Who Is Maria Callas? 5 Things To Know – Hollywood Life
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Maria Callas may be a legend to opera lovers, but the singer is not exactly a household name today. Still, the Greek soprano is widely regarded as one of the best vocalists of all time, with artists like Celine Dion and Patti Smith crediting her as an influence. Now, film buffs are talking about the songstress after Angelina Jolie was cast as Callas in an upcoming biopic.
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Maria promises to tell “the tumultuous, beautiful, and tragic story of the life of the world’s greatest opera singer, relived and re-imagined during her final days in 1970s Paris,” according to the film’s logline. Filmmaker Pablo Larraín, who last directed the Princess Diana biopic Spencer starring Kristen Stewart in 2021, will helm the project with a script from Steven Knight.
Opera singer Maria Callas’ life is being made into a film starring Angelina Jolie. (David Fisher/Everett/Shutterstock)
Angelina underscored her respect for Maria after the casting news, which emerged Friday, Oct. 21, 2022. “I take very seriously the responsibility to Maria’s life and legacy,” she shared in a statement to the press, courtesy of Variety. “I will give all I can to meet the challenge,” the actress/filmmaker went on.
But who was Maria? And what is she most remembered for? Learn the top 5 facts about Maria Callas’ life and career here.
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1. She was a world-famous opera singer
Maria Callas was a force of nature, both on stage and off. She started studying how to sing when she was just a child, moving from New York to Greece to pursue her music education after her parents split. Within months of her training, mentors said she was singing the “most difficult arias in the international opera repertoire with the utmost musicality.”
Soon, she was being hailed as “La Divina” or “the Divine one” and starring in blockbuster opera productions in Venice, Italy and in London. Maria was known for her impressive range, able to sing everyone from Puccini to Wagner. But tragically, her voice began to fade in the late 50s, leading to the premature end of her career.
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2. She had a major mid-career weight loss
Maria started her career with a voluptuous figure and a big voice, describing herself as a “heavy” woman who once weighed 200 pounds in a 1968 interview with musicologist Edward Downes. After finding herself “uncomfortable” with her body, she decided to slim down, losing as much as 80lbs at one point.
Maria modeled rose-covered Christian Dior in this 1958 portriat taken at her Milan home. (Historia/Shutterstock)
Some wondered if the weight loss had an impact on her voice, which began declining in her later years. Soprano Joan Sutherland remembered the shift in a 2009 interview with the BBC. She explained, “When [Maria] lost the weight, she couldn’t seem to sustain the great sound that she had made, and the body seemed to be too frail to support that sound that she was making.”
3. She had a reputation for being difficult
Maria wasn’t known for being easygoing. She frequently clashed with directors and castmates, and also had a fierce rivalry with fellow singer Renata Tebaldi.
British opera impressario Rudolf Bing would later call Maria the most difficult star he ever dealt with, largely “because she was so much more intelligent.” “Other artists, you could get around,” he remembered in the 1979 documentary Callas: A Documentary. “But Callas you could not get around. She knew exactly what she wanted, and why she wanted it.”
4. She only romanced millionaires
Maria’s romances were just as infamous as her temper. She married Italian industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini in 1949, and while he supported her for years, she began a public affair with shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis after they met in 1957. She and Giovanni wouldn’t divorce until 1959.
Maria and Aristotle never had children, and in 1968, he left the singer for Jackie Kennedy. According to biographers, Aristotle would still pursue Maria periodically in years after. (Interestingly, Maria director Pablo also made the 2016 Natalie Portman film Jackie about Mrs. Kennedy-Onassis.)
5. She died in relative isolation
After her voice faded, Maria appeared in her only non-opera acting role: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1969 movie Medea. She would teach a set of masterclasses at the Juilliard School in 1971 and 72. Her last public performance was in Sapporo, Japan in 1974.
Following that, Maria retreated to France, where she would live for the rest of her years. She died in Paris in 1977 of a heart attack at 53-years-old.