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Maria Callas

“MARIA BY CALLAS” My rating:

115 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Maria Callas seemed bigger than life in just about everything she pursued.

Her voice was legendary. As was her romance with millionaire Aristotle Onasis. She was a fashion icon. And she came to embody the very idea of “diva,” gaining a reputation for temperamental behavior after she was fired by The New York Metropolitan Opera.

During her lifetime it seemed that just about everyone had an opinion about Callas. Now, decades after her death from heart attack at age 53 in 1977, first-time filmmaker Tom Volf lets her speak for herself.

The idea behind “Maria by Callas” is to let the great singer tell her own story, employing dozens of filmed interviews, tape recordings, and excerpts from her memoir (read by K.C. native and current opera star Joyce DiDonato).

Clearly, Volf is a big-time Callas fan (“fan,” of course, being a shortened version of “fanatic”) and he seems to have scoured the planet for photos and footage of his idol.  This is an exhaustive presentation.

In fact, Volf seems not so much to have shaped all this material as to have taken a bath in it.

Some may take exception with his decision to devote at least one quarter of the two-hour documentary to musical numbers, either footage of Callas performancing on stage or sound recordings played against archival photos and footage.

On the other hand, to understand Callas you’ve got to hear her. So there.

Arranged chronologically, “Maria by Callas” follows its subject from her New York childhood to her late adolescence in Greece, her emergence as a European singing sensation and her rapid recognition on this side of the Atlantic.

Her life was beset by scandal both professionally and personally.

In 1958 she dropped out of a performance in Rome after the first act. She was vilified as a temperamental diva; Callas claims the drafty old theater gave her a devastating case of bronchitis.

Later she was cut from the Met; she claims it was about not wanting to participate in lazily-assembled retread productions of old standards. (Nearly a decade later she returned to the Met in triumph.)

(more…)

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