A woman, a voice, a travesty

So-called Aida necklace

The so-called “Aida” necklace

Hello, world! Sorry to have been silent for so long—the vicissitudes of unemployment and technical snafus are behind that—but I’m back, and I hope that you like the new digs.

Something else kept me quiet. In March, I attended the exhibit Maria Callas: A Woman, A Voice, A Myth at the Italian Cultural Institute in New York. The exhibit was a travesty, so slovenly and dishonest that I found it hard to summon the energy to write about it.

Where to begin? Well, the Institute originally announced this exhibit for late 2010. Seeking to learn where and when, I sent e-mails to a half-dozen Institute staff members, asked for information via Facebook and Twitter, and also had colleagues (a prominent journalist and an Italian vice-consul) make inquiries on my behalf. No one at the Institute saw fit to respond to us. (I didn’t phone because I knew from past experience that Institute staff don’t return calls.)

In New York, the Alliance Française, Deutsches Haus, Scandinavia House, Japan Society, and the Czech Centre, to name analogous institutions whose programs I enjoy, represent their respective cultures with honor and professionalism. With so much to offer, why does the Italian Cultural Institute fail to do the same?

But I digress.

The Callas exhibit was organized by Italian Cultural Institute of New York and the Consulate General of Greece in New York in collaboration with the Associazione Culturale Maria Callas, with major support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The curator was Renata Rosati.

The exhibit comprised about a dozen placards, one room of gowns and costumes, another of stage jewels, around two dozen large-scale photos (all familiar images), and a video presentation.

A few of my criticisms:

  • The wall texts were illiterate, translated by someone only fleetingly acquainted with English syntax, grammar, and nomenclature. As we locals say, this is New York F*cking City. How hard is it to scare up a native speaker of English to translate wall texts? Had someone asked me, I would gladly have translated them for free, and I know that I am not alone.
  • Not to belabor the point, but this is New York F*cking City and Maria Callas was born here. No other city in the world can make this claim, yet the exhibit scarcely acknowledged or examined this fact. Traveling shows have inherent limitations, to be sure, but the exhibit needed to be tweaked and expanded for its visit to Maria Callas’s hometown.
  • Some of the material in the exhibit was suspect. Our friend “Nina Foresti” has written at length about the more dubious costumes. For my part, I would note that the necklace shown in this post was labelled “Aida 1965,” though Callas last sang Aida on stage in 1953. It was one of a number of objects bearing fanciful labels that, to the best of my knowledge, have no documented connection to Callas.
  • The exhibit included a continuous loop of the 2004 BBC documentary, Maria Callas: Living and Dying for Art and Love, which features, for no reason that I can discern, Dame Judi Dench holding forth on Callas, as well as Nicholas Gage peddling his questionable tale of Callas’s dead baby.
  • The exhibit was open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In other words, I was able to see it only because I am unemployed. Working stiffs were out of luck. Does that seem fair to you?

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