In this documentary made using never-before-seen archive footage, out in the U.S. on November 2, French director Tom Volf pays homage to opera singer Maria Callas, who was born to Greek parents in New York in 1923 and passed away in Paris at the age of 53.
The cantatrice who won the hearts of opera enthusiasts and the general public is still a source of fascination 40 years after her death. A two-hour film has been made about her life, from her difficult childhood in New York until her premature retirement in Paris, where she removed herself from the public eye and died in 1977. The documentary looks back over her spectacular career and her thwarted love for Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who betrayed her after a nine-year affair by marrying Jackie Kennedy in 1968.
“There are two people in me, Maria and the Callas,” said the soprano to British journalist David Frost. The 1970 interview from which this quote is taken serves as a foundation for the documentary, with the director exploring this duality. “Forty years ago, I didn’t know who Maria Callas was. I discovered her by chance,” he says. “I was living in New York and had just watched a performance of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at the Metropolitan Opera. I knew nothing about this art form, but it made me want to hear more. When I arrived home, I looked online for other operas by Donizetti, and stumbled upon a performance by Callas. I was shocked! I spent the whole night listening to her repertoire and reading everything that had been written about her. Later, I met with people who had known her. I wanted to give her a voice, to place her in the center of the story about her life, which has now become a legend filled with falsehoods.”
The movie is based on rare archive material, including on-stage performances, television interviews, private recordings, amateur footage on Super 8 film, and images from backstage. “I didn’t want a narrator, nor any external narration,” says the director. “As well as the interviews, I decided to use the letters the singer wrote to her loved ones at key moments in her life.” The delivery of this correspondence was given to French actress Fanny Ardant (Eight Women, Swann in Love) who has already played Maria Callas in a play, and her intimate readings give the documentary its real flavor.
U.S. release: November 2, 2018
Runtime: 113 min
Director: Tom Volf
With: Fanny Ardant