "dramatic soprano with an exceptional top", after the weight loss, it became, as one Chicago critic described the voice in Lucia, a "huge soprano leggiero".

In performance, Callas's vocal range was just short of three octaves, from F-sharp (F3) below middle C (C4) heard in "Arrigo! Ah parli a un core" from I vespri siciliani to E-natural (E6) above high C (C6), heard in the aria "Mercè, dilette amiche" in the final act of the same opera, as well as in Rossini's Armida and Lakmé's Bell Song. Whether or not Callas ever sang a high F-natural in performance has been open to debate. After her June 11, 1951, concert in Florence, Rock Ferris of Musical Courier said, "Her high E's and F's are taken full voice." Although no definite recording of Callas singing high Fs has surfaced, the presumed E-natural at the end of Rossini's Armida—a poor-quality bootleg recording of uncertain pitch—has been referred to as a high F by Italian musicologists and critics Eugenio Gara and Rodolfo Celletti. Callas expert Dr. Robert Seletsky, however, stated that since the finale of Armida is in the key of E, the final note could not have been an F, as it would have been dissonant. Author Eve Ruggieri has referred to the penultimate note in "Mercè, dilette amiche" from the 1951 Florence performances of I vespri siciliani as a high F; however, this claim is refuted by John Ardoin's review of the live recording of the performance as well as by the review of the recording in Opera News, both of which refer to the note as a high E-natural.

In a 1969 French television interview with Pierre Desgraupes [fr] on the program L'invitée du dimanche, Francesco Siciliani [it] speaks of Callas's voice going to high F (he also talked about her lower register extending to C3), but within the same program, Callas's teacher, Elvira de Hidalgo, speaks of the voice soaring to a high E-natural but does not mention a high F. Callas remained silent on the subject, neither confirming nor denying either claim.

Vocal registers

Callas's voice was noted for its three distinct registers: Her low or chest register was extremely dark and powerful, and she used this part of her voice for dramatic effect, often going into this register much higher on the scale than most sopranos. Her middle register had a peculiar and highly personal sound—"part oboe, part clarinet", as Claudia Cassidy described it—and was noted for its veiled or "bottled" sound, as if she were singing into a jug. Walter Legge, husband of diva Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, attributed this sound to the "extraordinary formation of her upper palate, shaped like a Gothic arch, not the Romanesque arch of the normal mouth".

The upper register was ample and bright, with an impressive extension above high C, which—in contrast to the light flute-like sound of the typical coloratura, "she would attack these notes with more vehemence and power—quite differently therefore, from the very delicate, cautious, 'white' approach of the light sopranos." Legge adds, "Even in the most difficult fioriture there were no musical or technical difficulties in this part of the voice which she could not execute with astonishing, unostentatious ease. Her chromatic runs, particularly downwards, were beautifully smooth and staccatos almost unfailingly accurate, even in the trickiest intervals. There is hardly a bar in the whole range of nineteenth-century music for high soprano that seriously tested her powers." And as she demonstrated in the finale of La sonnambula on the commercial EMI set and the live recording from Cologne, she was able to execute a diminuendo on the stratospheric high E-flat, which Scott describes as "a feat unrivaled in the history of the gramophone."

Regarding Callas's soft singing, Celletti says, "In these soft passages, Callas seemed to use another voice altogether, because it acquired a great sweetness. Whether in her florid singing or in her canto spianato, that is, in long held notes without ornamentation, her mezza voce could achieve such moving sweetness that the sound seemed to come from on high ... I don't know, it seemed to come from the skylight of La Scala."

This combination of size, weight, range and agility was a source of amazement to Callas's own contemporaries. One of the choristers present at her La Scala debut in I vespri siciliani recalled, "My God! She came on stage sounding like our deepest contralto, Cloe Elmo. And before the evening was over, she took a high E-flat. And it was twice as strong as Toti Dal Monte's!" In the same vein, mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato said: "The first time we sang together was in Mexico in 1950, where she sang the top E-flat in the second-act finale of Aida. I can still remember the effect of that note in the opera house—it was like a star!" For Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi, "the most fantastic thing was the possibility for her to sing the soprano coloratura with this big voice! This was something really special. Fantastic absolutely!"

Callas's vocal registers, however, were not seamlessly joined; Walter Legge writes, "Unfortunately, it was only in quick music, particularly descending scales, that she completely mastered the art of joining the three almost incompatible voices into one unified whole, but until about 1960, she disguised those audible gear changes with cunning skill."

As to whether these troublesome spots were due to the nature of the voice itself or to technical deficiencies, Celletti says: "Even if, when passing from one register to another, Callas produced an unpleasant sound, the technique she used for these transitions was perfect." Musicologist and critic Fedele D'Amico [it] adds, "Callas's 'faults' were in the voice and not in the singer; they are so to speak, faults of departure but not of arrival. This is precisely Celletti's distinction between the natural quality of the voice and the technique." In 2005, Ewa Podleś said of Callas, "Maybe she had three voices, maybe she had three ranges, I don't know—I am a professional singer. Nothing disturbed me, nothing! I bought everything that she offered me. Why? Because all of her voices, her registers, she used how they should be used—just to tell us something!"

Eugenio Gara states, "Much has been said about her voice, and no doubt the discussion will continue. Certainly no one could in honesty deny the harsh or "squashed" sounds, nor the wobble on the very high notes. These and others were precisely the accusations made at the time against Pasta and Malibran, two geniuses of song (as they were then called), sublime, yet imperfect. Both were brought to trial in their day. ... Yet few singers have made history in the annals of opera as these two did."


Callas's own thoughts regarding music and singing can be found at Wikiquote.

The musician

Visconti Callas 1957
Callas getting ready with the help of Luchino Visconti in Milan, 1957

Though adored by many opera enthusiasts, Callas was a controversial artist. While Callas was the great singer often dismissed simply as an actress she considered herself foremost a musician, that is, the first instrument of the orchestra." Grace Bumbry has stated, "If I followed the musical score when she was singing, I would see every tempo marking, every dynamic marking, everything being adhered to, and at the same time, it was not antiseptic; it was something that was very beautiful and moving." Victor de Sabata confided to Walter Legge , "If the public could understand, as we do, how deeply and utterly musical Callas is, they would be stunned", and Serafin assessed Callas's musicality as "extraordinary, almost frightening." Callas possessed an innate architectural sense of line-proportion and an uncanny feel for timing and for what one of her colleagues described as "a sense of the rhythm within the rhythm".

Regarding Callas's technical prowess, Celletti says, "We must not forget that she could tackle the whole gamut of ornamentation: staccato, trills, half-trills, gruppetti, scales, etc." D'Amico adds, "The essential virtue of Callas's technique consists of supreme mastery of an extraordinarily rich range of tone colour (that is, the fusion of dynamic range and timbre). And such mastery means total freedom of choice in its use: not being a slave to one's abilities, but rather, being able to use them at will as a means to an end."

In addition to her musical skills, Callas had a particular gift for language and the use of language in music. In recitatives, she always knew which word to emphasize and which syllable in that word to bring out. Michael Scott notes, "If we listen attentively, we note how her perfect legato enables her to suggest by musical means even the exclamation marks and commas of the text." Technically, not only did she have the capacity to perform the most difficult florid music effortlessly, but also she had the ability to use each ornament as an expressive device rather than for mere fireworks. Soprano Martina Arroyo states, "What interested me most was how she gave the runs and the cadenzas words. That always floored me. I always felt I heard her saying something—it was never just singing notes. That alone is an art."

The actress

Maria Callas as Guilia
Maria Callas as Giulia in the Opera "La Vestale", by Gaspare Spontini, 1954

Regarding Callas's acting ability, vocal coach and music critic Ira Siff remarked, "When I saw the final two Toscas she did in the old [Met], I felt like I was watching the actual story on which the opera had later been based." Callas was not, however, a realistic or verismo style actress: her physical acting was merely "subsidiary to the heavy Kunst of developing the psychology of the roles under the supervision of the music, of singing the acting... Suffering, delight, humility, hubris, despair, rhapsody—all this was musically appointed, through her use of the voice flying the text upon the notes." Seconding this opinion, verismo specialist soprano Augusta Oltrabella said, "Despite what everyone says, [Callas] was an actress in the expression of the music, and not vice versa."

Ewa Podleś likewise stated that "It's enough to hear her, I'm positive! Because she could say everything only with her voice! I can imagine everything, I can see everything in front of my eye." Opera director Sandro Sequi, who witnessed many Callas performances close-up, states, "For me, she was extremely stylized and classic, yet at the same time, human—but humanity on a higher plane of existence, almost sublime. Realism was foreign to her, and that is why she was the greatest of opera singers. After all, opera is the least realistic of theater forms... She was wasted in verismo roles, even Tosca, no matter how brilliantly she could act such roles." Scott adds, "Early nineteenth-century opera... is not merely the antithesis of reality, it also requires highly stylized acting. Callas had the perfect face for it. Her big features matched its grandiloquence and spoke volumes from a distance."

In regard to Callas's physical acting style, Nicola Rescigno states, "Maria had a way of even transforming her body for the exigencies of a role, which is a great triumph. In La traviata, everything would slope down; everything indicated sickness, fatigue, softness. Her arms would move as if they had no bones, like the great ballerinas. In Medea, everything was angular. She'd never make a soft gesture; even the walk she used was like a tiger's walk." Sandro Sequi recalls, "She was never in a hurry. Everything was very paced, proportioned, classical, precise... She was extremely powerful but extremely stylized. Her gestures were not many... I don't think she did more than 20 gestures in a performance. But she was capable of standing 10 minutes without moving a hand or finger, compelling everyone to look at her." Edward Downes recalled Callas watching and observing her colleagues with such intensity and concentration as to make it seem that the drama was all unfolding in her head. Sir Rudolf Bing similarly recalled that in Il trovatore in Chicago, "it was Callas's quiet listening, rather than Björling's singing that made the dramatic impact... He didn't know what he was singing, but she knew."

The artist

Maria Callas 1959 Amsterdam
Callas acknowledges applause in 1959 at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam

Callas's most distinguishing quality was her ability to breathe life into the characters she portrayed, or in the words of Matthew Gurewitsch, "Most mysterious among her many gifts, Callas had the genius to translate the minute particulars of a life into tone of voice."

Ethan Mordden writes, "It was a flawed voice. But then Callas sought to capture in her singing not just beauty but a whole humanity, and within her system, the flaws feed the feeling, the sour plangency and the strident defiance becoming aspects of the canto. They were literally defects of her voice; she bent them into advantages of her singing." Giulini believes, "If melodrama is the ideal unity of the trilogy of words, music, and action, it is impossible to imagine an artist in whom these three elements were more together than Callas." He recalls that during Callas's performances of La traviata, "reality was onstage. What stood behind me, the audience, auditorium, La Scala itself, seemed artifice. Only that which transpired on stage was truth, life itself." Sir Rudolf Bing expressed similar sentiments:

Alleged Callas–Tebaldi rivalry

Renata Tebaldi-head&shoulders-1961
Callas's rival, Renata Tebaldi, 1961

During the early 1950s, an alleged rivalry arose between Callas and Renata Tebaldi, an Italian lyrico spinto soprano. The contrast between Callas's often unconventional vocal qualities and Tebaldi's classically beautiful sound resurrected an argument as old as opera itself, namely, beauty of sound versus the expressive use of sound.

In 1951, Tebaldi and Maria Callas were jointly booked for a vocal recital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Although the singers agreed that neither would perform encores, Tebaldi took two, and Callas was reportedly incensed. This incident began the rivalry, which reached a fever pitch in the mid-1950s, at times even engulfing the two women themselves, who were said by their more fanatical followers to have engaged in verbal barbs in each other's direction.

Tebaldi was quoted as saying, "I have one thing that Callas doesn't have: a heart" while Callas was quoted in Time magazine as saying that comparing her with Tebaldi was like "comparing Champagne with Cognac...No...with Coca Cola". However, witnesses to the interview stated that Callas had said only "champagne with cognac", and that it was a bystander who had quipped: "...No...with Coca-Cola." Nevertheless, the Time reporter attributed the latter comment to Callas.

According to John Ardoin, however, these two singers should never have been compared. Tebaldi was trained by Carmen Melis, a noted verismo specialist, and she was rooted in the early 20th century Italian school of singing just as firmly as Callas was rooted in 19th century bel canto. Callas was a dramatic soprano, whereas Tebaldi considered herself essentially a lyric soprano. Callas and Tebaldi generally sang a different repertoire: in the early years of her career, Callas concentrated on the heavy dramatic soprano roles and later in her career on the bel canto repertoire, whereas Tebaldi concentrated on late Verdi and verismo roles, where her limited upper extension and her lack of a florid technique were not issues. They shared a few roles, including Tosca in Puccini's opera and La Gioconda, which Tebaldi performed only late in her career.

The alleged rivalry aside, Callas made remarks appreciative of Tebaldi, and vice versa. During an interview with Norman Ross Jr. in Chicago, Callas said, "I admire Tebaldi's tone; it's beautiful—also some beautiful phrasing. Sometimes, I actually wish I had her voice." Francis Robinson of the Met wrote of an incident in which Tebaldi asked him to recommend a recording of La Gioconda in order to help her learn the role. Being fully aware of the alleged rivalry, he recommended Zinka Milanov's version. A few days later, he went to visit Tebaldi, only to find her sitting by the speakers, listening intently to Callas's recording. She then looked up at him and asked, "Why didn't you tell me Maria's was the best?"

Callas visited Tebaldi after a performance of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met in 1968, and the two were reunited.

Vocal decline

In the opinion of several singers, the heavy roles undertaken in her early years damaged Callas's voice. The mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato, Callas's close friend and frequent colleague, stated that she told Callas that she felt that the early heavy roles led to a weakness in the diaphragm and subsequent difficulty in controlling the upper register.

Louise Caselotti, who worked with Callas in 1946 and 1947, prior to her Italian debut, felt that it was not the heavy roles that hurt Callas's voice, but the lighter ones. Several singers have suggested that Callas's heavy use of the chest voice led to stridency and unsteadiness with the high notes. In his book, Callas's husband Meneghini wrote that Callas suffered an unusually early onset of menopause, which could have affected her voice. Soprano Carol Neblett once said, "A woman sings with her ovaries—you're only as good as your hormones."

Michael Scott has proposed that Callas's loss of strength and breath support was directly caused by her rapid and progressive weight loss, something that was noted even in her prime. Of her 1958 recital in Chicago, Robert Detmer wrote, "There were sounds fearfully uncontrolled, forced beyond the too-slim singer's present capacity to support or sustain."

Photos and videos of Callas during her heavy era show a very upright posture with the shoulders relaxed and held back. Of a television broadcast from May 1960 of a recital in Hamburg, The Opera Quarterly noted, "[W]e [can] watch ... the constantly sinking, depressed chest and hear the resulting deterioration". This continual change in posture has been cited as visual proof of a progressive loss of breath support.

Commercial and bootleg recordings of Callas from the late 1940s to 1953—the period during which she sang the heaviest dramatic soprano roles—show no decline in the fabric of the voice, no loss in volume and no unsteadiness or shrinkage in the upper register. Of her December 1952 Lady Macbeth—coming after five years of singing the most strenuous dramatic soprano repertoire—Peter Dragadze wrote for Opera, "Callas's voice since last season has improved a great deal, the second passagio on the high B-natural and C has now completely cleared, giving her an equally colored scale from top to bottom." And of her performance of Medea a year later, John Ardoin writes, "The performance displays Callas in as secure and free a voice as she will be found at any point in her career. The many top B's have a brilliant ring, and she handles the treacherous tessitura like an eager thoroughbred."

In recordings from 1954 (immediately after her 80-pound weight loss) and thereafter, "not only would the instrument lose its warmth and become thin and acidulous, but the altitudinous passages would to her no longer come easily." It was at this time that unsteady top notes first begin to appear. Walter Legge, who produced nearly all of Callas's EMI/Angel recordings, states that Callas "ran into a patch of vocal difficulties as early as 1954": during the recording of La forza del destino, done immediately after the weight loss, the "wobble had become so pronounced" that he told Callas they "would have to give away seasickness pills with every side".

There were others, however, who felt that the voice had benefitted from the weight loss. Of her performance of Norma in Chicago in 1954, Claudia Cassidy wrote that "there is a slight unsteadiness in some of the sustained upper notes, but to me her voice is more beautiful in color, more even through the range, than it used to be". And at her performance of the same opera in London in 1957 (her first performance at Covent Garden after the weight loss), critics again felt her voice had changed for the better, that it had now supposedly become a more precise instrument, with a new focus. Many of her most critically acclaimed appearances are from 1954–58 (Norma, La traviata, Sonnambula and Lucia of 1955, Anna Bolena of 1957, Medea of 1958, among others).

Тито Гобби. Москва.1970 г.
Tito Gobbi, 1970

In support of Gobbi's assertion, a bootleg recording of Callas rehearsing Beethoven's aria "Ah! perfido" and parts of Verdi's La forza del destino shortly before her death shows her voice to be in much better shape than much of her 1960s recordings and far healthier than the 1970s concerts with Giuseppe Di Stefano.

Callas herself attributed her problems to a loss of confidence brought about by a loss of breath support, even though she does not make the connection between her weight and her breath support.

Whether Callas's vocal decline was due to ill health, early menopause, over-use and abuse of her voice, loss of breath-support, loss of confidence, or weight loss will continue to be debated. Whatever the cause may have been, her singing career was effectively over by age 40, and even at the time of her death at age 53, according to Walter Legge, "she ought still to have been singing magnificently".

Fussi and Paolillo report

A 2010 study by Italian vocal researchers Franco Fussi and Nico Paolillo revealed Callas was very ill at the time of her death and her illness was related to her vocal deterioration. According to their findings, presented at the University of Bologna in 2010, Callas had dermatomyositis, a rare, connective tissue disease that causes a failure of the muscles and ligaments, including the larynx. They believe she was showing signs of this disease as early as the 1960s. Fussi and Paolillo cite an initial report by physician Mario Giacovazzo, who in 2002 revealed he had diagnosed Callas with dermatomyositis in 1975. Treatment included corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents, which affect heart function.

At an event hosted by the journal Il Saggiatore Musicale, Fussi and Paolillo presented documentation showing when and how her voice changed over time. Using modern audio technology, they analyzed live Callas studio recordings from the 1950s through the 1970s, looking for signs of deterioration. Spectrographic analysis showed that she was losing the top half of her range. Fussi observed video recordings in which Callas's posture seemed strained and weakened. He felt that her drastic weight loss in 1954 further contributed to reduced physical support of her voice.

Fussi and Paolillo also examined restored footage of the infamous 1958 Norma "walkout" in Rome, which led to harsh criticism of Callas as a temperamental superstar. By applying spectrographic analysis to that footage, the researchers observed her voice was tired and she lacked control. She really did have the bronchitis and tracheitis she claimed, and the dermatomyositis was already causing her muscles to deteriorate.

Onassis, final years, and death

Churchill and Maria Callas
Churchill with Maria Callas on Onassis' yacht in the late 50s

In 1957, while still married to husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Callas was introduced to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis at a party given in her honor by Elsa Maxwell after a performance in Donizetti's Anna Bolena. The affair that followed received much publicity in the popular press, and in November 1959, Callas left her husband. According to one of her biographers, Nicholas Gage, Callas and Onassis had a child, a boy, who died hours after he was born on March 30, 1960.

In 1966, Callas renounced her U.S. citizenship at the American Embassy in Paris, to facilitate the end of her marriage to Meneghini. Her relationship with Onassis ended two years later in 1968, when he left Callas for Jacqueline Kennedy. However, the Onassis family's private secretary, Kiki, writes in her memoir that even while Aristotle was with Jackie, he frequently met with Maria in Paris.

Avenue Georges-Mandel, 36, Paris 16
The last residence of Maria Callas, in Paris

Callas spent her last years living largely in isolation in Paris and died of a heart attack at age 53 on September 16, 1977.

A funerary liturgy was held at St Stephen's Greek Orthodox Cathedral on rue Georges-Bizet, Paris on September 20, 1977. She was later cremated at the Père Lachaise Cemetery and her ashes were placed in the columbarium there. After being stolen and later recovered, they were scattered over the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Greece, according to her wish, in the spring of 1979.


Maria Callas by Karuvits
Portrait of Callas (2004), by Oleg Karuvits

According to several Callas biographers, Vasso Devetzi, a female Greek pianist near the same age as Callas, insinuated herself into Callas's trust during her last years and acted virtually as her agent. This claim is corroborated by Iakintha (Jackie) Callas in her 1990 book Sisters, wherein she asserts that Devetzi conned Maria out of control of half of her estate, while promising to establish the Maria Callas Foundation to provide scholarships for young singers; after hundreds of thousands of dollars had allegedly vanished, Devetzi finally did establish the foundation.


Callas's stage repertoire includes the following roles:

Date (debut) Composer Opera Role(s) Location Notes
1942-04-22 Eugen d'Albert Tiefland (in Greek) Marta Olympia Theatre, Athens
1944-08-14 Ludwig van Beethoven Fidelio (in Greek) Leonore Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens
1948-11-30 Vincenzo Bellini Norma Norma Teatro Comunale Florence
1958-05-19 Vincenzo Bellini Il pirata Imogene Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1949-01-19 Vincenzo Bellini I puritani Elvira La Fenice, Venice
1955-03-05 Vincenzo Bellini La sonnambula Amina Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1964-07-05 Georges Bizet Carmen Carmen Salle Wagram, Paris Recording EMI
1954-07-15 Arrigo Boito Mefistofele Margherita Verona Arena
1953-05-07 Luigi Cherubini Medea Medea Teatro Comunale Florence
1957-04-14 Gaetano Donizetti Anna Bolena Anna Bolena Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1952-06-10 Gaetano Donizetti Lucia di Lammermoor Lucia di Lammermoor Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
1960-12-07 Gaetano Donizetti Poliuto Paolina Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1955-01-08 Umberto Giordano Andrea Chénier Maddalena di Coigny Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1956-05-21 Umberto Giordano Fedora Fedora Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1954-04-04 Christoph Willibald Gluck Alceste Alceste Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1957-06-01 Christoph Willibald Gluck Iphigénie en Tauride Iphigénie Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1951-06-09 Joseph Haydn Orfeo ed Euridice Euridice Teatro della Pergola, Florence
1943-02-19 Manolis Kalomiris O Protomastoras [el] Singer in the intermezzo Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens
1944-07-30 Manolis Kalomiris O Protomastoras [el] Smarágda Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens
1954-06-12 Ruggero Leoncavallo Pagliacci Nedda Teatro alla Scala, Milan Recording EMI
1939-04-02 Pietro Mascagni Cavalleria rusticana Santuzza Olympia Theatre, Athens
1945-09-05 Carl Millöcker Der Bettelstudent (in Greek) Laura Alexandras Avenue Theater, Athens
1952-04-02 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Entführung aus dem Serail (in Italian) Konstanze Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1947-08-02 Amilcare Ponchielli La Gioconda La Gioconda Verona Arena
1955-11-11 Giacomo Puccini Madama Butterfly Cio-cio-san Civic Opera House, Chicago
1957-07-18 Giacomo Puccini Manon Lescaut Manon Lescaut Teatro alla Scala, Milan Recording EMI
1940-06-16 Giacomo Puccini Suor Angelica Suor Angelica Athens Conservatoire
1948-01-29 Giacomo Puccini Turandot Turandot La Fenice, Venice
1956-08-20 Giacomo Puccini La bohème Mimi Teatro alla Scala, Milan Recording EMI
1942-08-27 Giacomo Puccini Tosca Tosca Olympia Theatre, Athens
1952-04-26 Gioachino Rossini Armida Armida Teatro Comunale Florence
1956-02-16 Gioachino Rossini Il barbiere di Siviglia Rosina Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1950-10-19 Gioachino Rossini Il turco in Italia Donna Fiorilla Teatro Eliseo, Rome
1954-12-07 Gaspare Spontini La vestale Giulia Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1937-01-28 Arthur Sullivan H.M.S. Pinafore Ralph Rackstraw New York P.S. 164 School presentation
1936 Arthur Sullivan The Mikado Unknown New York P.S. 164 School presentation
1941-02-15 Franz von Suppé Boccaccio (in Greek) Beatrice Olympia Theatre, Athens
1948-09-18 Giuseppe Verdi Aida Aida Teatro Regio (Turin)
1954-04-12 Giuseppe Verdi Don Carlo Elisabetta di Valois Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1948-04-17 Giuseppe Verdi La forza del destino Leonora di Vargas Politeama Rossetti, Trieste
1952-12-07 Giuseppe Verdi Macbeth Lady Macbeth Teatro alla Scala, Milan
1949-12-20 Giuseppe Verdi Nabucco Abigaile Teatro San Carlo, Naples
1952-06-17 Giuseppe Verdi Rigoletto Gilda Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
1951-01-14 Giuseppe Verdi La traviata Violetta Valéry Teatro Comunale Florence
1950-06-20 Giuseppe Verdi Il trovatore Leonora Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
1951-05-26 Giuseppe Verdi I vespri siciliani La duchessa Elena Teatro Comunale Florence
1949-02-26 Richard Wagner Parsifal (in Italian) Kundry Teatro dell'Opera, Rome
1947-12-30 Richard Wagner Tristan und Isolde (in Italian) Isolde La Fenice, Venice
1949-01-08 Richard Wagner Die Walküre (in Italian) Brünnhilde La Fenice, Venice

Notable recordings

All recordings are in mono unless otherwise indicated. Live performances are typically available on multiple labels. In 2014, Warner Classics (formerly EMI Classics) released the Maria Callas Remastered Edition, consisting of her complete studio recordings totaling 39 albums in a boxed set remastered at Abbey Road Studios in 24-bit/96 kHz digital sound from original master tapes.

  • Verdi, Nabucco, conducted by Vittorio Gui, live performance, Napoli, December 20, 1949
  • Verdi, Il trovatore, conducted by Guido Picco, live performance, Mexico City, June 20, 1950. In the aria "D'amor sull'ali rosee", Callas sings Verdi's original high D flat, likewise in her 1951 San Carlo performance.
  • Wagner, Parsifal, live performance conducted by Vittorio Gui, RAI Rome, November 20/21, 1950 (Italian)
  • Verdi, Il trovatore, live performance conducted by Tullio Serafin, Teatro San Carlo, Naples, January 27, 1951
  • Verdi, Les vêpres siciliennes, live performance conducted by Erich Kleiber, Teatro Comunale Florence, May 26, 1951 (Italian)
  • Verdi, Aida, conducted by Oliviero De Fabritiis, live performance, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, July 3, 1951
  • Rossini, Armida, live performance, Tullio Serafin, Teatro Comunale Florence, April 26, 1952
  • Ponchielli, La Gioconda, conducted by Antonino Votto, studio recording for Cetra Records, September 1952
  • Bellini, Norma, conducted by Vittorio Gui, live performance, Covent Garden, London, November 18, 1952
  • Verdi, Macbeth, conducted by Victor de Sabata, live performance, La Scala, Milan, December 7, 1952
  • Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, January–February 1953
  • Verdi, Il trovatore, live performance conducted by Votto, La Scala February 23, 1953
  • Bellini, I puritani, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, March–April 1953
  • Cherubini, Médée, live performance conducted by Vittorio Gui, Teatro Comunale, Florence, May 7, 1953 (Italian)
  • Mascagni, Cavalleria rusticana, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, August 1953
  • Puccini, Tosca (1953 EMI recording), conducted by Victor de Sabata, studio recording for EMI, August 1953.
  • Verdi, La traviata, conducted by Gabriele Santini, studio recording for Cetra Records, September 1953
  • Cherubini, Médée, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, live performance, La Scala, Milan, December 10, 1953 (Italian)
  • Bellini, Norma, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, April–May 1954
  • Gluck, Alceste, Carlo Maria Giulini, La Scala, Milan, April 4, 1954 (Italian)
  • Leoncavallo, Pagliacci, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, June 1954
  • Verdi, La forza del destino, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, August 1954
  • Rossini, Il turco in Italia, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, studio recording for EMI, August–September 1954
  • Puccini Arias (excerpts from Manon Lescaut, La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi, Turandot), conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, September 1954
  • Lyric & Coloratura Arias (excerpts from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, Verdi's I vespri siciliani, Meyerbeer's Dinorah, Boito's Mefistofele, Delibes's Lakmé, Catalani's La Wally, Giordano's Andrea Chénier, Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur), conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, September 1954
  • Spontini, La vestale, conducted by Antonino Votto, live performance, La Scala, Milan, December 7, 1954 (Italian)
  • Verdi, La traviata, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, live performance, La Scala, Milan, May 28, 1955
  • Callas at La Scala (excerpts from Cherubini's Médée, Spontini's La vestale, Bellini's La sonnambula), conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, June 1955
  • Puccini, Madama Butterfly, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, studio recording for EMI, August 1955
  • Verdi, Aida, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, August 1955
  • Verdi, Rigoletto, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, September 1955
  • Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, live performance, Berlin, September 29, 1955
  • Bellini, Norma, conducted by Antonino Votto, live performance, La Scala, Milan, December 7, 1955
  • Verdi, Il trovatore, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, studio recording for EMI, August 1956
  • Puccini, La bohème, conducted by Antonino Votto, studio recording for EMI, August–September 1956. Like her recordings of Pagliacci, Manon Lescaut and Carmen, this was her only performance of the complete opera, as she never appeared onstage in it.
  • Verdi, Un ballo in maschera, conducted by Antonino Votto, studio recording for EMI, September 1956
  • Rossini, Il barbiere di Siviglia, conducted by Alceo Galliera, studio recording for EMI in stereo, February 1957
  • Bellini, La sonnambula, conducted by Antonino Votto, studio recording for EMI, March 1957
  • Donizetti, Anna Bolena, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, live performance, La Scala, Milan, April 14, 1957
  • Gluck, Iphigénie en Tauride, La Scala Milan, Sanzogno, June 1, 1957 (Italian)
  • Bellini, La sonnambula, conducted by Antonino Votto, live performance, Cologne, July 4, 1957
  • Puccini, Turandot, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, July 1957
  • Puccini, Manon Lescaut, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI, July 1957.
  • Cherubini, Médée, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for Ricordi in stereo, September 1957 (Italian)
  • Verdi, Un ballo in maschera, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, live performance, La Scala, Milan, December 7, 1957
  • Verdi, La traviata, conducted by Franco Ghione, live performance, Lisbon, March 27, 1958
  • Verdi, La traviata, conducted by Nicola Rescigno, live performance, London, June 20, 1958; considered by many critics to be Callas's most notable recording of Verdi's famous opera. Music critic John Ardoin wrote that in this performance "Callas' use of her voice to expressive ends amounts to an amalgamation of the best in previous Traviatas. For even though her voice betrays her at times, her intellect and spirit have now conquered the part in a manner that outdistances all others."
  • Verdi Heroines (excerpts from Nabucco, Ernani, Macbeth, Don Carlo), conducted by Nicola Rescigno, studio recording for EMI in stereo, September 1958
  • Mad Scenes (excerpts from Anna Bolena, Bellini's Il pirata and Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet), conducted by Nicola Rescigno, studio recording for EMI in stereo, September 1958
  • Cherubini, Médée conducted by Nicola Rescigno, live performance at the Dallas Civic Opera November 6, 1958; considered to be Callas's most notable performance of Cherubini's opera. (Italian)
  • Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI in stereo, March 1959
  • Ponchielli, La Gioconda, conducted by Antonino Votto, studio recording for EMI in stereo, September 1959
  • Bellini, Norma, conducted by Tullio Serafin, studio recording for EMI in stereo, September 1960
  • Callas à Paris (excerpts from Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, Alceste, Thomas's Mignon, Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, Bizet's Carmen, Saint-Saëns's Samson and Delilah, Massenet's Le Cid, Charpentier's Louise), conducted by Georges Prêtre, studio recording for EMI in stereo, March–April 1961
  • Callas à Paris II (excerpts from Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, Berlioz's La damnation de Faust, Gounod's Faust, Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, Massenet's Manon, Werther), conducted by Georges Prêtre, studio recording for EMI in stereo, May 1963
  • Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber (excerpts from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Weber's Oberon), conducted by Nicola Rescigno, studio recording for EMI in stereo, December 1963 – January 1964
  • Rossini and Donizetti Arias (excerpts from Rossini's La Cenerentola, Semiramide, Guglielmo Tell, Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, Lucrezia Borgia, La figlia del reggimento), conducted by Nicola Rescigno, studio recording for EMI in stereo, December 1963 – April 1964
  • Verdi Arias (excerpts from Aroldo, Don Carlo, Otello), conducted by Nicola Rescigno, studio recording for EMI in stereo, December 1963 – April 1964
  • Puccini, Tosca, conducted by Carlo Felice Cillario, live performance, London, January 24, 1964
  • Bizet, Carmen, conducted by Georges Prêtre, studio recording for EMI in stereo, July 1964. It is her only performance of the role, and her only performance of the complete opera; she never appeared in it onstage. The recording used the recitatives added after Bizet's death. Callas's performance caused critic Harold C. Schonberg to speculate in his book The Glorious Ones that Callas perhaps should have sung mezzo roles instead of simply soprano ones.
  • Puccini, Tosca, conducted by Georges Prêtre, studio recording for EMI in stereo, December 1964.
  • Verdi Arias II (excerpts from I Lombardi, Attila, Il corsaro, Il trovatore, I vespri siciliani, Un ballo in maschera, Aida), conducted by Nicola Rescigno, studio recording for EMI in stereo, January 1964 – March 1969

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Maria Callas para niños

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