Excellent documentary by Tom Volf on Maria Callas, in her own words with rare footage of her operas and appearances throughout the world. How she felt about her life as a woman. Aptly named "Maria By Callas". Opening in US November 9.
We see her surrounded through most of the film by men, fans, hounding journalists who don’t take no for an answer until she says firmly, no interviews, now stop it. But it is also evident how many women are standing in the background who are devoted fans. Always elegant with a speaking voice that is cultured , mid- atlantic- partly British partly American pronunciation. Throughout the film, Maria's thoughts about her career are candid but there is the other part where she is shown speaking under duress, under the lights of photographers standing over her, talking at her , questioning her. When she arrives at the Cannes film festival in 1960, she is a lone woman in a sea of men.
This documentary does not go into the gossip about Onassis and Jackie Kennedy or the provincialism directed against the younger Callas for being moderately overweight in a profession where hefty male opera singers are never derided. But her letter about the marriage of her friend Onassis to Jackie Kennedy reveals that she found out about their marriage in the newspaper. There is documentary footage of Onassis and Callas on his yacht , a trip that began their friendship and resulted in Maria divorcing her much older husband of 10 years, the industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini who helped her with her career in Italy. Onassis, said Callas, was instrumental in getting her to relax and enjoy her art. The time they spent at Cannes and Monte Carlo involved gatherings with celebrities such as Grace Kelley and Jean Cocteau. Callas did make a film with Pier Paolo Pasolini, Medea , an art house film written by Pasolini where she has the title role of a sorceress who kills her husband and children. She is brilliant in it. We know she was a great actress from her recreations of classic opera.
No matter how she has been the recipient of ridiculous theories about her register, her temperament, and love affairs from tabloid journalism , she was a phenomenal artist. This documentary proves it.
"By virtue of sheer determination, she triumphed over her vocal limitations. She immersed herself in her roles, studying every word and every phrase for maximum musical and dramatic effect. Her singing was full of subtle inflections, accentuations, shadings, that were foreign territory to most other sopranos. She extended this kind of superior musicianship to her approach to the stage. Every gesture meant something, every movement and facial expression was aimed toward an emotional or dramatic climax" (NYTimes 1977).
A biopic is still in production (or was), directed by Niki Caro ( The Whale Rider 2002) with Noomi Rapace playing Maria Callas. Hard to believe Rapace in this role.