Arts & Culture

A Rare Peek Inside the World of Late Superstar Opera Singer Maria Callas

The new book reveals private photos and the icon’s own words.
IMAGE COURTESY FONDS DE DOTATION MARIA CALLAS. PHOTO BY FRANCO GREMIGNANO
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“Four years ago, I had no idea who Maria Callas was,” says filmmaker and author Tom Volf. “But it was destiny that brought us together.” Flipping through Volf’s new tome, Maria by Callas (Assouline), it’s easy to see why he feels that way. The book combines photos of Callas, the superstar opera singer who died in 1977, from her own collections and those of her friends and family with her own words to paint an affecting and unusually personal portrait of a woman who spent her life in the public eye but never lost her air of mystery. Volf, while not a lifelong fan, has managed to peek behind the public persona of Callas and find a glimmer of the woman behind the star.


Callas with Luchino Visconti, who directed her in La Vistale in 1954.

Volf's interest in Callas was piqued after he happened into the Metropolitan Opera in New York one night, and found himself newly enamored of opera (he’d seen a work by Donizetti). He soon came across videos of Callas on YouTube. He was hooked. “I read everything about her and watched all the documentaries, but I still felt like there was something missing,” he says. “I felt like I didn’t know who she really was. I met some of her friends along the way, and one thing led to another.”


Callas with Aristotle Onassis on his yacht, Christina, in 1976.

Volf found an audience with some of Callas closest friends and managed to convince them to open their archives to him—not a small request. “Many of these people had been solicited [for photos] over the years, and they had remained very private as people who approached them were looking for gossip or for a story to tell,” he says. And while Callas led a life marked by scandal and celebrity, that wasn’t necessarily all Volf wanted to discuss.

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Callas in Milan in 1958

“I was really just interested in knowing more about her,” he says. “And I was in my late 20s when these people were in their late 80s or older; they felt a genuine interest on my end and also they were interested in sharing the beauty of her, not just the gossip, with a new generation. I wasn’t writing about her, either, I was putting her at the center of everything.”


Callas choosing Cartier jewelry in Milan, 1957.

Even now, however, with his book out in the world and a film about Callas in the works, Volf still can’t claim to have figured out everything about the woman who so captivated him. “I was coming from a place of general interest, having read the biographies and watched the documentaries; I had a broad understanding of who she was, but mostly from people who had never met her,” he says. “The reason my book is called Maria by Callas is because there was an interview which had been lost for 40 years, but I retrieved, in which she said, ‘There are two people in me. There is Maria and there is the Callas, who I have to live up to.’ That gave me a distinct understanding of the duality that was in her.”


Callas in Van Cleef & Arpels jewels, after a premiere in Paris, 1958.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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Adam Rathe
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