Maria Callas

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Maria Callas continues to mesmerize us twenty years after her death, not only because she was indisputably the greatest opera diva of the 20th century, but also because both her life and death were shrouded in a Machiavellian web of scandal, mystery and deception.

Maria Callas (1923 – September 16, 1977) was an American-born Greek soprano and one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century. She combined an impressive bel canto technique, a wide-ranging voice, and great dramatic gifts. An extremely versatile singer, her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini; further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini; and, in her early career, to the music dramas of Wagner. Her remarkable musical and dramatic talents led to her being hailed as La Divina. Born in New York City and raised by an overbearing mother, she received her musical education in Greece and established her career in Italy. According to her birth certificate, Maria Callas was born Sophia Cecelia Kalos at Flower Hospital (now the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center), at 1249 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, on December 2, 1923 to Greek parents George Kalogeropoulos and Evangelia "Litsa" Dimitriadou, though she was christened Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulou – the genitive of the patronymic Kalogeropoulos. Callas's father had shortened the surname Kalogeropoulos first to "Kalos" and subsequently to "Callas" in order to make it more manageable. Evangelia was convinced that her third child would be a boy; her disappointment at the birth of another daughter was so great that she refused to even look at her new baby for four days. Around age three, Maria's musical talents began to manifest themselves, and after Evangelia discovered that her youngest daughter also had a voice, she began pressuring "Mary" to sing. Callas would later recall, "I was made to sing when I was only five, and I hated it." George was unhappy with his wife favoring their elder daughter as well as the pressure put upon young Mary to sing and perform. The marriage continued to deteriorate and in 1937 Evangelia decided to return to Athens with her two daughters. Callas blamed the strained relationship with Evangelia on her unhappy childhood spent singing and working at her mother's insistence, saying,

My sister was slim and beautiful and friendly, and my mother always preferred her. I was the ugly duckling, fat and clumsy and unpopular. It is a cruel thing to make a child feel ugly and unwanted

According to Callas' husband and her close friend Giulietta Simionato, Callas related to them that her mother, who did not work, pressured her to "go out with various men", mainly Italian and German soldiers, to bring home money and food during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II. Callas managed to remain untouched, but never forgave Evangelia for what she perceived as a kind of prostitution forced on her by her mother.

After a series of angry and accusatory letters from Evangelia lambasting Callas's father and husband, Callas ceased communication with her mother altogether.

Callas received her musical education in Athens. Initially, her mother tried to enroll her at the prestigious Athens Conservatoire, without success. Maria Trivella tutored Callas, Maria studied with with Trivella for two years before her mother secured another audition at the Athens Conservatoire with he well-known Spanish coloratura soprano Elvira de Hidalgo.

On April 11, 1938, in her public debut, Callas ended the recital of Trivella's class at the Parnassos music hall with a duet from Tosca. After several appearances as a student, Callas began appearing in secondary roles at the Greek National Opera. De Hidalgo was instrumental in securing roles for her, allowing Callas to earn a small salary, which would help her and her family get through the difficult war years

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