Theatre Raleigh

She was known at the height of her career as "La Divina." And although Maria Callas passed away in 1977, Opera Today suggested in 2006 that, "Nearly thirty years after her death, she's still the definition of the diva as artist." So what made Callas so special? Many cite her awe-inspiring vocal range, her skill in dramatic interpretation of a role, and her unmistakable presence on and off the stage. In this post, we offer a few things you may NOT know about this incredible woman. Click through to test your knowledge, and maybe learn a little something about this incredible woman before you see the show!

Introduction from Ray Dooley, director of Master Class

I had the great good fortune to see the original New York production starring Zoe Caldwell on a trip to New York with my wife in 1993—a trip that also included Savion Glover’s Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk before it moved from the Public Theatre to Broadway, and Angels in America in the original New York production. Quite a trip. That production of Master Class, which also featured a newcomer named Audra McDonald, has stayed with me all these years as an example of a brilliant exploration of the artistic spirit and its profound depiction of Maria Callas in her later years.

More generally, my love of opera had begun in the late 1970s soon after I returned to New York from advanced study of Acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. My friend Frank Dwyer (later Dramaturg at the Mark Taper in Los Angeles) instructed me in the finer points of seeing opera at the Met on a budget. We would stand in line in the morning for $10 standing room tickets. These were places at the back or the second balcony—as far from the stage as possible.  We would watch the first act from there, and then go down to the lobby at the first intermission and ask people who were leaving at the intermission if we might have their ticket stub. Usually, it worked, and we would watch the remainder of the opera from a seat in the orchestra. I remember particularly Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Verdi’s Otello with Jon Vickers in the title role (with Renata Scotto and Cornell MacNeil), and John Dexter’s production of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, which featured Teresa Stratas singing an aria atop a six-foot step ladder as she trimmed a Christmas tree.  From 1995 to 1998 we spent part of each summer with the Santa Fe International Theater Festival and were able to see productions at the Santa Fe Opera, including a particularly memorable Don Giovanni.  Now, when my PlayMakers schedule permits, we love to attend North Carolina Opera.

Ray Dooley

Although Maria Callas passed away in 1977, Opera Today suggested in 2006 that, “Nearly thirty years after her death, she’s still the definition of the diva as artist.”

So what made “La Divina” so special? Many cite her awe-inspiring vocal range, her skill in dramatic interpretation of a role, and her unmistakable presence on and off the stage.

Below, we offer a few things you may not know about the life of this incredible woman. Click through to test your knowledge, and maybe learn a little something before you see the show!

10 Things You Didn't Know About Maria Callas
Curated by Ray Dooley
Although famously Greek in heritage, Callas was born in New York City in 1923. Her family returned to Greece in 1937.
The family name (and Callas’ birth name) was Kalogeropoulos, shortened by her father first to Kallos, and then to Callas.
Callas weathered the German occupation of Athens during WWII, including, as mentioned in the play, singing Fidelio for the occupying forces.
Callas had an elder sister, and an elder brother who died early from meningitis.
Callas’ relationship with her mother, who brought her back to Athens to study singing, was troubled, and mostly ended after 1950.
Callas was strongly nearsighted, barely able to see the conductor.
During 1953 and 1954, Callas - convinced that she had become too heavy for the roles she was singing - lost 80 pounds.
Callas left her husband for an affair with Aristotle Onassis – who then left Callas when he married Jacqueline Kennedy.
Callas died in Paris in 1977, as the result of a heart attack. It is possible that she was suffering from dermatomyositis, a disease of the muscles and tissue which, according to some experts, may also have been partially responsible for her vocal decline - as it would have also affected her larynx. The treatment for this condition, steroids and immunosuppressives, again according to experts, may have affected her heart.
As a singer, consummate musician, and artist, she left an indelible mark. Leonard Bernstein called her “the Bible of opera,” and Yves Saint-Laurent said of her, “Diva of Divas, empress, queen, goddess, sorceress, hard-working magician, in short, divine. Devastator, explosive, nightingale, turtle-dove. She passed through the century like a great solitary eagle whose outspread wings have concealed from us forever those who will outlive her.”

A note from Ray Dooley: “I’m grateful to many sources, including my friend and colleague Adam Versenyi, for research for the play.”

We would like to thank Mr. Dooley for his time and insight in contributing to this month’s blog!