Divina Maria Callas

Maria Callas died on September 16, 42 years ago, yet she is as present as ever.  Her singing was one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century.

I delight in her interpretation of Lucia di Lammermoor; the duet with the flute is still unmatched (in my humble opinion). In “Quando Rapito in Estasi..” I think a bird on a hot summer day could not have sung any better. Or in “Spargi d’amaro il pianto” she can simply move to tears with her sad singing. Her capacity to transmit emotions was uncomparable. 

Her Ties to Verona

Maria Callas arrived in Verona from America in 1947. In New York, she met Giovanni Zenatello, artistic director of the Arena of Verona, in the United States in search of new singers for the opera festival. Giovanni Zenatello hires her to play La Gioconda. Eventually, she meets Giovan Battista Meneghini, a rich industrialist from Verona, a great opera lover who immediately falls in love with her, offering to become her agent. 

It is only in 1949 that fame comes. She is in fact called at the last moment to replace Margherita Carosio, indisposed, in I Puritani at Fenice in Venice. It is a resounding success, Callas is now heading for a brilliant career. In 1950 she made her debut at La Scala and a long period of success began.

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The marriage

Meanwhile, after a long and insistent court, Maria Callas decides to marry Giovan Battista Meneghini. The marriage is celebrated in the sacristy of the Church of the Filippini in Verona. Maria, of Greek Orthodox religion, had not wanted to convert to Catholicism. Meneghini leaves the management of the family brick company and devotes himself full time to his wife’s career.

Maria Callas in Zevio

Villa Meneghini in Zevio is the house where Maria Callas lived her Veronese years. When not engaged, Maria Callas lives in her husband’s villa in Zevio, in the Verona countryside. Maria Callas’ years in Zevio were peaceful years. She practiced her arias in the park of Villa Meneghini accompanied by the piano and drinking iced lemonade. The people of the town climb up ladders leaning against the wall surrounding the park to listen to her. When she was not too busy she devoted herself to cooking, learning to prepare some typical dishes of Veronese cuisine like pearà and risotto!

In the town, together with her husband, she attends the “Sports bar on Piazza Santa Toscana and the “Commercio bar on Piazza Marconi. Today, the municipality of Zevio, together with the Maria Callas Foundation launched an ambitious project to honor the memory of the “Divina” in the lower Veronese country. A museum was inaugurated on December 2008, and further projects as an auditorium to hold concerts related to the Arena season and opera events. In the splendid park where Callas used to try her opera arias, a bronze statue of Maria Callas has been placed.

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Maria Callas in Sirmione

In the summer, in the increasingly rare moments of vacation, Maria Callas and her husband spent a few weeks of vacation in the villa in the heart of Sirmione, on Lake Garda, far from the mundane clamor. 

In Sirmione Maria Callas arrived for the first time in ’52, the locals still remember her as a simple person, friendly with everyone. She would stopped to have a drink at the Caffé Grand Italia. 

In 1959 Maria Callas meets Aristotle Onassis, leaves her husband and begins that troubled love story that we all know, and the rest is history!

Maria Callas never returns to Sirmione, but it seems that she was always a bit nostalgic for Lake Garda. 

Today, in Sirmione, in the heart of the peninsula jutting out into the lake, the villa where Callas spent happy moments stands out elegant and solitary. 

Likewise in Verona, the places where Maria Callas began her career, lived, loved, sang, can still be visited today, both in Verona and in the province. For information on itineraries and guided tours:

info@veronissima.com

In remembering her my grateful thanks to the unforgettable Maria Calas for her incomparable singing. 

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6 Comments

  1. …though something of a ruin, her voice. And then… that penultimate Tosca recorded with Gobbi (scarpia) where though her voice had already lost a little bit of that other worldly musical convey, a layer of emotional delivery had been added… so the vissi d’arte (and that last muori!) … sort of like big lucio’s vincero’, no real compare. (ie, Michael Jordan. Beethoven. Michelangelo….)

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    1. Hi Tonno
      Once I was at a presentation of Greatest Opera singers of all times by the Smithsonian in Washington, the presenter/curator compared Joan Sutherland and Callas in Lucia. Almost everybody agreed on the great mastery of Joan. And indeed no doubt about it. However, I did went against everybody and made a point in favor of Callas:
      Sutherland was a no-nonsense woman, no particular Hart-breaking events shattered her life. She was a woman “in charge.” And her voice conveys that. However, “Lucia” was not at all “a woman in charge”, she was impressionable and passionate. Callas was able to convey all those emotions with her voice. She was a great actress too.
      There was a debate that in Callas performance you could hear her breathing during one if the arias, but it was also said that Callas did that in purpose—surely she knew how to sing properly—to give a better impression of a young woman in distress.
      I love her!

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  2. …yeah. And though for some roles it wasn’t an a-priori advantage, ie mimi, where you need a certain pure warmth or warm force and pitch-on a la Freni, to convey certain elements…most of the time, ie la norma, tosca, ecc…. it’s not comparable. Like.. And then she does have that Tosca recording, one of those rare moments.. like Maradona’s goal, Petrucciani’s bootleg solo of ‘les grelots,’ a Valentini private Montepulciano d’Abruzzo blend, a Kleiber’s conducting the 7th (LvB)… timeless expressions, and in its way, perfect.

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