By Catherine Tsounis
Leonard Bernstein once hailed her as “the Bible of opera.” Her influence has remained so enduring that, in 2006, Opera News described her as follows: “Nearly thirty years after her death, she’s still the definition of the diva as artist—and still one of classical music’s best-selling vocalists.” Maria Callas, a Greek American from New York City, became the greatest opera singer of her era. Her 100th birth anniversary is being celebrated in 2023. We take pride in the fact that this remarkable lady was born in New York City and was of Greek American heritage.
During a trip to Greece in 2017, I had the privilege of attending an exceptional exhibition titled ‘The Myth Lives On,’ presented by the B & M Theocharakis Foundation in Athens. The exhibition featured two hundred of her personal belongings, including theater costumes, furs, jewelry, dresses, furniture, as well as handwritten letters and notes from friends and relatives. TV shows and movies have portrayed her relationship with the richest man in the world at the time, shipowner Aristotle Onassis. She passed away in 1977 at the age of fifty-three.
Legendary interviewer Mike Wallace conducted one of his finest interviews with Maria Callas in February 1974. What struck me most was her response regarding her personal life. Essentially, she said, “I had a husband, a lover, and that’s that… no more, I am now singing.” Her insightful answers put Wallace on the defensive during his ‘60 Minutes’ show. Over the years, I have never forgotten that exceptional interview.
The exhibition featured photos highlighting the high points of her career. Her gowns and shawls left a lasting impression. One exhibit showcased a signed menu from a party held in Maria Callas’s honor by American gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell. The event took place at the Danielli Hotel in Venice on September 4, 1957, and marked a significant moment in Callas’s life as it was the first time she met Aristotle Onassis. She cherished this memento. Maxwell introduced Onassis and Callas to each other as “the two most famous living Greeks in the world.”
Maria Callas was a unique woman who left us far too soon. The phrase often heard is “There is only one Maria Callas.” She inspired the youth of my generation in the 1970s through her remarkable achievements.