There are so many astonishing facts about Maria Callas...
First, she was born not in Greece but in Manhattan and went to school there. Second, considering her colossal influence and in contrast to the pumped-up, preposterous, overpaid pipsqueak divas of today, her actual international career was tiny - 18 years at most. Third, and in spite of her reputation, her cancellation record was the lowest of any great singer of her day. Fourth, she rarely looked at the conductor during an opera, simply because she could not see him - she was very short-sighted and often appeared (partly as a result) to be in a trance while on stage. Fifth, she was betrayed by most of those intimate with her throughout her life, and eventually abandoned by many of those who should have known better and who claimed to have loved her. Sixth, she died almost penniless - even her grotesquely rich long-time lover Onassis, whose marriage to Jackie Kennedy she only discovered by watching the 6 o'clock news, had invested her money in half a cargo boat, which sank. Paradoxically, although she died 30 years ago, her records today outsell every other recorded classical artist and single-handedly keep EMI Classics afloat. Last, hers was not the most beautiful voice of her time, as she frequently admitted. Some days it worked; other days it just didn't.
In the end, those who met her in Paris in the seventies agree that she was one of the loneliest, most desperate of women they had ever encountered, slowly drugging herself to death. "Every day, thank God, is one day less", she told Di Stefano. A summons to tea (for half an hour at most) often lasted until the early hours, with the guest or guests pleaded with not to leave.
It was pathetic and horrible, but it was Callas. It was always Callas, and that was the secret and the magic. We witness on stage a broken woman who sings nakedly from her heart, about herself and her life, who acts with such incredible power and unashamed truth that we stagger back before what we know, in our hearts, is all of her. No artifice here; no vulgar posturings to which her absurd imitators - and there are many - aspire. Gheorghiu, Battle, Garrett - they cannot touch her hem.
Maria - just a woman, who often spoke of Callas in the third person, in trouble, asking, begging sometimes, for our understanding and our love. She deserves it because there was no greater singing actress in our time. And she was only 53 when she died.