On public service, tribute provided to Maria Callas for the centenary of her birth

Maria Callas, accompanied by the ORTF National Orchestra, conducted by Georges Prêtre, in 1965, at studio 102 of the Maison de la radio, for the television program “Les Grands Interprètes”, directed by Gérard Herzog.

From her death, in Paris, at the age of 53, Maria Callas continues to fascinate hordes of lyricomaniacs, each generation of whom rushes to phonographic and video reissues, with possible unreleased releases, which salute the anniversaries of his birth, December 2, 1923, or his death, September 16 1977. For the centenary of his birth, in New York (Callas retained, until 1966, dual Greek and American nationality), the public service television channels marked the occasion, with however many rebroadcasts and few new broadcasts.

Among these, the “Fauteuils d’chester” of December 8, on France 5, which Anne Sinclair will devote to the diva, before a “Gala Maria Callas”, on the same channel, recorded at the Palais Garnier on December 2, whose design, staging, sets and lighting were entrusted to the American Robert Carsen.

For its part, Arte is offering a “Callas day”, on December 3, which will allow people to see a new cut of the documentary by Holger Preusse (2017) on the Tosca mythical that had interpreted Callas at Covent Garden, London, 1964. Followed by the no less legendary recital with orchestra by Maria Callas at the Palais Garnier, in 1958, and the rebroadcast of the documentary The Great Rivals in music. Callas vs Tebaldi (2020), by Andreas Morell, which returns to the rivalry between two opposite poles: the creamy roundness of Renata Tebaldi; the white-hot edge of Maria Callas…

Read the review: Article reserved for our subscribers Divine Callas, intimate Maria

The most interesting in this set of tributes is Maria by Callas (2017), by Tom Volf, rebroadcast by France 4, Saturday December 2. Unlike other documentaries dedicated to the most legendary soprano of the 20the century, this film of almost two hours, first released in the cinema, renounces to involve witnesses and specialists – with rare exceptions, such as the one which shows Elvira de Hidalgo, the singing teacher of Callas in Athens, who will remain his confidante and died, almost in his nineties, three years after his favorite student.

Because the director wanted to design the “first film to tell the life story of the legendary Greek-American singer exclusively in her own words”. To do this, numerous radio and television interviews with Callas (mainly in English and French), letters and intimate writings combine into a moving story.

Long musical sequences

To the point that we hear Fanny Ardant, in voice-over, sometimes on the verge of tears when she reads the heartbreaking letters of Callas (translated and edited by Tom Volf at Albin Michel, in 2019), this same Fanny Ardant who played the volcanic singer in Master Clin 1996the play by Terrence McNally which brings to life the master cles given by Callas in New York, in 1971 and 1972.

Read the review: Article reserved for our subscribers Maria Callas: the voice of the Divine restored in all its light

If we inevitably find images used by others before him, Tom Volf has carried out a remarkable search for archival documentation. Another quality of this work, undertaken in 2013: the respect for long musical sequences where we hear the one which, literally, burned the boards and ended in ashes.

Did the prima donna stop singing to devote herself to her mad love for Aristotle Onis (1906-1975), from 1959? Was this withdrawal well-timed, at the moment when the voice of Callas began to make its faults heard? Did she party too much during her jet-setting years? Since the film’s release, other biographical sources have provided new elements on her relationship with the Greek billionaire – who left her for Jackie Kennedy and returned to her shortly before dying – and on her health.

Maria Callas and Pier Paolo Pasolini, in Greece, in 1969.

Finally, we recommend revisiting the issue of the brilliant Arte webmagazine “Blow Up”, during which Luc Lagier, famous for his subtly artful Delphine Seyrig-like diction, returned to the traces left by Callas in the cinema, as an actress (at Pier Paolo Pasolini, in Medeain 1969), as a character or as a sound illustration. Lagier – who also cites Tom Volf’s documentary – reviews numerous films and igns the last third of the program to the famous scene of Philadelphia (1993), by Jonathan Demme, where a record of the diva serves as an emotional vector between the characters played by Tom Hanks, suffering from AIDS, and Denzel Washington, his advocate for phobia in the process of redemption.

“Maria by Callas”, documentary by Tom Volf (Fr., 2017, 114 min), December 2, at 9:10 p.m., on France 4.

“Maria Callas sings “Tosca”. The documentary”, directed by Holger Preusse, on December 3, at 5:10 p.m. (Germany, 2017, 32 min). In replay on Arte.tv.

“Maria Callas sings opera arias. Paris Opera, 1958”, recording by Roger Benamou (Fr., All., 2023, 44 min), December 3, at 5:55 p.m. In replay on Arte.tv from December 2 to 1er March 2024.

“The Great Rivals in music. Callas vs Tebaldi”, documentary by Andreas Morell (Germany, 2020, 43 min), December 3, at 6:40 p.m., on Arte. In replay on Arte.tv from 1er December until February 24, 2024.

“Orchestra chairs. Maria Callas”, on December 8, at 9:05 p.m., on France 5. In replay on France.tv.

“Vissi d’arte. Gala Maria Callas”, December 8, at 9:45 p.m., on France 5. In replay on France.tv.

“Blow Up.” Maria Callas at the cinema”, by Luc Lagier, on Arte.tv And Youtube.

Renaud Machart

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