Tears fell 30 years ago.

It was a very hot summer in 1977. I had heard that Onassis had died and wondered aloud, “Where would this leave the enormous heart and love of Maria?”

As if a modern Greek tragedy was being played to a modern audience the news arrived and shocked the world on Sept.16th that Maria Callas had died. At 54. Far too young.

It turned my stomach when they announced “controversial opera star….Maria Callas…..” She was gigantic and without peer and all they could labor was the inept word, “controversial”.

They tried throughout her life to trap her with their small minded labels……“temperamental” “tigress” “difficult”.

She always escaped their trap and their tiny view.

One of my favorite quotes of Maria Callas was, “Everyone calls me difficult…when they want you to say “yes” and you say “No”, then you are difficult!” followed by the perfect smile.

This was a woman, even though shy and sensitive, who became a lioness when engaged in defending her art or her concept of it.

She “fought” as she said in letters to her husband throughout her early years, “every day of her life for justice for herself and for her art and the fairness of her success.”

I read and reread the book her husband wrote of their early times together. This book is a testament to a career forged in determination and genius, against a lot of odds, and she does win.

Often she would write ” …..but at what a cost? Never had I been allowed to have a success that someone or something did not try to ruin.”

She bemoaned then the lack of serious rehearsals; tenors changing for every show, the desire for skimmed music with no detail and not enough informed style. No words or personality.

Can you imagine her agony today? What would she have thought of the “glib” music making of today?

Arriving one day before a show? Sometimes with none of your colleagues or maestro?

People making records while some colleagues “track” their roles later?

Interviews and “media” more important than the serenity of a performer in service to a GREAT ART ??

I was in Paris on the day they removed her ashes from the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

It was a long train ride from Barcelona where I had just won a competiton and the marvelous audience there had given me bouquets on stage.

It had been my thought to lay the flowers still fresh with applause at the feet of her tomb.

The picturesque cemetery where Chopin, Cherubini, Bizet, Proust, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and and so many illustrious people are in repose was unveiled to me as I hunted for where she might be.

Black cats sitting on large slabs of very old marble, leaves moving ghostlike allow the path, the cold grey of a winters day the perfect forbidding backdrop.


I finally found the place where she had been. Where is Madame Callas?

“They have just claimed her for the Greek Embassy, she is en route to the Aegean Sea.”

I said a prayer that she would know I had come to pay hommage and left the flowers at the tomb of Chopin.

She who had loved to play his music so much would have approved, I thought.

On the day my mother had called to tell me of her passing, I put immediately a recording of her singing.

The piece I chose out of all the glorious materials she has left for us was her heartbreakingly beautiful reading of Dalila from Saint-Saens great opera

“Samson and Dalilah”, “Printemps qui commence….” “Spring which starts…”


Printemps qui commence, Dalila’s aria from Samson et Dalila

Printemps qui commence.
Portant l’espérance
Aux coeurs amoureux,
Ton souffle qui passe
De la terre efface
Les jours malheureux.
Tout brûle en notre âme,
Et ta douce flamme
Vient sécher nos pleurs;
Tu rends à la terre,
Par un doux mystère,
Les fruits et les fleurs.
En vain je suis belle!
Mon coeur plein d’amour,
Pleurant l’infidèle,
Attend son retour!
Vivant d’espérance,
Mon couer désolé
Garde souvenance
Du bonheur passé!
A la nuit tombante
J’irai, triste amante,
M’asseoir au torrent,
L’attendre en pleurant
Chassant ma tristesse,
S’il revient un jour,
A lui ma tendresse
Et la douce ivresse,
Qu’un brûlant amour
Garde à son retour!

To me her eternal Spring of happiness and peace had just begun.

The phrasing so perfectly french and triple legato, the sound of a seductress, and even something more precious, the sound of the complete woman came thru in an achingly beautiful way.
The sound of a soul yearning for love and peace…..

The genius once more…. “garde `a son retour” and I sobbed.

In the excerpts below, one is afforded a glimpse of this great artist and the lasting gratitude of a world still reeling from her loss.

A VERY rare movie of Callas as Medea made from an unknown source and rebroadcast on RAI UNO.

This is the German Kultur tribute that played all during the month of September with the full showing on the 16th.

Far from the tyrant of foul language and catty rivalry of certain modern depictions of this great artist, you see a humble, serious, emphatic artist extolling and imploring the age to come not to forget what she had taught, and to do everything they could to always strive to be the best they can in the face of the awesome responsibility of a life in service to the music.

A stunning excerpt with my great friend, a genius himself, Franco Zeffirelli in 1964 with George Pretre and a fabulous clip of the recitativo of the aria “Casta Diva” of Bellini.

This finally, leaving her rightly so, the last word.

AND what a word it is.

It should strike fear and shame in the hearts of many of today’s singers, who have lost vision it seems about the true meaning of bel canto.

Fascinating interview and a stern admoniton not to ignore. Brava, Maria!!!

~ by aprilemillo on October 28, 2007.

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