Today’s the birthday of opera singer Maria Callas. Born Maria Anna Cecilia Sofia Kalogeropoulos in New York City on December 2, 1923, Maria Callas is one of the most recognizable voices in the opera world of the 20th century. Her training began when she was just five years old, later studying in Greece after her parents’ tumultuous marriage. Her teacher described her as a “model student.” Within six months, Maria was singing some of “the most difficult arias in the international opera repertoire.”
Madame Callas made her debut in February 1941. Even her most ardent opponents referred to her as “God-given,” or La Divina. But it was her performance in Bellini’s I puritani in 1949, which became a turning point in her professional career. Pulled in at short notice to perform, and with only a week to prepare, Maria received acclaim for her triumphant performance. She became a resident performer of La Scala in Milan, where lavish productions were put on. Callas’ reputation as La Divina and prima donna coincided with her debut with the Royal Opera House (1953) and Metropolitan Opera (1956). Stories of her high temper, excessive demands, and rivalries sometimes overshadowed her skills as a singer. Nevertheless, she pressed on with performances and tours until 1965, when she ended her career in a triumphant return as Tosca with the Royal Opera House.
A fashion icon and international socialite, Maria Callas remained in the eyes of the press long after her career ended. While still married, she was introduced to shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who, in 1968, left her for Jackie Kennedy. Callas pushed herself into the throes of music as a form of escape and healing. Even then, it was to her despair. A 1969 film starred Callas in the role of the mythic figure Medea was grueling for her and panned by critics. Critics also lambasted her 1973-74 tour of Europe, the U.S., and Asia. But people came in droves to see her, along with tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano, in what would be her final performances.
Maria spent her final years in isolation in Paris. She died, aged 53, on September 16 1977 of a heart attack. Cremated and interred at Paris’ Père Lachaise Cemetery, thieves stole her ashes. They were recovered in 1979 and, per her wishes, scattered off the Aegean Sea.
The life and legacy of Maria Callas’ artistic achievements remain celebrated around the world. From her posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, portrayals in films and documentaries, a retrospective of her iconic looks, and even a Google Doodle, Maria Callas has certainly earned her nickname with a divine voice that continues to inspire performers.