Search Results: 'Forza'

The Dormition of the Theotokos

The Assunta by Tiziano

The Assunta by Tiziano.

Select the image to see a larger rendition of it. Incidentally, the new Titian biography by Sheila Hale is magnificent.

In the Orthodox Church, 15 August is a Great Feast: The Dormition of the Theotokos (Κοίμησις της Θεοτόκου) or “The Falling-asleep of the G-d-bearer.”

According to Orthodox teaching, three days following the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus, her body was taken up into heaven to join her soul. To quote from the Wikipedia entry on the Feast:

Orthodox theology teaches that the Theotokos has already undergone the bodily resurrection, which all will experience at the Second Coming, and stands in heaven in that glorified state that the other righteous ones will enjoy only after the Last Judgment.

Maria Callas celebrated her name day on 15 August and all her life was devoted to the Theotokos. She wrote to her Roman Catholic husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, from Buenos Aires in 1949:

The other evening I went with a Greek journalist and a lady to the Greek Orthodox church to light a candle for us and my Norma. You see, I feel our Church more than yours. It’s strange, but it’s so. Perhaps because I’m more accustomed to it, or perhaps because the Orthodox Church is warmer and more festive. It’s not that I don’t like yours, which is also mine now, but I have a strong partiality for the Orthodox Church.

(Okay, that quotation, transcribed when I was insufficiently caffeinated, does not in fact mention the Theotokos, though it shows that Callas was a believer and attached to her religion, albeit not a church goer.)

Early in their relationship, Meneghini made a gift to Callas of a Cignaroli miniature of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph that became a good-luck charm for her. (He refers to this painting as a “Madonnina.”) He reports that they hung a painting of the Madonna by Caroto in their bedroom, and that their favorite work of art was the painting you see above: Tiziano’s “Assunta” at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice (a basilica dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, as the Dormition of the Theotokos is known in the Roman church).

Meneghini also writes that he told Callas, after she took up with Aristotle Onassis:

Now go talk to all your patron saints and ask them for advice, ask them if you are in the right, but also pay a visit to your Madonna in the Cathedral in Milan, the Madonna you saw so very many times, before whom you genuflected and prayed.

The Madonnina (Madunina in the local dialect) who stands atop the Duomo is the symbol of Milan.

In 1960, Stelios Galatopoulos ran into Callas with Onassis making a visit to the island of Tinos, where there is a reportedly miraculous icon of the Thetokos. He wrote that

she appeared to be in the highest of spirits. Dressed simply in black and with a black chiffon scarf decorated with a few sequins over her head, Maria looked much younger than her years and the personification of Greek beauty.

Maria Callas reportedly died with a rosary (a gift from her sister-in-law Pia Meneghini) on her bedside table.

Please listen to Maria Callas in music from Verdi’s La forza del destino, including arias addressed to the Theotokos.

Callas in La forza del destino

I have posted this selection before: Maria Callas singing “La vergine degli angeli” from Verdi’s La forza del destino, an excerpt from her 1954 EMI recording of the opera with the La Scala forces under Tullio Serafin.

I post it again because a great Verdian, Pierluigi Petrobelli, has died. So many great Verdi scholars have passed away in recent years, including John Rosselli and Julian Budden, while others (William Weaver in particular) are not doing well.

Learning this morning that both Petrobelli and the singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla had died hit me hard. Dalla was so full of life and love that many of his fans, including me, somehow thought that he would live forever.

You may know some of his songs as performed by Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, but Dalla himself sang them best. Two songs for those who don’t know his work: “Caruso” and “L’anno che verrà.”

Hear Maria Callas in other music by Verdi.

Maria Callas and Biki

Elvira Leonardi Bouyeure, known as Biki.

Elvira Leonardi Bouyeure, known as Biki.

La Repubblica last week published an article about Biki, the Milanese designer who was associated with Maria Callas from her glory days at La Scala to the end of her life. Identità e memoria: l’eleganza, imprenditorialità is a publication (a book?) about Biki by International Inner Wheel of Milan, an organization linked to Rotary.

The article includes some whopping inaccuracies:

  • It states that in 1953, “after only six months, Maria [lost] thirty kilos.” According to Meneghini, though, she lost sixty to seventy pounds over the course of nearly two years—a remarkable weight loss, but at a healthy and prudent rate. (Callas herself stated something similar.)
  • One photo caption, showing Callas with Franco Rossellini (who produced the Medea film), suggests that she was “profoundly in love” with “the director [sic] Rossellini.” (The director Rossellini would be Franco’s uncle Roberto, no?) I have never read that she was in love with either Rossellini, have you?
  • The article also implies that Visconti was behind Callas’s weight loss. Ma figuriamoci!

As always, I am astonished at the extremely casual relationship with truth of Italian journalism in general, and of writing about Callas in particular.

The article includes slideshows of Callas and of Biki’s creations.

Georges Prêtre

Georges Prêtre, who conducted many of Maria Callas’s recordings and operatic performances in the 1960s, turned 87 on 14 August.

Many years ago, I saw and heard him lead Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” in Florence, and the show he gave on the podium rivalled the mayhem and theatrics of Berlioz’s music!

This clip shows him conducting the overture to Verdi’s La forza del destino at a concert honoring the tenth anniversary of Maria Callas’s death. The performance is unremarkable, I think, but the clip does show some footage of Maria Callas that I have never seen, including the evening of the premiere of Pasolini’s Medea.

The last Callas image shown, inevitably, is the picture of her at a Paris window. As I wrote in an earlier post, the picture does not show Callas at the end of her life, and it does not depict her at her apartment on Avenue Georges-Mandel. Instead, it was taken at the Ritz during the early 1960s, when (forgive me for quoting myself) “Callas was recording, concertizing, still active on the operatic stage, and hardly a victim of futility and despair.” (I think but am not certain that the shot was part of an Elle pictorial.)

I find it amazing just how badly people want to assume that Callas was miserable at the end of her life, to the point of perpetually misreading and misattributing this photo. (What’s more, my “Re-Visioning Callas” essay cites the testimony of friends who saw her as anything but despondent and adrift before she died.)

Χρόνια Πολλά

In the Orthodox Church, 15 August is Κοίμησις της Θεοτόκου, “The Dormition of the God-Bearer.” Maria Callas celebrated her name day on 15 August, so I offer you today music addressed to the Theotokos sung by Callas: “Madre, pietosa Vergine” from Verdi’s La forza del destino, which she recorded under Tullio Serafin in 1954. 

“Χρόνια Πολλά” or “Many years” is the traditional name-day greeting in Greek. 

Read more about Callas’s devotion to the Theotokos, and hear her in other music by Verdi.