Maria Callas by Bernardus Holtrop
Maria Callas is like Michelangelo. Her music is so monumental that there's always something about it to write.
Read on this page a chronological biography, view movies and read the latest news.
Official - Unofficial
December, the 2nd: Maria Anna Sophie Cecilia Kalogeropoulos was born in New York. She was the daughter of a Greek couple, Evangelina Dimitriadis and George Kalogeropoulos who were emigrated from Greece to Long Island New York, in August of 1923.Maria's parents wanted a male baby, to remedy the tragic loss of their son Vasily, who died when he was only 3 years old, in 1923, during a Typhus epidemic. When Maria's mother knew that she had given birth to a daughter, in the first days she refused to even see Maria, and her father did not register her.
1928Maria was struck by a car in 192nd Street (in Manhattan) when she was 5 years old, and she stayed in a coma for 22 days before recovering.
George Kalogeropoulos sets up a pharmacy in a Greek quarter of Manhattan and changes the family name to Callas.Maria had a sister six years elder, Jakinthy said "Jackie", who was home's favourite: for some years only Jackie was taught singing and piano. Maria was forced to listen at the lessons behind the door, but succeeded in learning smoothly what her sister learned with difficulty.
Maria is given her first pianoforte lessons. Later in life she is able to study all her roles at the pianoforte without the help of a "repetiteur".
1934When she was 11 she participated to a radio broadcast for amateur singers, singing "La Paloma" and winning the second prize (a Bulova watch).
1936At the end of 1936 Maria's mother decided to return to Greece, actually separating from her husband, and Maria suffered a lot, because she was more tied to her father.
Her parents separated. Evangelia returns in Greece with her two daughters and changes the name of the family back to Kalogeropoulos.Maria's first love was "Carmen", and she was always singing the "Habanera", but she alternated to it "Je suis Titania" from "Mignon", to "keep every road open", she said. Maria sailed back to Greece in early February 1937, aboard the Italian ship "Saturnia". Her only companions during the long trip (about one month) were the three little birds David, Stephanakos and Elmina. It is said that she practiced singing with them, even palpating their throats to understand their secrets.
Maria Kalogeropoulos is admitted to the National Conservatoire in Athens despite being younger than the minimum age requirement of 16, and begins her studies under Maria Trivella.Her study at Athens's National Conservatory under Mrs. Trivella wasn't particularly valuable: later in her life she remembered that period as a total loss of time, and she stated that her beloved Canary bird, David, taught her much more...
April 11: Appears with fellow students in first public recital.
Maria's debut was when she was only fifteen years old, in 1938 as Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. She was still studying at the National Conservatory.
April 2 Maria makes her stage debut as Santuzza in a student production of "Cavalleria Rusticana" and wins the Conservatoire’s prize. Elvira de Hidalgo becomes Maria’s teacher at the Conservatoire and concentrates on coloratura training.
October, the 21st: First engagement with the Lyric Theatre company, singing songs in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice at the Royal Theatre in Athens.Being very short-sighted (because of myopia) forced her to make strenuous memory efforts: all her career long she interpreted dozens of Operas being unable to see the Conductor. To avoid failing the attacks she was so forced to learn even other characters' parts!
January, the 21st: Makes her professional operatic debut as Beatrice in "Boccaccio" at the Palas Cinema with the Lyric Theatre company with whom she will sing in ""Tosca"", "Tiefland", "Cavalleria Rusticana", "Fidelio", and "Der Bettelstudent" during the next four years.
August, the 27th: She sings "Tosca" for the first time in Greek at an open-air performance at the Park Summer Theatre Kaftmonos Square.In spite of Athens's debut and of her immortal interpretations of the role, she was never convinced by Tosca's character. She said: "In the first act Tosca is only a jealous woman always complaining. The second act stands on Vissi d'arte, which I think should be cut from the opera, because it completely blocks the flow of the action in the entire act."(!!)
The occupying forces lose control over Greece and the British fleet arrives in Piraeus. Maria Kalogeropoulos decides to returns to the USA and find her father.Maria was quite forced to return to America, as the US Embassy threatened to cancel her citizenship if she didn't return. When back in America she hoped to work, but she was denied many auditions, even the one with Toscanini, promised by Nicola Moscona when she was still a student in Greece.
August, the 3rd: Maria gives a "farewell" concert in Athens, her first solo recital, to raise money for her journey to the USA.
September: Returns to New York and takes up the name of Callas again.
December : Auditions for the Metropolitan Opera, but fails to secure an engagement.
Tries unsuccessfully to find work, but continues strenuous vocal practice to perfect her technique.Her auditions had not been going well until she was asked to audition for Edward Johnson, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera. Johnson heard her and immediately offered her the leading roles in two productions of the 1946/7 season: Beethoven's Fidelio and Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Maria, to Johnson's surprise, turned the roles down. She didn't want to sing Fidelio in English and she felt that she was too heavy to portray the young, fragile Butterfly. This story may just be a myth, though, since the Met maintains Callas' audition was not a success and that she was never offered a contract.
Meets agent Eddie Bagarozy. Accepts engagement to sing in Turandot in Chicago in January 1947 with a cast of celebrated European singers in a new company to be founded by Bagarozy and Ottavio Scotto, an Italian impresario.
Rossi-Lemeni really helped her, by an audition for the role of Gioconda at Arena of Verona, Italy. Maria was listened by the tenor Zenatello and was chosen for the role. But before leaving she was fooled by Bagarozy, who succeeded in becoming Maria's unique impresario. This contract will cause a lot of legal problems in the future career of Maria Callas.
January: The Chicago company goes bankrupt a few days before its scheduled opening performance. Nicola Rossi Lemeni, the Italian bass, is also a member of the company and introduces Callas to Giovanni Zanatello, who is in the U.S. to find singers for the 1947 Verona Opera Festival of which he is the Artistic Director. He engages Callas to sing in "La Gioconda".
June, the 27th: Callas arrives in Naples and goes the next day to Verona to begin rehearsals for "La Gioconda". A few days later she meets Giovanni Battista Meneghini, a wealthy Italian industrialist and opera lover.
August, the 2nd: Makes her Italian debut in the Arena at Verona as La Gioconda conducted by Tullio Serafin. The performances are successful enough, but Callas makes no special impression and the expected offers of further work do not materialise.During the final rehearsal of La Gioconda at Arena di Verona, while she was going on stage, Maria didn't see one of the passages leading to the underground vaults and fell into it. She badly dislocated her ankle, and suffered hard pain. So she had to sing practically without moving on the stage, being unable to walk. Shortly after her debut as Gioconda, Maestro Serafin wrote to a good teacher who had to correct some imperfections in Maria's vocal emission a letter, in which she was presented as Miss Kallas!!!
December, the 30th: Sings Isolde in Italian under Serafin at La Fenice in Venice and this leads to further engagements in Italy, mainly in Turandot.
Also in 1947, as soon as she arrived at Verona she met G.B. Meneghini, a businessman much older than her, and she made with him a "contract" about business and feelings. Meneghini would have taken care of her, paying all her expenses, and she would have offered him her love. We don't know if Maria was forced to accept such a "special" contract because she was in extreme need, or if, as Maria's letters say, she fell in love at once. But we are sure that in this first period of their relationship Meneghini was only sexually interested in her and didn't love her.
The director of Venice La Fenice was trying to contact Maria, because Maestro Serafin wanted to start the 1947-1948 season with Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and liked to have Maria Callas as Isolde. She didn't know the part, but was forced by Meneghini to do the audition. Luckily Maria had an excellent "first sight" score reading, being a real musician: the audition was very good and she obtained the role.
In 1947 for La Gioconda at the Arena Maria obtained a cachet of 40.000 Italian lire for each performance; for Tristan in Venice (January 1948) her cachet raised to 50.000 lire, for Turandot in Rome 90.000 lire, for Aida in Turin she reached 100.000 lire per performance. Meneghini was succeeding on his plans: to administer the career and the money of an artist who was growing at an incredible speed.
November 30: In Florence, Callas sings "Norma" for the first time- an opera she will eventually perform more than any other during her career.
January 19: Having just sung her first Brunhilde in "Die Walkure" eleven days earlier. Callas, at the insistence of Serafin, replaces the indisposed Margherita Carosio as Elvira in "I Puritani" at La Fenice. This is the turning point in Callas’s career and the start of her involvement in rehabilitation of the Italian Belcanto repertoire.Maria was, however, able to find work. After an engagement in La Gioconda in Verona, she travelled to Venice to sing Brünnhilde in Die Walküre for the 1948/9 season with Tullio Serafin conducting. I Puritani would be performed in Venice shortly after starring the Italian soprano Margherita Carosio as Elvira. One night, Maria got tired of Brünnhilde's Ho-jo-to-hos and began sight-reading Elvira's music. When Serafin's wife heard Maria, she immediately called her husband and requested that Maria sing for him also. She did just that but Maria did not know that Carosio had fallen ill and that a replacement would be needed. The following morning, Maria sang for the Musical Director of the Opera House who decided that Maria would be the best choice as Elvira. She was given one week to learn the entire opera, a week which contained three performances of Die Walküre. After the first I Puritani on January 19, 1949, Maria became the talk of Italy. It was a huge success, even though she had made some small mistakes, one of them being that instead of singing "son vergin vezzosa" (I am a charming virgin), she sang "son vergin viziosa" (I am a vicious virgin). Three months after her success, she married Giovanni Battista Meneghini, a man almost 30 years older than Maria, on 21 April 1949, in the Chiesa dei Filippini in Verona, Italy.
April, the 21st: Marries Meneghini in Verona and sails that night for Argentina to sing at the "Teatro Colon" in Buenos Aires.
Maria got married in 1949, on April 21. But she did not marry as every bride in the world likes; she was forced to have a little wedding in the sacristy instead than in the Church. There were only the spouses and two witnesses, the Parish and the sacristan. All this because Maria was Christian Orthodox and, as she has been living with Meneghini before marriage, she was considered a public sinner. Only after the Vatican Council II she encountered less obstacles for an official wedding.
Helped by Meneghini as both husband and manager, Callas develops her career in Italy and abroad during the next two years.
In 1949 Maria did 70 opera performances and some recitals; in 1950 she reached 100 performances: her career had no more obstacles.
1950After her Elvira's in Venice, Maria had become a major opera celebrity in Italy but had still not been offered a role at La Scala in Milan. Finally, Maria was offered the lead role in Verdi's Aida after Renata Tebaldi (who had been cast in the role) became unavailable. Maria and Meneghini expected a huge triumph, but when Aida opened on April 12, 1950, she received a polite reception and lukewarm reviews. It wasn't until 7 December 1950 that La Scala surrendered to Maria Callas. She had opened the 1950/1 season with I Vespri Siciliani and was greeted with thunderous applause and enthusiastic reviews.
When Toscanini met Maria Callas, on September 1950, after a long audition in which Maria sung pages from Verdi's Macbeth, he was astonished by her great voice. He said: "I've never conducted Macbeth because I'd never found the right singer to be a right Lady Macbeth. She is the singer I need. I'll do Macbeth with her at La Scala. She'll soon receive a letter from the Theatre.".
1951December, the 7th: Callas opens the seasons at La Scala, Milan in "I Vespri Siciliani" to great acclaim. During the next seven years La Scala will be the scene of her greatest triumphs in a wide range of roles.
Eventually Maria obtained what she wished more. In La Scala, the theatre symbol of Italian post-war renaissance, Maria interpreted 26 operas, and was for 160 nights the queen of the most important opera house in the world.
Maria's cachet for each opera was incredibly high for the times: In 1951/52 season Maria obtained 300.000 Italian Lire per night. In 1953/54 her pay raised to 375.000 lire per night plus "benefits". 1954/55 season: 650.000 lire per night. 1955/56: 700.000 lire per night and 100.000 lire "out of contract". In 1957 her salary increased to 700.000 lire per night and a bonus of 150.000 lire per night as a reimbursement for staying expenses and for private study of the scores.
Rudolf Bing, the superintendent of New York Metropolitan Theatre, never wanted to accept the "extortions" imposed by Maria's husband in her name. If La Scala agreed, he didn't, and until Callas-Meneghini didn't lower their money requests, the MET gates would not open, even if Bing really liked Maria and would have liked to have the great singer in New York since 1950.
July, the 29th: Callas signs a recording contract with EMI and in August makes a test recording of 'Non mi dir' from 'Don Giovanni'.In July of 1952, Maria signed an exclusive recording contract with Walter Legge, director of EMI. A few days after the contract was signed, Legge and his wife, the great German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, went to see Maria in La Traviata at the Arena in Verona, Italy. Following the performance, Schwarzkopf offered Maria one of the most moving tributes she had ever received: Elisabeth would never sing La Traviata again. When asked to explain her decision, Schwarzkopf replied, "What is the sense in doing a part that another contemporary artist can do to perfection?"
February: First commercial recording for EMI as Lucia di Lammermoor recorded in Florence. Later in the year Callas begins a series of complete opera recordings at La Scala starting with 'I Puritani' and 'Cavalleria Rusticana' with Serafin, and famous 'Tosca' conducted by Victor de Sabata.
In a short space of time Callas loses 30 kilos and her figure changes dramatically. She records a further four complete operas at La Scala and her first two recital discs in London.In 1947 her weight was, as she wrote, 170 pounds (about 80 Kg), after a diet by which she had lost 20 Kg.
November : She returns to the USA to sing 'Norma', 'La Traviata' and 'Lucia di Lammermoor' in Chicago. December : She opens the season at La Scala in "La Vestale", working for the first time with theatre and film director Luchino Visconti.
1955November 17, 1955, was the day that established Maria's image as a tigress. She had just finished performing Madama Butterfly at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and was backstage celebrating her triumph. As the audience continued to applaud, Maria was approached by Marshal Stanley Pringle, who presented Maria with a summons to court. She was being sued by a former manager, Eddie Bagarozy, on behalf of a 1947 contract that named Bagarozy as Maria's sole representative. Though the two had not been in contact for several years, Bagarozy claimed that he was entitled to a percentage of Maria's fees and the expenses he was supposed to have incurred on her behalf - a total of $300,000. The case was settled out of court on 7 November 1957. The terms were not made public.
October, the 29th: Sings for the first time at the Metropolitan in New York in "Norma", followed by "Tosca" and "Lucia".Maria finally made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 28 October 1956 as Norma in Bellini's Norma. Unfortunately for Maria, Time magazine had done an interview with Maria's mother, the woman Maria blamed for robbing her of her childhood. Maria had last seen her mother in Mexico in 1950 and had vowed that she would never meet or speak with her again (a promise she took with her to her death). The Time article portrayed Maria as an ungrateful daughter and the New York public reacted coldly when Maria's Met debut came. In fact, the legendary soprano Zinka Milanov received more applause when she took her seat than Maria did when she made her entrance. By the end of the final act, though, the New York public surrendered and Maria received 16 curtain calls.
September: Elsa Maxwell, the American society hostess, introduces, the Meneghinis to the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis at a party in Venice.
She sings her most legendary concert ever in the Arena Herodus atticus at Athens.
January, 2nd: Claming illness , Callas walks out after the first act of a gala performance of "Norma" in Rome attended by the President of Italy and all Rome society. She is harshly criticised in the media.
May: At La Scala during performances of "Il Pirata" she quarrels with the general director Antonio Ghiringhelli, and decides not to appear again at La Scala while he remains in charge.
November, the 6th: Rudolf Bing director of the Metropolitan Opera, fires Callas after failing to reach agreement on performances for the next season.
December, the 19th: She makes a sensational debut in Paris in a gala concert at the Paris Opera. Celebrities in the audience include Onassis who begins to take interest in Callas.The next time Maria made headlines was when she was scheduled to sing in a gala performance of Norma at the Rome Opera House on 2 January 1958. The performance was to be attended by Italy's president, Giovanni Gronchi and his wife. Unfortunately, Maria had seen in the New Year by drinking champagne and staying up very late at the fashionable Rome nightclub, Circolo degli Sacchi. When Maria awoke, less than thirty-six hours before curtain-up, her voice had gone. She couldn't even whisper, let alone sing. The Opera House was informed that a replacement would be needed. There was no understudy and a cancellation would have been disastrous. What happened instead was worse than a disaster. Maria, against the orders of her doctors, went on stage but it was clear from her first note that her voice was in ruins. At the end of the first act, half the audience jeered while the other half sat in shocked silence. Maria escaped through a back exit and an announcement had to be made that the performance simply could not go on. The public was furious but Maria was relieved to receive a phone call from Signora Gronchi assuring her that neither she nor her husband had been offended. 1959
By this time Callas has fewer professional engagements. She and Meneghini are invited for a cruise in July on the Christina, Onassis’s yacht, with several other guests including Churchill. By the end of the cruise Callas and Onassis are lovers and the Meneghini marriage is over.On 3 September 1959, Maria announced that she would be parting from her husband. She began a 9 year love affair with Aristotle Onassis. The couple was expected to marry but in the end, Aristotle married Jackie Kennedy, John F. Kennedy's widow, on 20 October 1968. His death on 15 March 1975, is considered to be one of the major factors behind Maria's death.
Callas gives up the stage altogether and devotes herself to the international high life with Onassis. By 1962 she is performing only at few concerts.In the meantime, Maria was performing Medea at La Scala on 11 December 1961. She was not in good voice and during her first act duet with Jason (performed by Jon Vickers), the audience began hissing. Maria ignored the crowd until she reached the point in the text where she denounces Jason with a word "Crudel!" (Cruel man!). After the first "Crudel!" she stopped singing. She looked out into the crowd and directed her second "Crudel!" directly to the public. She paused and started again with the words "Ho dato tutto a te" (I gave everything to you) and shook her fist at the gallery. The audience stopped hissing and Maria received a huge ovation at the end.
Her presence on the musical scene is limited to a small amount of concerts.
January: Zeffirelli persuades Callas to return to opera at Covent Garden in a memorable new production of "Tosca" that is highly praised on all counts.
May: Callas appears in Paris in "Norma", directed by Zeffirelli, in a spectacular staging that is to be her last new production. Despite some vocal problems, the performances are successful overall.
February: She sings nine performances of "Tosca" in Paris. March : She makes a triumphant return to the Metropolitan in New York in two performances of "Tosca". May She undertakes a further series of five performances of "Norma" in Paris. She feels tired but does not want to cancel.
On May, the 29th she finishes Act 2 Scene I practically in a coma. The final scene is cancelled.
July: She is scheduled to sing four performances of "Tosca" at Covent Garden. She is advised on medical grounds to withdraw but she decides to sing just one, choosing the Royal Gala on July 5. This is the final operatic performance of her career.In May of 1965, Maria's voice once again became the subject of dispute. She was performing Norma at the Paris Opera with Fiorenza Cossotto as Adalgisa. Cossotto knew that Maria was exhausted and her voice was weak so Cossotto intentionally held on to notes longer than Maria could. On the night of the final Norma on 29 May, Maria was at her weakest. To make things worse, Cossotto treated their big duet like a duel. At the end, when the curtain came down, Maria collapsed and was carried unconscious to her dressing room.
Callas relinquishes her American citizenship and takes Greek nationality. Thereby technically annulling her marriage to Meneghini. She expects Onassis to marry her but he does not.
October, the 20th: Onassis marries Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of assassinated US president John F. Kennedy, after having cooled his relationship with Callas.
June-July: Callas plays "Medea" in non operatic film of the play by Euripides directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. It is not a commercial success.In June 1969, Maria began work on a film of Medea (not Cherubini's opera or Euripide's tragedy but the myth of Medea) with Pier Paolo Pasolini. She hardly sang but still worked very hard. So hard that one day she fainted after running on a dry riverbed in the sun for a particular shot. Unfortunately for Maria, the film was not a success. >
1970By 1970, Maria's singing career had come to a quick halt. On May 25, she was rushed to the hospital and it was announced that she had tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates. It seems unlikely that she actually attempted suicide, though by this time she was known to take more sleeping-tablets to find sleep and more barbiturates to find peace.
Callas gives a series of Master Classes at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She meets up again with her old colleague, the tenor Giuseppe di Stefano, and the two become close friends.
Di Stefano persuades Maria Callas to undertake an extensive international recitals tour with him to raise money for medical treatment for his daughter. The tour, a personal triumph but an artistic failure, begins in Hamburg on October 25 and continues into 1974.In 1973, she began a comeback tour with Giuseppe di Stefano. For the first time in eight years, Maria Callas was singing in public. It was clear from the first concert in Hamburg on 25 October that the tour would be an artistic disaster. Callas and di Stefano had as an accompanist, Ivor Newton, who was well into his eighties. During the tour, Newton began having dizzy spells in the street and fantasizing about his death. He once said to Robert Sutherland, who was turning the pages for Newton, "If I have a heart attack while Maria is singing a high note, you are to push me off my stool and take over as though nothing had happened." Maria refused to fire Newton, fearing that doing so would probably kill him. Sutherland eventually took over as accompanist when the tour travelled to the U.S. The final concert took place on November 11, 1974, in the city of Sapporo in northern Japan. That was the last place on earth that would hear Maria sing. >
November, the 11th: The final concert of the tour with Di Stefano takes place in Sapporo, Japan. This is Callas’s last public performance. The liaison with Di Stefano finishes.
March, the 15: Onassis dies, following a gall bladder operation. Callas is by now a virtual recluse in Paris.
September, the 16th: Callas, died in Paris - but the cause of her death still remains unclear.On 16 September 1977, Maria woke up late in her home in Paris. She had breakfast in bed, then got up and started towards the bathroom. There was a piercing pain in her left side and she collapsed. She was put back into bed and drank some strong coffee. After failing to get a hold of any medical help, they called Maria's butler's doctor who started out immediately for Maria's residence. She was dead before he arrived. Her funeral was held on September 20th. She was cremated and her remains kept at the cemetery of Père Lachaise in Paris. In the spring of 1979, the ashes were taken to Greece and were scattered in the Aegean.>
Callas' mother, herself, her sister Jacky and her father 1924
Callas & Serafin 1949
Maria Callas 1949 -Liebestod - Wagner - Tristan & Isolde
Callas & Stignani - Norma 1950
Maria Callas 1952 Covent garden - scene Dormono entrambi / teneri figli - Norma
Callas - In mia mano alfin tu sei - Norma
Maria Callas 1954 - Sola, perduta, abbandonata - Manon Lescaut
Callas - Norma 1954
Maria Callas 1954 - Pace, pace mio dio - Forza del destino
Maria Callas "Casta Diva" | Vicenzo Bellini, Norma, 1957
Callas & Gobbi - Tosca 1964
Maria Callas 1964 - scene - Tosca 2nd act with Vissi d'arte
Callas - one of her last performances on stage - seventies
Maria Callas grows lonely in her home in Paris
Ashes Maria Callas in Egean sea.