An onstage rivalry with a rising opera star, a passionate love affair with a Greek shipping magnate, and a fractured family life, all ending in an early death as a recluse in Paris: opera prima donna Maria Callas lived a life worthy of its own theatrical production.
Today, Google brings Mr. Callas’ legacy to the digital world. In a watercolor Doodle that depicts the opera singer’s intense on-stage concentration, emotive presence, and confidence with her place in the spotlight, Google celebrates what would have been her 90th birthday.
Callas was born December 3, 1923 in New York City, but moved with her mother to Greece when she was young and trained at the Athens Conservatory. Her breakout moment in 1943 mirrored her soon-to-be larger-than-life persona: in an amphitheater under the Acropolis singing the lead in “Fidelo” in Nazi-occupied Greece.
Word of her stunning operatic voice spread throughout Europe and soon she moved to Italy, where her career took off. Based in Milan, she toured around the entire world singing leads in productions from “Madame Butterfly” to “Norma.”
Her sound was characterized by a raw tremor that occasionally cracked in the middle of dramatic passages, but her emotional performance kept audiences enthralled. Michael Radou Mous, the councilor for the municipality of Athens, says she studied with the Spanish-born singer Elvira de Hidalgo, who encouraged Callas to focus her attention on bringing soul to melodies and stories. At the same time, Callas took inspiration from the passion depicted in ancient Greek statues found in the Archaeological Museum near her house in Athens.
“These ingredients, mixed with innate talent and a total dedication to the art form, created a concoction of excellence that to this day remains unsurpassed,” he writes in the Huffington Post.
Off stage, her dramatic personal life could have inspired a grandiose opera on its own. She had a tumultuous relationship with her mother; by the end of her life they were not speaking. She had a reported rivalry with fellow soprano Renata Tebaldi, whose voice was said to be more classically beautiful. And what diva’s life story would be complete without romantic escapades? After leaving her millionaire Italian husband Giovanni Meneghini for Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, Mr. Onassis later left her for Jackie Kennedy.
She retired in 1965 and lived a quiet life in Paris until her death at the age of 54.
Though she met an early end, her legacy rang out far beyond her years.
Callas was, as Time Magazine once wrote, the “undisputed queen of the world’s opera.”