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Maria Callas in the news

Maria Callas photographed by Zoë Dominic.

Maria Callas photographed by Zoë Dominic.

In a Los Angeles Times interview, Paulo Szot mentioned Maria Callas as a major influence on him: “I couldn’t understand what she was singing about—I was a teen who didn’t speak Italian—but her pain, her feelings, would come through so strong in a spectacular way. I didn’t care whether her voice was pretty or not; I was captivated by her power to communicate.”

Jennifer Condon of Wollongong, Australia, is seeking funding for a recording of a “lost” opera by Peggy Glanville-Hicks and Laurence Durrell, Sappho, supposedly written “as a vehicle for Maria Callas’s comeback as a mezzo soprano in 1964 which, of course, never happened.”

Playwrights Chuck Mallett and John Muirhead, who also live in Australia, apparently knew Maria Callas, who had designs on their needlepoint rendition of her as Tosca.

From Zevio comes news that the Callas relics (photos, documents, books, recordings, and “objects”) donated to the city by Giovanni Tanzi are still awaiting the museum that the city administration had promised him. In the meantime, Zevio (where the Meneghini family had a home or homes) goes on proclaiming itself “la città della Callas.”

OT: Madama Butterfly

Puccini staged by Minghella. Photo © Ken Howard.

Puccini staged by Minghella. Photo © Ken Howard.

Over the years (that is: the decades), I have seen exactly three completely satisfying stagings at the Metropolitan Opera: Robert Wilson’s production of Wagner’s Lohengrin, Graham Vick’s staging of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, and Anthony Minghella’s production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

(Lest you think me a churl, I think that three is a lot. Sadly, I did not see Patrice Chéreau’s staging of Janáček’s Z mrtvého domu.)

Anyhow, you can read my review of the Met’s latest Madama Butterfly revival in The Classical Review.

I interviewed Mr. Minghella (who was a lovely and brilliant gentleman) around the time of his production’s Met premiere.

Hear (and, briefly, see) Callas as Madama Butterfly in the archives. Also, don’t miss Armen Ra’s Callas/Butterfly gloss (first clip in the post).

The ghost of Maria Callas

Maria Callas, c. 1954.

Maria Callas, c. 1954.

“The ghost of Maria Callas” is a lovely piece composed by Matt Elliott. You can hear it, and read remarks by Mr. Elliott, in the blog archives.

Mr. Elliott knows more about Maria Callas than many people who write about her. Today’s gem comes from the Giornale di Brescia. The designer Roberto Capucci has created a new dress in honor of the famous “Winged Victory” statue in Brescia and is exhibiting it along with older creations, including

the sculpture-gown “Vestale,” Capucci’s personal homage to Maria Callas, which the celebrated opera singer wore in 1986 at the Arena di Verona.

Nine years after her death! Maria Callas never ceases to amaze.

As I write, Capucci’s own website is not fully launched. It may offer more plausible information in time.

Hear music (and watch videos) related to Spontini’s La vestale in the blog archives.

Maria Callas by Antonella Cinelli

“Callas” by Antonella Cinelli.

“Callas” by Antonella Cinelli.

“Reading” a work of art that one has seen only in a low-resolution, two-dimensional, tiny rendering is both hard and rash. Still, I quite like “Callas” by the Bolognese artist Antonella Cinelli.

It is part of the exhibit “ARTipicità” at the Teatro Filodrammatici in Milan, which runs through 30 November. (“ARTipicità” combines the Italian words for “art” and “atypicalness.”) Apparently the exhibit coincides with the publication of the latest book by an Italian “image guru.” (O tempora! O mores!) Repubblica offers a slideshow of images from the exhibit.

Cinelli’s current show is a cycle called “Doll.” According to her gallery,

the duality between being and appearing probed by the artist in these works is tied to the concept of dress as a social instrument for the communication of one’s own personality.

The idea of creating little dresses, sparkling and metallic… derives from an unusual concept of dress that takes on ambivalent and conflicting meanings. In becoming a rigid and transparent iron structure, the dress is deprived of its practical uses as an object created to cover the body and allow it to move comfortably. It takes on new meanings, as if it were armor in which a woman feels at once constrained and protected.

The absence of a body beneath this unusual dress points to the disappearance of individual identity and the desire to represent a genre, the woman-doll, as a creature both real and unnatural.

First thoughts: that baby-doll dress, suggesting abject helplessness (no arms, no legs) is incongruous in the extreme paired with Callas’s intense gaze and strongly willed self-presentation (the kohl eyes and stylized brows; the Hepburn-esque hair evoking the dramatically slimmed body that is not seen but implied). That said, the portrait (a famous publicity still), is rendered in colors that suggest flesh, whereas we usually see that image in severe black and white. And from what I can see in the .jpg, Cinelli has in some respects toned down the contrasts and exaggerations in the “original” photo.

At the same time, those fleshy colors applied by an artist to a pre-existing artifact are supremely factitious, giving something fake, composed, reproduced and reproducible ad infinitum the illusion of human skin. The frame around the Callas portrait seems to float or have dimensionality; at the same time, it crushes and traps her.

And what to make of the blackness from which Callas emerges? In the publicity still, she is set against a white background. Is the blackness engulfing Callas? Or could her own blackness (the lined eyes, arched brows, artfully artless hair), bleeding into the background, suggest nothingness and insubstantiality?

“Nobody can double Callas”

I believe that Maria Callas uttered these immortal words during a 1968 interview with John Ardoin, during which she recalled her supposed Rome “walkout” in 1958. (I love that parenthetical “I would not kill them.” Don’t we all have days like that?)

“Nobody can double Callas” is also part of Wayne Koestenbaum’s libretto for Michael Daugherty’s 1997 opera Jackie O. Today’s clip is from a 2008 Bologna production in which Callas is portrayed by the remarkable Nora Sourouzian.

Callas makes a calque on the Italian doppio or “understudy.” In Italian, doppiare also means “to dub,” and I’ve already written about Callas and dubbing.