The Unknown Callas: The Greek Years

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Hal Leonard Corporation, 2001 - Biography & Autobiography - 672 pages
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(Amadeus). In this award-winning biography, Petsalis-Diomidis closely examines Maria Callas's life in Athens from 1937 to 1945. These years have been largely absent from previous works about Callas, but were crucial to her professional and personal growth. The author examines her professional development, her studies, her concertizing, and her work with the Greek National Opera. He also recounts Callas's daily life, her friendships, her rivalries at the conservatory, and her personal life. Though it is a detailed historical biography, the writing and pace are novelistic. HARDCOVER.
 

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The Unknown Callas: The Greek Years

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Winner of Greece's National Biography Award in 1999 and here translated into English for the first time, this biography of Callas (1923-77) concentrates on a less-explored portion of the soprano's ... Read full review

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Like the fans of James Dean, Jean Harlowe, Jim Morrison, Diana Princess of Wales, and others, Maria Callas’s fans remain grief-stricken 29 years after her death, her annual record sales amount to almost one million dollars and her underwear is publicly offered to souvenir hunters at auction.
This book takes the prolonged post mortem one step further by focusing on Maria Callas’ early years before she acquired the fame, which gave her immortality, about which almost nothing has been previously written. As an investigative work it is staggering, involving minute detail of the years she spent in occupied Athens during World War 2. It’s a major task to read, and it’s with a sense of enhanced, sad understanding rather than factual enlightenment that one finishes the book and gazes once more on the Callas recordings and authorized iconography which the singer would probably have preferred as her memorial.
Still, the legitimate research behind the book counts for much, and it may be for this reason that the distinguished Earl of Harewood, regarded as a trusted friend of Maria Callas, wrote the preface. The strength of the book is the work the author did to find and interview witnesses, many now dead, whose observations are presented with apparent caution and respect for their reluctance to talk on the record at all.
This strength is also the book’s weakness, as few are willing or able to make authoritative remarks. It’s touching to see how many of her unknown former acquaintances and colleagues were unwilling to make adverse comments about Maria Callas or to recall events, which were painful to her and to them. In the absence of their precise confirmation of the facts on which they are asked to comment, the author presents the information anyway, subject to sufficient caveats to protect the integrity of the text and, in some cases, enhanced by his own opinions.
His attention to detail leads Mr. Petsalis-Diomedes to reinforce some of the well-known stories that usually appear in discussions of the singer’s life before she became successful and beautiful. Those that predominate in this book concern her youthful ugliness, greed, nastiness to others, and susceptibility to enemy aliens during the occupation of Greece, the approximate date of the loss of her virginity, and her relationship with the “wobble” in her upper register. These are part of the Callas legend and do no particular damage, but as Mr. Petsalis-Diomedes announces at the beginning of the book that he is going to avoid them it is bemusing to find oneself reading so much about them.
The book ends with the young Maria’s departure from Greece for her career abroad, but the author adds as one of several appendices a discussion of Maria’s famous break with her mother. No other book, except perhaps Litsa’s own silly book published in 1967, makes such a case of perfidy against Litsa Kaloyeropoulou. The author with relish presents previously unpublished letters between the husband, mother and father and Maria’s mother emerges as a giant amongst those self obsessed child/mothers who never allow their children to ignore them while simultaneously failing to give of themselves. For this reason alone the book is fun to read, but the discussion hardly amounts to the most perfect case of objective historicity.
In setting out to be the witness of truth to Maria Callas’ early years the author has succeeded in exposing many authentic (and minute) details of the child who metamorphosed into what the author calls “the miracle that was Maria Callas.” However Maria’s ability to be eponymous was too great to allow him to succeed completely. Like her underwear, which was bought and burned by the Athenian municipal council, this book shows, by a serious and mostly scholarly effort to find them, that Maria’s secrets are no longer available. Too much was not said and too many have kept their silence. For those who try to speak for her, this means everything.
 

Selected pages

Contents

Roots
23
Meligalas
29
America America
34
First Clouds on the Horizon
41
Discovering a Voice
47
Some Facts Reconsidered
58
Sing Sing Sing Again
66
A Sudden Upheaval
74
Sporadic Appearances and Serious Developments
319
Waiting for Recognition
335
A Romantic Interlude
349
Success Liberation and Civil War 1944
357
Tiefland The Promise Confirmed
359
Education Sentimentale
379
Cavalleria Rusticana and O Protomastoras
388
Growing Pains of a Budding Prima Donna
406

A Musical Apprenticeship 19371940
81
Arriving and Settling Down in Athens
83
Maria Trivella and the National Conservatory
95
A Crisis with Grave Consequences
108
Baptism by Fire
122
A Waiting Game with Further Progress
137
The Athens Conservatory Elvira de Hidalgo and Bel Canto
155
Working on the Voice
165
A New Exciting World
178
War Occupation and the National Opera 19401943
195
The National Opera and Early Prospects
197
War and Boccaccio
213
Studies in Music and Life
233
Devouring Music
252
Wartime Diet and the Weight Problem
262
Thessaloniki and a Summer Adventure
275
Tosca A Star Is Born
286
The Consequences of Success
303
Fidelm The Making of a Diva
416
Liberation Romance and Three Weeks of Terror
432
Problems and Departure from Greece 1945
451
Problems at the National Opera
453
Easter Concerts in Thessaloniki
466
Reasons and Preparations for Leaving
477
Der Bettelstudent and Departure
493
Epilogue Postscripts and Appendix
509
Reappraisals and Conclusions
511
The Final Breach with Her Mother
530
Maria Callas An Assessment
549
The Mirror Cracked
558
Appearances and Repertoire 19381945
577
Sources Bibliography and Abbreviations
591
Notes
603
Index
659
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