Maria Callas (02.12.1923 - 16.09.1977)
Maria Anna Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulos was born on 2 December 1923 in New York, the daughter of Greek emigrants to the US.
Her father opened a pharmacy in the Greek district of Manhattan, changing the family name to Callas. maria was given her first piano lessons at the age of nine, before being forced to return to Greece with her mother and sister in 1937 following her parents' divorce. Her mother subsequently changed the family name back to Kalogeropoulos.
Maria was accepted into the National Conservatoire in Athens in 1938, despite the fact that she was not yet 16 years old and officially too young to attend the esteemed institution. She made her first public appearance at a concert with fellow students on 11 April that year.
Maria made her stage debut on 2 April 1939 as Santuzza in a student production of Cavalleria Rusticana, for which she won the Conservatoire Prize. The following year she received her first engagement with an opera ensemble, for which she performed songs in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice´' at the Royal Theatre in Athens.
On 21 January 1941 she finally celebrated her professional operatic debut, playing the role of Beatrice in Boccacio at the Palace Cinema for the same group.
Following the withdrawal from Greece of the German occupation forces, Maria resolved to return to the USA. To finance her trip, she gave a series of farewell concerts in Athens, for which she changed her name back to Callas. A major singing role at the Metropolitan Opera failed to produce an engagement, however, and Callas tried in vain to find engagements in the US for some years.
A number of different appearances in Italy, including the Opera Festival in Verona, were followed by a spellbinding performance as Elvira in 'I Puritani' (1949), which she had taken on for an indisposed colleague at the last minute. This appearance proved to be the turning point in her career.
On 21 April 1949 Maria married Meneghini who, as both her manager and husband, supported her in developing her career both in Italy and abroad.
A record contract and her first commercial recordings soon followed. Maria lost 30 kilos in weight within a short time and dramatically changed her figure. Her return to the US was followed by appearances in Chicago and a debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. A series of breathtaking performances was followed by a sensational debut in Paris at a gala concert at the Paris Opera, where she was also to encounter shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis for the first time.
Although Maria was to receive relatively few professional engagements in subsequent years, her life was about to take a new turn: after being invited by Onassis on a cruise accompanied by various A-list celebrities of the time, Callas and Onassis fell in love and she split up with Meneghinis.
From 1960 onwards Maria devoted all her time to the international high life on Onassis' arm, turning her back on the opera stage as a result. She returned to the opera by popular demand four years later, however, giving an unforgettable performances of 'Tosca' in Covent Garden. A triumphant return to the Metropolitan Opera in March 1965 was followed by a series of productions of 'Norma' in Paris, although her physical condition had by now become a serious issue. On 29 May 1965, by now clearly physically exhausted, Callas was eventually forced to temporarily bid farewell to stage work.
In 1966 Callas gave up her American nationality and took on Greek citizenship, as a result of which her marriage to Meneghini was theoretically annulled. Fully expecting to receive an offer of marriage from Onassis, she was then bitterly disappointed by his marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of assassinated US President John F. Kennedy.
An extensive international concert tour was followed by what was to be Maria Callas' final public appearances - in Sapporo, Japan - on 11 November 1974.
After leading life as a recluse in Paris for some years, Maria Callas died on 16 September 1977 of natural causes.