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Maria Callas (1923 – 1977)


Famous and controversial opera singer of the 20th century.
Maria Callas
I once said to her “It must be a very enviable thing to be Maria Callas.” And she said, “No, it’s a very terrible thing to be Maria Callas, because it’s a question of trying to understand something you can never really understand.” She couldn’t really explain what she did. It was all done by instinct. It was something embedded deep within her.
Callas quotes
Maria had a way of even transforming her body for the exigencies of a role, which is a great triumph. In La traviata, everything would slope down; everything indicated sickness, fatigue, softness. Her arms would move as if they had no bones, like the great ballerinas. In Medea, everything was angular. She’d never make a soft gesture; even the walk she used was like a tiger’s walk.
Callas
Listen to me, everyone speak about Callas. But I know Callas. I know Callas before she was Callas. She was fat and she had this vociaccia — you know what a vociaccia is? You go kill a cat and record its scream. She had this bad skin. And she had this rich husband. We laugh at her, you know that? And then, I sat in on a rehearsal with Maestro Serafin. You know, it was Parsifal and I was supposed to see if I do one of the flowers. I didn't. And she sing that music. In Italian of course. And he tell her this and he tell her that and little by little this voice had all the nature in it — the forest and the magic castle and hatred that is love. And little by little she not fat with bad skin and rich-husband-asleep-in-the-corner; she witch who burn you by standing there. Maestro Serafin he say to me afterwards, you know now something about Parsifal. I say, "No, Maestro, I know much more. I know how to study. And I know that we are more than voices. We are spirit, we are god when we sing, if we mean it." Oh yes, they will go on about Tebaldi this and Freni that. Beautiful, beautiful voices, amazing. They work hard. They sincere. They suffer. They more talented than Maria, sure. But she was the genius. Genius come from genio — spirit. And that make her more than all of us. So I learn from that. Don't let them take from you because you are something they don't expect. Work and fight and work and give, and maybe once in a while you are good.




Callas Maria quotes
It’s enough to hear her, I’m positive! Because she could say everything only with her voice! I can imagine everything, I can see everything in front of my eye.
Callas Maria
It takes a little more time to get into the role, but not very much more. In making a record you don't have the sense of projection over a distance as in an opera house. We have this microphone and this magnifies all details of a performance, all exaggerations. In the theater, you can get away with a very large, very grand phrase. For the microphone, you have to tone it down. It's the same as making a film, your gestures will be seen in close-up, so they cannot be exaggerated as they would be in a theater.
Maria Callas quotes
I adored this lady, and I respected her work ethic. She always wanted to improve her understanding of a piece. "Casta Diva", [for instance] — what interested me most was how she gave the runs and the cadenzas words. That always floored me. I always felt I heard her saying something — it was never just singing notes. That alone is an art. It’s an art that you can try to achieve, but you can’t copy, because that’s just imitating without delving into [how she felt] about that particular fioritura. ... how many other artists since Callas have you heard and thought, "She sang gorgeously, but I never cried?"
Maria Callas
I did it to serve Callas, for one must serve a Callas.
Callas Maria quotes
She opened a new door for us, for all the singers in the world, a door that had been closed. Behind it was sleeping not only great music but great idea of interpretation. She has given us the chance, those who follow her, to do things that were hardly possible before her. That I am compared with Callas is something I never dared to dream. It is not right. I am much smaller than Callas.
Callas
I've loved opera since I was a child. I study her; I mean of course I can't sing like that, but she has taught me a lot about discovering how to deliver the inner narrative of a song. Because I listen to her songs--I don't speak Italian or I don't speak whatever language she's singing--but I understand what she's conveying through her emotional interpretation.
Callas Maria
Yes, the woman could act. At the very moment she entered, you saw in full Aida, Anna Bolena, Gioconda, felt their eyes on you even before they uttered a sound. ... The gestures — so authentically antique, yet strangely devised entirely on her own — were completely equalized into her stylistics, with one set for the Greeks and Romans, another for post-Renaissance royalty, a third for more contemporary characters. Yet, all this was subsidiary to the heavy Kunst of developing the psychology of the roles under the supervision of the music, of singing the acting....
Maria Callas
The magic of a Callas is a quality few artists have, something special, something different. There are many very good artists, but very few who have that sixth sense, the additional, the plus quality. It is something which lifts them from the ground: they become like semi-gods. She had it. Nureyev has it, [Laurence] Olivier. But Olivier is also a case of an extremely rich knowledge of everything. He is completely coherent in his life, onstage. Whatever he does is part of a complete personality. Maria is a common girl behind the wings, but when she goes onstage, or even when she talks about her work or begins to hum a tune, she immediately assumes this additional quality. For me, Maria is always a miracle. you cannot understand or explain her. You can explain everything Olivier does because it is all part of a professional genius. But Maria can switch from nothing to everything, from earth to heaven. What is it this woman has? I don't know, but when that miracle happens, she is a new soul, a new entity.




Maria Callas quotes
Bel canto does not mean beautiful singing alone. It is, rather, the technique demanded by the composers of this style — Donizetti, Rossini, and Bellini. It is the same attitudes and demands of Mozart and Beethoven, for example, the same approach and the same technical difficulties faced by instrumentalists. You see, a musician is a musician. A singer is no different from an instrumentalist except that we have words. You don't excuse things in a singer you would not dream of excusing in a violinist or pianist. There is no excuse for not having a trill, for not doing the acciaccatura, for not having good scales. Look at your scores! There are technical things written there to be performed, and they must be performed whether you like it or not. How will you get out of a trill? How will you get out of scales when they are written there, staring you in the face? It is not enough to have a beautiful voice. What does that mean? When you interpret a role, you have to have a thousand colors to portray happiness, joy, sorrow, fear. How can you do this with only a beautiful voice? Even if you sing harshly sometimes, as I have frequently done, it is a necessity of expression. You have to do it, even if people will not understand. But in the long run they will, because you must persuade them of what you're doing.
Maria Callas
The last great artist. When you think this woman was nearly blind, and often sang standing a good 150 feet from the podium. But her sensitivity! Even if she could not see, she sensed the music and always came in exactly with my downbeat. When we rehearsed, she was so precise, already note-perfect. ... For over thirty years, I was Arturo Toscanini's assistant, and from the very first rehearsal, he demanded every nuance from the orchestra, just as if it were a full performance. The piano, the forte, the staccato, the legato — all from the start. And Callas did this too. ... She was not just a singer, but a complete artist. It's foolish to discuss her as a voice. She must be viewed totally — as a complex of music, drama, movement. There is no one like her today. She was an esthetic phenomenon.
Callas quotes
Callas studied the text, the meaning of the words, and as a result, she became a diva. She became the Great Callas. Because she studied the character, she entered the mind of the character, and she brought the character to life onstage. Today, young singers don’t have this mindset. They don’t have the kind of technique that Callas had. ...Price, Milanov and Tebaldi had stupendous voices and great careers. [But] Callas, as a performer, as someone who expressed the real meaning of the words, was the best. The best. There is no doubt about this — not only for her sound, but because she studied so much. Callas is the diva. She is important to young singers, because she was a serious singer onstage, and she left a great legacy. I don’t know, though, if they can listen and learn from what she left on her recordings.
Callas Maria
I used to listen again and again to recordings by Maria Callas. She was so musical and so theatrical at the same time. That is rare! I admire the way she cares for the words, so that everything comes from the text. She takes everything from the text and the music to elaborate a character and make her really interesting and impressive. She brings her own nature to the part — what she is, her passion, her fragility, doubts, feelings, violence — everything she is. And she never betrays the text or the music. We're very different, thank goodness, and I am happy with my own voice. But I feel very close to her in terms of discipline — trying to be as disciplined as she. She is an example to follow! Maybe in the past, people were more interested in voice and beautiful sounds. Maria Callas changed that. She arrived, brought a new way of doing opera, opened the way for us. We don't have any excuse now for not doing it!
Callas Maria quotes
[Serafin was] an extraordinary coach, sharp as a vecchio lupo [sly fox]. He opened a world to me, showed me there was a reason for everything, that even fiorature and trills ... have a reason in the composer's mind, that they are the expression of the stato d'animo [state of mind] of the character — that is, the way he feels at the moment, the passing emotions that take hold of him. He would coach us for every little detail, every movement, every word, every breath. One of the things he told me — and this is the basis of bel canto — is never to attack a note from underneath or from above, but always to prepare it in the face. He taught me that pauses are often more important than the music. He explained that there was a rhythm — these are the things you get only from that man! — a measure for the human ear, and that if a note was too long, it was no good after a while. A fermata always must be measured, and if there are two fermate close to one another in the score, you ignore one of them. He taught me the proportions of recitative — how it is elastic, the proportions altering so slightly that only you can understand it. ... But in performance he left you on your own. "When I am in the pit, I am there to serve you, because I have to save my performance." he would say. We would look down and feel we had a friend there. He was helping you all the way. He would mouth all the words. If you were not well, he would speed up the tempo, and if you were in top form, he would slow it down to let you breathe, to give you room. He was breathing with you, living the music with you, loving it with you. It was elastic, growing, living.
Maria Callas
Callas? She was pure electricity.
Maria Callas quotes
[It was] like nothing else. Compared to nothing. I would say singers are reproductive artists, but she was a creative artist. She was in the role so much, it was fabulous, fabulous. She was very modest, very easy. But I think she saw red when she saw a journalist. But I could discuss a breath or anything with her. She didn't really have an ego when it came to the work. Her curse was that she was so musical, so intelligent, that she could take on roles that her voice couldn't handle. But what she did was always wonderful. There's a good example of what I mean. Callas — artist. Tebaldi — wonderful singer.
Maria Callas
To work with her, you had to really understand how she saw your role, not how you saw it. She had a very clear-cut understanding of her role, and you had to fit into that interpretation. She was so great, [yet] she could not distance herself from a role. It was actually quite terrifying — she would at times actually cry while singing! You must only portray the emotions, not become personally involved. But Maria always became the role. She was such a servant of the text and the composer, she would tear her voice to ribbons to accomplish it!
Callas Maria
There was some wonderful demonic thing that worked inside of her to fuse the elements of technique and expression and transcend the [roles she assayed.] ... She's an inspiration to everyone that follows her, but she’s also a kind of cautionary tale for artists, so they understand that you risk a great deal when you’re that hungry.


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