Amanda Dardanis takes a look behind the scenes at Athens’ captivating new Maria Callas tribute and discovers why “La Divina” is still a potent symbol, even for our troubled times.
Maria Callas was the ultimate industry disruptor.
Born, Cecilia Sophia Anna Maria Kalogeropoulos in New York City on December 2, 1923, “La Divina” helped to redefine opera in the 20th century in such signature roles as Tosca, Norma and La Traviata. Her 1951 Aida in Mexico where she hit the top E-flat is still hailed as one of the greatest operatic moments of all time.
‘The 19th century belonged to Wagner. The 20th was Callas’,’ agrees Fotis Papathanassiou, curator of Athens’ major new Maria Callas Exhibition – The Myth Lives On – at the Theocharakis Foundation.
‘Because after Callas, no woman in opera could continue to do the same thing that they had done before when they played Juliet or Floria (in Tosca).’
‘Callas had the perfect phrasings and the perfect expressions – and her presence, of course, was a gift from God,’ Mr. Papathanassiou tells Insider.
The Theocharakis Foundation’s unmissable tribute to the most famous Greek woman of modern times has just opened its doors (May 11), presenting a tantalizing birds-eye view of more than two hundred of Callas’ personal belongings.
The sumptuous exhibition features theater costumes from some of her most unforgettable roles, stunning vintage dresses from Biki, the Milanese stylist who fashioned the ‘Callas look’ during the Milan years, furniture, jewelry, handwritten letters, letters by relatives, friends and artists … all creating a narrative that records the life of the tragic and lyrical icon with the celestial voice who went on to become one of the great divas of her time.
The largest number of objects comes from the impressive collection of Nikos Charalambopoulos, a menagerie of great emotional value that the collector managed to gather transecting Callas’ most important years.
From her first major international roles – where Callas, in order to more easily grasp her role, had written on the libretto her Greek translation. To her favorite golden cross that she had been wearing when she died, and that would have been lost in her funeral pile had it not been removed at the last moment by a relative.
Among other fascinating Callas memorabilia, there are the gloves from Viscount’s iconic La Traviata, dresses from her recitals, her first identity card, her passport and her death certificate, her hair piece that she gave to her favorite butler, and her first autograph signed at the age of 15. You can read over her hand-written agenda containing addresses and telephones of all the celebrities associated with her at the time, as well as peruse her albums containing many personal photos and letters from well-known conductors, directors and personalities such as Gray Kelly, the Duchess of Windsor and Laurence Olivier.
There are also riveting remnants from her stormy decade-long affair with Aristotle Onassis (including some of the items the shipping tycoon gave her such as paintings, furniture, objects from his yacht “Christina” and designer accessories she wore to parties with him like Gucci bags, Bulgari jewelry and hats).
To highlight the enduring relevance of Callas as an international icon, Mr. Papathanassiou cites her appearance in Steve Job’s famously successful “Think Different” poster campaign of the 90s for Apple that also starred the likes of John Lennon, Amelia Earhart, Picasso and Bob Dylan and did so much to resurrect the ailing brand.
‘Even for someone not inclined towards classical music, like Jobs, Callas was the symbol of excellence and fire. She became master of herself and she created an enduring image.
‘And in these times of crisis, she is also an example for today of how by fighting hard and being resilient, you can reach excellence and thrive in an international scene, coveted by all.’
Maria Callas: The Myth Lives On runs from May 15 until October 29, at B & M THEOCHARAKIS FOUNDATION, Vasillissis Sofias 9 & Merlin 1, tel: 210.361.1206, www.thf.gr
Insider Weekly, May 17, 2017.