- Late opera singer Maria Callas is through to have one of the best voices of all time
- Her life is being turned into a documentary, which will star Angelina Jolie
- Maria suffered from abusive relationships and died alone in Paris when she was 53
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 her in an upcoming biopic.
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 directed the Princess Diana biopic Spencer starring Kristen Stewart in 2021, will helm the project with a script from Steven Knight. Furthermore, the film is headed to the Cannes film market, as reported by Deadline.
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.
Maria Callas 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,” per Classic FM.
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 Italian composer Giacomo Puccini to German composer Richard Wagner. But tragically, her voice began to fade in the late 1950s, leading to the premature end of her career.
Maria Callas 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 80 lbs. at one point.
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.”
Maria 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 impresario Rudolf Bing would later call Maria the most difficult star he ever dealt with, largely “because she was so much more intelligent”, he said in the 1979 documentary Callas: A Documentary. Rudolf added, “Other artists, you could get around. But Callas you could not get around. She knew exactly what she wanted, and why she wanted it.”
Maria Chased Money
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.)
Unfortunately, the relationship between Maria and Aristotle was not full of romance. When writing a biography about Maria, Lyndsy Spence was granted access to Callas’ personal belongings, which included highly guarded letters that spoke about Maria and Aristosle’s relationship. During her research, Lyndsy discovered that Maria nearly died from Aristotle’s physical abuse, she revealed to The Guardian. “There is also disturbing information from the diary of one of her close friends detailing how Onassis drugged her, mostly for sexual reasons – today we would class that as date rape,” she added.
A letter written by Maria also revealed that her former husband, Giovanni, had stolen much of her money. “My husband is still pestering me after having robbed me of more than half my money by putting everything in his name since we were married … I was a fool … to trust him,” she wrote.
Maria Died In Relative Isolation
After her voice faded, Maria appeared in one 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 1972. 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. Lynsdsy revealed that during her research for her biography about Maria, she discovered the late opera legend had a neuromuscular disorder, but she was called “crazy” by doctors and never received any treatment.