Maria Callas
by Coen Steegeling, notes to the CD
Maria Callas — Best Recordings, Volume I (SACEM)

Maria Callas (real name Kalogeropoulos) was born in New York on the fourth of December 1923. Her parents were Greek emigrants. As a small child Maria acquired an ear for music by listening to gramophone records and radio programmes. Piano and singing lessons followed.

The family at that time was in difficult financial circumstances. Her father was forced to give up his drugstore and found a badly paid job in the pharmaceutical industry. In Greece the standard of living was lower than in the United States and, also because of marriage problems, mother Kalogeropoulos decided to return to Greece with her two daughters. The money Maria's father sent over enabled them to lead a satisfactory life and it could pay for Maria's singing studies at one of the academies of music in Athens. Her tuition under a famous singing master took from morning till night. After several school performances she was offered a part in the Royal Opera in Suppé's Boccaccio. This formed the start of her professional career.

In 1940 Greece became engaged in the Second World War, as a consequence whereof the monthly payments from America stalled. The position Maria had with the Opera brought some compensation, and from time to time she performed for the enemy troops. In 1942 she replaced a soprano at the opera who was taken ill. With this part of Tosca she got her first publicity. In October 1944 Athens was liberated by the British Forces, for whom she worked as an interpreter for some time. Because the situation in Greece deteriorated, caused by the civil war which broke out in December 1944, and because of her bad relationship with her mother, Maria decided to return to her father in New York in September 1945. Life in New York was quite luxurious compared to life in Athens, but immensely difficult for an up-and-coming singer. The United States were over-run by singers from Italy, so competition was heavy. What should have been her debut in Chicago one day was blown off because the company went bankrupt. In the meantime her mother came back to New York, and with her the family problems. So when Maria was offered a contract for La Gioconda in Verona, she jumped at the occasion and went to Italy. The journey there was paid for with borrowed money. In Italy she met with her future husband Meneghini, as well as with her mentor Tullio Serafin and the obtrusive Italian press. Her sensational performance in Wagner's Walküre and two days later in Bellini's I Puritani received worldwide publicity. In Italy from then on she was a star and she received many offers from the gramophone record companies. Her records made her famous and popular the world over.

The press haunted her constantly and invaded her private life; her divorce from Menighini and her affair with Onassis were covered by the press all over the world. Her affair with Onassis was not only tragic to her personally, but also disastrous to her career. She contracted a throat disease which caused her voice to lose quality, but she did not take it seriously. After Onassis' marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy Maria broke down. She made several disappointing attempts to pick up her career, but her life had lost its sense to her. Her death on the 16th of September 1977 brought to an end to the tragic life of this fascinating artist.

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