Maria Callas, from the “most hated woman” to the myth of the oluta diva

Arte is celebrating the centenary of Callas with a documentary that brings us back to life, through period witnesses, analyzes by contemporary artists and archive images, its astonishing sense of theater.

At the dawn of the 1960s, a polling institute ranked her among the most hated personalities in the world, recalls critic Jürgen Kesting in Great Moments in Music. This documentary extract opens the tribute paid to Callas by Arte for its centenary.

Between period witnesses, analyzes of contemporary artists and archive images making us relive her astonishing sense of theater, he looks back on the singer’s legendary performance in Tosca, in Covent Garden, in 1964. He captures the Callas myth in all its ambiguity: the media phenomenon.

Historical return

The one for which we will go so far as to camp five days in advance in front of the ticket offices of the Royal Opera House in order to be sure of having a chance to witness this historic return. The one for which Zeffirelli himself will abandon all his reluctance towards Puccini’s heroine. “A tragic figure whose life itself will have everything of a Greek tragedy”, summarizes the current head of Covent Garden, Antonio Pappano. But also the beast of the stage. Who, while working hard, kept this extraordinary expression of the human voice», confides, admiringly, tenor Rolando Villazon. A singer of magnetism “almost erotic”, says baritone Thomas Hampson. And for whom lyrical art and theater are one and the same, believes his colleague Kristine Opolais.

If we come away from this documentary literally haunted by the tragic figure of Callas sublimating Tosca in the face of a Tito Gobbi-Scarpia more diabolical than ever, this is only a foretaste of what follows: the broadcast from the equally legendary concert given by the singer six years earlier, on December 19, 1958, at the Opéra Garnier. Concert where the artist performed, after some of his hits (Casta Diva, Una voce poco fa…) the entire second act of Tosca, in front of an audience of celebrities (from Chaplin to Bardot) who were rightly stunned. The channel finally rebroadcasts the episode of the documentary series The Great Rivals in musicdedicated to the rivalry between Callas and Tebaldi.

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