Callas as Medea
Callas in mirror
Callas with Onassis
Callas portrait

BY MARION LIGNANA ROSENBERG

Welcome! Please be sure to visit the new Re-visioning Callas blog.

Maria Callas: The very name is charged with drama, controversy, scandal. More than thirty years after her death and nearly sixty years after her greatest triumphs at La Scala, the Greek-American operatic soprano (1923-77) remains a best-selling recording artist, a revered musician, an icon of style—and a woman both worshipped and loathed.

What explains Callas’s hold on millions of people who never heard nor saw her in the flesh? When so many of her contemporaries are now forgotten or irrelevant, why does Callas remain a divisive and stubbornly modern figure?

Marion Lignana Rosenberg’s Re-visioning Callas lays bare the clichés still used to trivialize this formidable woman. Callas sang an astonishing range of music, re-created herself following a spectacular weight loss, and persuaded those who witnessed her performances that “what transpired on stage was truth, life itself” (according to conductor Carlo Maria Giulini).

Yet biographies of Callas teem with caricatures that reflect a profound unease with the woman and her accomplishments: Callas as tigress, as Nora Desmond, as a high priestess of art who forsook her sacred duties for love of the louche Aristotle Onassis, as a ruthless Medea who betrayed her kin and allegedly occasioned a baby son’s death.

Re-visioning Callas also looks at Callas as an abiding presence in today’s culture—including the plays of Terrence McNally; Apple marketing campaigns; the music of Rufus Wainwright, R.E.M., Enigma, and others; and films by Franco Zeffirelli, Federico Fellini, and Werner Schroeter.

Re-visioning Callas shows, as well, how Callas continues to shape what audiences hear and see. Her supremacy in Italian operas of the early nineteenth century helped to restore them to the international repertory and to demolish the musical establishment’s prejudices against them. Her collaborations with Luchino Visconti were landmarks in the history of operatic Regietheater (“director’s theatre”). Her ubiquity in the media (in both life and death) and numerous recordings exemplify the perplexities of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.

In her many guises, Maria Callas sums up the anxieties and contradictions of opera itself. In the digital era, as her voice and her image proliferate and her legend continues to grow, Re-visioning Callas—looking back at the woman and her achievements, questioning the images of her handed down to us—is more urgent than ever.

Please contact Marion Lignana Rosenberg to receive updates about Re-visioning Callas.