When I was 16 years old- I passed the window of a music shop and saw a display for a new recording of Maria Callas. On the cover was a beautiful shot of her full length.
My First Opera Recording.
I pestered my mother for the money to buy it and after a while she agreed.
I would never listen to the record on out home record player but asked our neighbor that had a new stereo system if I cold play it on his. Whenever I felt the need I would walk over to their house and ask permission from his wife to listen to my favorite aria "Ocean thy Mighty Monster" from Weber's "Oberon" .
Callas as "Tosca"
Callas as "Tosca"
Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi in "TOSCA"
I loved the dramatic quality of her voice .It was a later recording and the voice was rather wild and unsupported and had a wobble on the high notes -but she personified to me -what "opera" was supposed to be and sound like.
Callas and Onassis.
Elizabeth Taylor ,Maria Callas ,Richard Burton and Baron Alexis de Redé.
A friend from college bought her latest recording of "Carmen" and this even got me hooked further on this great singer.
Maria Callas was born in New York from Greek parents. She was a rather over weight young lady but after her debut at the Arena di Verona and her marriage to a Veronese business man Giovanni Battista Meneghini -she started to loose weight and "the ugly duckling became a swan" -and she became the star of the opera world.
After ten years of marriage to Meneghini she separated from him and started a relationship with Aristotle Onassis that ended about 9 years later when he married Jacqueline Kennedy .
She stopped singing in the early 60's when she met Onassis and then gave some come-back concerts with Giuseppe di Stefano in the early 70's.
One day while we were waiting for some singer to appear after a opera performance at Covent Garden a guy on line told me that Giuseppe di Stefano was giving a recital the next evening at the Festival Hall. Callas was traveling with him and would most probably be there as well.
Maria Callas and Sir David Webster of ROH
When we got home I called the Dorchester Hotel and asked to speak to Madame Callas.
The operator made the mistake to tell me that she was out -but could he take a message.
I was thrilled- I knew she was in town and that she would most probably be at the di Stefano's recital. I went over to the Festival Hall rather early and waited at the stage door. There were several photographers and they told me that they follow her all over to get a photo of her and Onassis. Although she was having a relationship with di Stefano at that time , it was rumored that she had contact with Onassis again after his marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy.
A photo of her and Onassis would be worth a fortune.
Painting of Maria Callas in La Scala
We waited and waited. Some fans were there with her recordings that they wanted her to sign.
At 7:55 pm just before the concert was to start a black limousine turned in to the stage door area- but kept going. It took another turn and then it came back and stopped. Eventually Di Stefano appeared and then turned back to help Callas out of the car. I was mesmerized when I saw her .I was to scared to blink and miss something.
Callas and Di Stefano .
She looked like Callas was supposed to look ! Her hair was pulled back and swept up .She had the famous Callas eye make up -and wore a black dress with a white mink jacket and beautiful jewelry. She looked magnificent - and every inch the diva.
Both of them looked very nervous (as he was past his prime) and she refused to sign any albums and just said "No" when the fans asked her. They were escorted into the backstage area of the Festival Hall .As luck will have it I was standing right next to a window that gave me a view on the elevator area where they stood waiting .Callas came and stood about three feet from the window so I had about 30 seconds to see her up close. I walked on air for the next couple of hours.
Callas as Medea.
Callas with Di Stefano
Di Stefano and Callas.
A few months later it was announced that Callas would join di Stefano in two concerts at the Festival Hall in London. After that they would go to Hamburg in Germany and then have a world tour.
The tickets for the London performances would be sold by lottery and Neil and I applied .
We got tickets for the second performance. A week later it was announced that the first performance was cancelled and they would only sing the second performance! We were in for November 26 1973
It was with great anticipation that we took out seats that evening. We saw Elizabeth Schwarzkopf in the audience and when somebody asked her to sign the program she refused and said "No -tonight is Madame Callas's night" I thought that was very nice of her to do that.
We also saw Jesse Norman that made her debut at Covent Garden an few weeks before.
Everybody in the opera world that could get in- was there!
When Callas and di Stefano walked onto stage of the packed Festival Hall- the place exploded- and the applause went on for minutes .Callas was very emotional ..She wore a white long sleeved high neck gown with a navy cape that was thrown over one should. On her ears she had big pearl drop earrings .She looked magnificent but very nervous and she clung to di Stefano for courage.
When they started to sing one felt a great sadness.Di Stefano was shouting and Callas sounded like a boy singing in falsetto- No volume and the weak parts of the voice very exposed .
One was wondering why did she ever agree do this? Gone was the tiger in her that was scared of nobody or anything. She was so hungry for approval that it had many around us in tears.
Ivor Newton -the accompanist was in his 80's- and that did not help either.
The choice of arias and duets were also very strange -duets from Verdi and Bizet that needed an orchestra. Singing with an orchestra might have been a better choice but with the piano accompaniment every part of the voice was exposed...nothing to help or cover.
As a encore Maria Callas sang" Oh Mio Bambino Caro"and she gave it her all .
There one could hear traces of the magic of the voice. One felt she poured out her soul -as she did not need to save the voice any longer that evening.
Here is the full concert:-
The applause at the end of the concert went on and on -and the stage was covered with flowers. They both were very relieved that it was behind them and enjoyed the adulation. People went up close to stage, and she shook hands with some of the audience. I am proud to say that I was one of them that she touched...On a interview on TV the next day Callas tried to make the best of the performance, but one could see that she was tortured about it -and did not believe the hoopla herself.
The next week they went on to Hamburg where Elizabeth Taylor upstage them by walking into the concert 15 minutes after it started.
Callas, di Stefano, Taylor.
They kept giving concerts all over the world -the last being in Japan on November 11 1974.
That was the last time Maria Callas's voice was heard in public.
A reclusive diva looking from her window at 36, rue Georges Mandel.
She died three years later in Paris -on September 16 1977 at the age of 53.