Maria by Callas, directed by Tom Volf. Released February 7 2019. 119mins.
Maria by Callas is a documentary of a Greek American opera singer which reveals the vulnerable lonely side to her legendary status. Director Volf shows his adoration for the opera singer in this unique documentary, told in Callas's voice, narrating her personal history, exposing a rather complicated person in comparison to the tabloids reports of a tempestuous diva looking rather fabulous with her perfect eyeliner, immaculate hairstyle and elegant clothing at all hours and for any occasion.
A TV interview with English talk show host David Frost provides structure to the storyline as the film follows Callas through her singing and personal life in the 1950s to 1970s. Volf succeeds in providing a clearer portrait of who she was, her struggles and talents as a musical genius who loved her adoring public and gave it her all at every performance.
The documentary gives a wondrous time capsule of Callas' life; her performances drew in royalty, members of parliament dressed in all their finery and an adoring public that queued for days to ensure they had tickets to see her perform.
Maria Callas was born in Brooklyn New York to Greek immigrant parents. Callas began with classical piano lessons at age 7 and displayed a dramatic flair for singing, so her mother pushed her to pursue a vocal career. In 1937, as a teen, her parents separated and her mother, sister, Callas moved back to Greece.
In Athens, Callas studied voice under Elvira de Hidalgo but there was a problem with her age as she was only thirteen years old and to be accepted to the famed conservatory, she needed to be seventeen. Luckily for Callas, she was a tall girl and was accepted. Callas mentions she 'didn't have a happy childhood or a childhood at all'.
She made her stage debut in 1937 in a school production of Cavalleria Rusticana and not long after made her professional debut with the Royal Opera of Athens in 1941. During World War II, Callas struggled to find roles and in the mid-1940s and moved back to New York then onto Verona and met her husband to be and wed rich industrialist Giovanni Meneghini in 1949.
Callas wooed her public with performances in Italy, France and America and with her meteoric rise she became branded as difficult and a diva when she was unable to sing due to falling ill.
In this time, Callas' marriage also unravelled and had a decade long affair with shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who married former United States first lady Jacquline Kennedy without telling Callas. Callas found out by reading the paper and doesn't hold back whilst recalling the event.
Interestingly enough, once Onassis' marriage falls apart he tries to woo Callas back by singing to her at her Paris apartment and before the press gets whiff of this, Callas takes him back. The documentary spends some time on Callas' love affair with Onassis and her happy times before her death in 1977 aged 53.
Shifting through four decades of material after Callas's death, Volf aims to provide insight to correct the perception spread by news media that Callas was a diva onstage as well as offstage. The best parts are the uninterrupted arias played in full, showcasing Callas' talent, the art of opera which in turn made my body tingle listening to her memorising voice and stage presence.
The documentary runs chronologically through her career highlights, her ups and downs in her personal life and her involvement with Aristotle Onassis. Callas's voice soars through full performances such as "Casta Diva" from Bellini's "Norma" and "Love is a Rebellious Bird" from Bizet's "Carmen," and coincides with the low points in her career. Such as her long divorce proceedings to her husband, dealing with the severed ties to the New York Metropolitan Opera and the love of her life Onassis marrying someone else.
Volf is successful in bringing to the screen the two different sides to Maria Callas. On one hand, she is this beautiful poised mesmerising opera singer and on the other a rather private, shy recluse. The home videos, private letters and unpublished memoirs presented the not so known side of Maria Callas.
It's amazing to see how much footage and research that was done to produce this movie, the haziness of some of the behind the scenes footage added the element of the filming equipment used at the time.
Maria Callas is amazingly strong in her stance with the questions asked by reporters and dealing constant bulb flashing cameras and showed a sense of cheeky humour at the same time. Maria Callas was an amazing actress in each role she took on in the opera even trying her hand acting in a movie.
Maria by Callas is captivating to watch, seeing that she had it all but also had personal and artistic challenges. "It is what it is" in referenced being dealt the hand of fame and riches rather than the domestic bliss she craved.