22 Mar 2009

Historic Performances: Maria Callas

Although born in New York City, Maria Callas (1923-1977) received her musical education in Greece and started her career in Italy.

Her big break occurred in an appearance in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda in Verona.

This successful appearance (2 August 1947) under Serafin was the start of her real career and she was soon in demand in Italian theatres for such heavy roles as Aida, Turandot, Isolde, Kundry and Brünnhilde. A rare versatility was shown in Venice in 1949 when, only three days after singing a Walküre Brünnhilde, she deputized for an indisposed colleague in the florid bel canto role of Elvira in Bellini’s I puritani. Thereafter, under the guidance of Serafin, she gradually relinquished her heavier roles in order to concentrate on the earlier Italian operas. Besides adding to her repertory Bellini’s Amina, Donizetti’s Lucia and Verdi’s Leonora (Il trovatore), Violetta and Gilda, she was in constant demand whenever rare and vocally taxing operas of the older school were produced, such as Haydn’s L’anima del filosofo (in its world première, 1951, Florence), Gluck’s Alceste and Iphigénie en Tauride, Cherubini’s Médée, Spontini’s La vestale, Rossini’s Armida and Il turco in Italia, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena and Poliuto, and Bellini’s Il pirata. Her greatest triumphs were won as Norma, Medea, Anne Boleyn, Lucia, Verdi's Lady Macbeth and Violetta, and Tosca. Many of these roles she repeated in the major opera houses of the world, where her fame reached a level that recalled the careers of Caruso and Chaliapin.

[Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Callas [Kalogeropoulou], (Cecilia Sophia Anna) Maria, Grove Music Online]

Her career proved to be a succession of triumphs and controversies, perhaps the most famous incident being her so-called “firing” by Rudolph Bing in 1958 . Vocal difficulties and personal disappointments ultimately led to the end of her career. Her last public performance occurred in Sapporo, Japan, in 1974.

[Click here for Wikipedia's more detailed biography.]


  1. DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lamermoor
  2. BELLINI: Norma — Roma 1955
  3. BELLINI: Il Pirata — New York 1959
  4. VERDI: Un ballo in maschera — La Scala 1957
  5. VERDI: La Traviata — Lisbon 1958
  6. ROSSINI: Armida — Firenze 1952
  7. PUCCINI: Tosca — Mexico City 1952
  8. BELLINI: La sonnambula — La Scala 1957
  9. CHERUBINI: Medea — La Scala 1961
  10. ROSSINI: Il Barbiere di Siviglia — La Scala 1956