Maria Callas[a] Commendatore OMRI (born Sophie Cecilia Kalos; December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977) was an American-born Greek soprano  who was one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. Many critics praised her bel canto technique, wide-ranging voice and dramatic interpretations. Her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini and, further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini; and, in her early career, to the music dramas of Wagner. Her musical and dramatic talents led to her being hailed as La Divina ("the Divine one").
Born in Manhattan, New York City, to Greek immigrant parents, she was raised by an overbearing mother who had wanted a son. Maria received her musical education in Greece at age 13 and later established her career in Italy. Forced to deal with the exigencies of 1940s wartime poverty and with near-sightedness that left her nearly blind onstage, she endured struggles and scandal over the course of her career. She notably underwent a mid-career weight loss, which might have contributed to her vocal decline and the premature end of her career.
The press exulted in publicizing Callas's temperamental behavior, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi and her love affair with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Although her dramatic life and personal tragedy have often overshadowed Callas the artist in the popular press, her artistic achievements were such that Leonard Bernstein called her "the Bible of opera" and her influence so enduring that, in 2006, Opera News wrote of her: "Nearly thirty years after her death, she's still the definition of the diva as artist—and still one of classical music's best-selling vocalists."
Family life, childhood and move to Greece
The apartment house in Athens where Callas lived from 1937 to 1945
The name on Callas's New York birth certificate is Sophie Cecilia Kalos, although she was christened Maria Anna Cecilia Sofia Kalogeropoulos (Greek: Μαρία Άννα Καικιλία Σοφία Καλογεροπούλου). She was born at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital (now the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center), 1249 5th Avenue, Manhattan, on December 2, 1923, to Greek parents, George Kalogeropoulos (c. 1881–1972) and Elmina Evangelia "Litsa" née Demes, originally Dimitriadou (c. 1894–1982). Callas's father had shortened the surname Kalogeropoulos first to "Kalos" and subsequently to "Callas" to make it more manageable.
George and Litsa Callas were an ill-matched couple from the beginning. George was easy-going and unambitious, with no interest in the arts, while Litsa was vivacious and socially ambitious and had dreamed of a life in the arts, which her middle-class parents had stifled in her childhood and youth. Litsa's father, Petros Dimitriadis (1852–1916), was in failing health when Litsa introduced George to her family. Petros, distrustful of George, had warned his daughter, "You will never be happy with him. If you marry that man, I will never be able to help you". Litsa had ignored his warning, but soon realized that her father was right. The situation was aggravated by George's philandering and was improved neither by the birth of a daughter, named Yakinthi (later called "Jackie") in 1917, nor the birth of a son, named Vassilis, in 1920. Vassilis's death from meningitis in the summer of 1922 dealt another blow to the marriage.
In 1923, after realizing that Litsa was pregnant again, George made the decision to move his family to the United States, a decision which Yakinthi recalled was greeted with Litsa "shouting hysterically" followed by George "slamming doors". The family left for New York in July 1923, moving first into an apartment in the heavily ethnic neighborhood of Astoria, Queens.
Litsa was convinced that her third child would be a boy; her disappointment at the birth of another daughter was so great that she refused to even look at her new baby for four days. Maria was christened three years later at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in 1926. When Maria was 4, George Callas opened his own pharmacy, settling the family in Manhattan on 192nd Street in Washington Heights, where Callas grew up. Around the age of three, Maria's musical talent began to manifest itself, and after Litsa discovered that her youngest daughter also had a voice, she began pressing "Mary" to sing. Callas later recalled, "I was made to sing when I was only five, and I hated it." George was unhappy with his wife favoring their elder daughter, as well as the pressure put upon young Mary to sing and perform, while Litsa was increasingly embittered with George and his absences and infidelity, and often violently reviled him in front of their children. The marriage continued to deteriorate and, in 1937, Litsa decided to return to Athens with her two daughters.
Relationship with mother
Callas's relationship with her mother continued to erode during the years in Greece, and in the prime of her career, it became a matter of great public interest, especially after a 1956 cover story in Time magazine which focused on this relationship and later, by Litsa's book My Daughter Maria Callas (1960). In public, Callas recalls the strained relationship with Litsa on her unhappy childhood spent singing and working at her mother's insistence, saying,
My sister was slim and beautiful and friendly, and my mother always preferred her. I was the ugly duckling, fat and clumsy and unpopular. It is a cruel thing to make a child feel ugly and unwanted... I'll never forgive her for taking my childhood away. During all the years I should have been playing and growing up, I was singing or making money. Everything I did for them was mostly good and everything they did to me was mostly bad.
In 1957, she told Chicago radio host Norman Ross Jr., "There must be a law against forcing children to perform at an early age. Children should have a wonderful childhood. They should not be given too much responsibility."
Biographer Nicholas Petsalis-Diomidis [el] says that Litsa's hateful treatment of George in front of their young children led to resentment and dislike on Callas's part. According to both Callas's husband and her close friend Giulietta Simionato, Callas related to them that her mother, who did not work, pressed her to "go out with various men", mainly Italian and German soldiers, to bring home money and food during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II. Simionato was convinced that Callas "managed to remain untouched", but Callas never forgave her mother for what she perceived as a kind of prostitution forced on her. Litsa herself, beginning in New York and continuing in Athens, had adopted a questionable lifestyle that included not only pushing her daughters into degrading situations to support her financially, but also entertaining Italian and German soldiers herself during the Axis occupation.
In an attempt to patch things up with her mother, Callas took Litsa along on her first visit to Mexico in 1950, but this only reawakened the old frictions and resentments, and after leaving Mexico they never met again. After a series of angry and accusatory letters from Litsa lambasting Callas's father and husband, Callas ceased communication with her mother altogether.
A 1955 Time story  covered Callas' response to her mother's request of $100, "for my daily bread." Callas had replied, "Don't come to us with your troubles. I had to work for my money, and you are young enough to work, too. If you can't make enough money to live on, you can jump out of the window or drown yourself." Callas justified her behavior..."They say my family is very short of money. Before God, I say why should they blame me? I feel no guilt and I feel no gratitude. I like to show kindness, but you mustn't expect thanks, because you won't get any. That's the way life is. If some day I need help, I wouldn't expect anything from anybody. When I'm old, nobody is going to worry about me."
Callas received her musical education in Athens. Initially, her mother tried to enroll her at the prestigious Athens Conservatoire, without success. At the audition, her voice, still untrained, failed to impress, while the conservatoire's director Filoktitis Oikonomidis [el] refused to accept her without her satisfying the theoretic prerequisites (solfege). In the summer of 1937, her mother visited Maria Trivella at the younger Greek National Conservatoire, asking her to take Mary, as she was then called, as a student for a modest fee. In 1957, Trivella recalled her impression of "Mary, a very plump young girl, wearing big glasses for her myopia":
The tone of the voice was warm, lyrical, intense; it swirled and flared like a flame and filled the air with melodious reverberations like a carillon. It was by any standards an amazing phenomenon, or rather it was a great talent that needed control, technical training and strict discipline in order to shine with all its brilliance.
Trivella agreed to tutor Callas, completely waiving her tuition fees, but no sooner had Callas started her formal lessons and vocal exercises than Trivella began to feel that Callas was not a contralto, as she had been told, but a dramatic soprano. Subsequently, they began working on raising the tessitura of her voice and to lighten its timbre. Trivella recalled Callas as:
A model student. Fanatical, uncompromising, dedicated to her studies heart and soul. Her progress was phenomenal. She studied five or six hours a day. ...Within six months, she was singing the most difficult arias in the international opera repertoire with the utmost musicality.
On April 11, 1938, in her public debut, Callas ended the recital of Trivella's class at the Parnassos music hall with a duet from Tosca. Callas recalled that Trivella:
had a French method, which was placing the voice in the nose, rather nasal... and I had the problem of not having low chest tones, which is essential in bel canto... And that's where I learned my chest tones.
However, when interviewed by Pierre Desgraupes [fr] on the French program L'invitée du dimanche, Callas attributed the development of her chest voice not to Trivella, but to her next teacher, the Spanish coloratura soprano Elvira de Hidalgo.
Callas studied with Trivella for two years before her mother secured another audition at the Athens Conservatoire with de Hidalgo. Callas auditioned with "Ocean, Thou Mighty Monster" from Weber's Oberon. De Hidalgo recalled hearing "tempestuous, extravagant cascades of sounds, as yet uncontrolled but full of drama and emotion". She agreed to take her as a pupil immediately, but Callas's mother asked de Hidalgo to wait for a year, as Callas would be graduating from the National Conservatoire and could begin working. On April 2, 1939, Callas undertook the part of Santuzza in a student production of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana at the Greek National Opera at the Olympia Theatre, and in the fall of the same year she enrolled at the Athens Conservatoire in Elvira de Hidalgo's class.
In 1968, Callas told Lord Harewood,
De Hildalgo had the real great training, maybe even the last real training of the real bel canto. As a young girl—thirteen years old—I was immediately thrown into her arms, meaning that I learned the secrets, the ways of this bel canto, which of course as you well know, is not just beautiful singing. It is a very hard training; it is a sort of a strait-jacket that you're supposed to put on, whether you like it or not. You have to learn to read, to write, to form your sentences, how far you can go, fall, hurt yourself, put yourself back on your feet continuously. De Hidalgo had one method, which was the real bel canto way, where no matter how heavy a voice, it should always be kept light, it should always be worked on in a flexible way, never to weigh it down. It is a method of keeping the voice light and flexible and pushing the instrument into a certain zone where it might not be too large in sound, but penetrating. And teaching the scales, trills, all the bel canto embellishments, which is a whole vast language of its own.
De Hidalgo later recalled Callas as "a phenomenon... She would listen to all my students, sopranos, mezzos, tenors... She could do it all." Callas herself said that she would go to "the conservatoire at 10 in the morning and leave with the last pupil ... devouring music" for 10 hours a day. When asked by her teacher why she did this, her answer was that even "with the least talented pupil, he can teach you something that you, the most talented, might not be able to do."
Early operatic career in Greece
After several appearances as a student, Callas began appearing in secondary roles at the Greek National Opera. De Hidalgo was instrumental in securing roles for her, allowing Callas to earn a small salary, which helped her and her family get through the difficult war years.
Callas made her professional debut in February 1941, in the small role of Beatrice in Franz von Suppé's Boccaccio. Soprano Galatea Amaxopoulou, who sang in the chorus, later recalled, "Even in rehearsal, Maria's fantastic performing ability had been obvious, and from then on, the others started trying ways of preventing her from appearing." Fellow singer Maria Alkeou similarly recalled that the established sopranos Nafsika Galanou and Anna (Zozó) Remmoundou "used to stand in the wings while [Callas] was singing and make remarks about her, muttering, laughing, and point their fingers at her".
Despite these hostilities, Callas managed to continue and made her debut in a leading role in August 1942 as Tosca, going on to sing the role of Marta in Eugen d'Albert's Tiefland at the Olympia Theatre. Callas's performance as Marta received glowing reviews. Critic Spanoudi declared Callas "an extremely dynamic artist possessing the rarest dramatic and musical gifts", and Vangelis Mangliveras evaluated Callas's performance for the weekly To Radiophonon:
The singer who took the part of Marta, that new star in the Greek firmament, with a matchless depth of feeling, gave a theatrical interpretation well up to the standard of a tragic actress. About her exceptional voice with its astonishing natural fluency, I do not wish to add anything to the words of Alexandra Lalaouni: 'Kalogeropoulou is one of those God-given talents that one can only marvel at.'
Following these performances, even Callas's detractors began to refer to her as "The God-Given". Some time later, watching Callas rehearse Beethoven's Fidelio, erstwhile rival soprano Anna Remoundou asked a colleague, "Could it be that there is something divine and we haven't realized it?" Following Tiefland, Callas sang the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana again and followed it with O Protomastoras [el] (Manolis Kalomiris) at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre at the foot of the Acropolis.
During August and September 1944, Callas performed the role of Leonore in a Greek language production of Fidelio, again at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. German critic Friedrich Herzog, who witnessed the performances, declared Leonore Callas's "greatest triumph":
When Maria Kaloyeropoulou's Leonore let her soprano soar out radiantly in the untrammelled jubilation of the duet, she rose to the most sublime heights. ... Here she gave bud, blossom and fruit to that harmony of sound that also ennobled the art of the prima donna.
After the liberation of Greece, de Hidalgo advised Callas to establish herself in Italy. Callas proceeded to give a series of concerts around Greece, and then, against her teacher's advice, she returned to America to see her father and to further pursue her career. When she left Greece on September 14, 1945, two months short of her 22nd birthday, Callas had given 56 performances in seven operas and had appeared in around 20 recitals. Callas considered her Greek career as the foundation of her musical and dramatic upbringing, saying, "When I got to the big career, there were no surprises for me."
Main operatic career
After returning to the United States and reuniting with her father in September 1945, Callas made the round of auditions. In December of that year, she auditioned for Edward Johnson, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, and was favorably received: "Exceptional voice—ought to be heard very soon on stage".
Callas maintained that the Metropolitan Opera offered her Madama Butterfly and Fidelio, to be performed in Philadelphia and sung in English, both of which she declined, feeling she was too fat for Butterfly and did not like the idea of opera in English. Although no written evidence of this offer exists in the Met's records, in a 1958 interview with the New York Post, Johnson confirmed that a contract was offered: "... but she didn't like it—because of the contract, not because of the roles. She was right in turning it down—it was frankly a beginner's contract."
Italy, Meneghini, and Serafin
The Villa in Sirmione where Callas lived with Giovanni Battista Meneghini between 1950 and 1959
Maria Callas with her husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini in 1957
In 1946, Callas was engaged to re-open the opera house in Chicago as Turandot, but the company folded before opening. Basso Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, who also was to star in this opera, was aware that Tullio Serafin was looking for a dramatic soprano to cast as La Gioconda at the Arena di Verona. He later recalled the young Callas as being "amazing—so strong physically and spiritually; so certain of her future. I knew in a big outdoor theatre like Verona's, this girl, with her courage and huge voice, would make a tremendous impact."[page needed] Subsequently he recommended Callas to retired tenor and impresario Giovanni Zenatello. During her audition, Zenatello became so excited that he jumped up and joined Callas in the act 4 duet.
It was in this role that Callas made her Italian debut. Upon her arrival in Verona, Callas met Giovanni Battista Meneghini [it], an older, wealthy industrialist, who began courting her. They married in 1949, and he assumed control of her career until 1959, when the marriage dissolved. It was Meneghini's love and support that gave Callas the time needed to establish herself in Italy,[page needed] and throughout the prime of her career, she went by the name of Maria Meneghini Callas.
After La Gioconda, Callas had no further offers, and when Serafin, looking for someone to sing Isolde, called on her, she told him that she already knew the score, even though she had looked at only the first act out of curiosity while at the conservatory. She sight-read the opera's second act for Serafin, who praised her for knowing the role so well, whereupon she admitted to having bluffed and having sight-read the music. Even more impressed, Serafin immediately cast her in the role. Serafin thereafter served as Callas's mentor and supporter.
According to Lord Harewood, "Very few Italian conductors have had a more distinguished career than Tullio Serafin, and perhaps none, apart from Toscanini, more influence". In 1968, Callas recalled that working with Serafin was the "really lucky" opportunity of her career, because "he taught me that there must be an expression; that there must be a justification. He taught me the depth of music, the justification of music. That's where I really really drank all I could from this man".
I puritani and path to bel canto
The great turning point in Callas's career occurred in Venice in 1949. She was engaged to sing the role of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre at the Teatro la Fenice, when Margherita Carosio, who was engaged to sing Elvira in I puritani in the same theatre, fell ill. Unable to find a replacement for Carosio, Serafin told Callas that she would be singing Elvira in six days; when Callas protested that she not only did not know the role, but also had three more Brünnhildes to sing, he told her "I guarantee that you can". Michael Scott's words, "the notion of any one singer embracing music as divergent in its vocal demands as Wagner's Brünnhilde and Bellini's Elvira in the same career would have been cause enough for surprise; but to attempt to essay them both in the same season seemed like folie de grandeur".
Before the performance actually took place, one incredulous critic snorted, "We hear that Serafin has agreed to conduct I puritani with a dramatic soprano ... When can we expect a new edition of La traviata with [male baritone] Gino Bechi's Violetta?" After the performance, one critic wrote, "Even the most sceptical had to acknowledge the miracle that Maria Callas accomplished... the flexibility of her limpid, beautifully poised voice, and her splendid high notes. Her interpretation also has a humanity, warmth and expressiveness that one would search for in vain in the fragile, pellucid coldness of other Elviras." Franco Zeffirelli recalled, "What she did in Venice was really incredible. You need to be familiar with opera to realize the size of her achievement. It was as if someone asked Birgit Nilsson, who is famous for her great Wagnerian voice, to substitute overnight for Beverly Sills, who is one of the great coloratura sopranos of our time."
Scott asserts that "Of all the many roles Callas undertook, it is doubtful if any had a more far-reaching effect." This initial foray into the bel canto repertoire changed the course of Callas's career and set her on a path leading to Lucia di Lammermoor, La traviata, Armida, La sonnambula, Il pirata, Il turco in Italia, Medea, and Anna Bolena, and reawakened interest in the long-neglected operas of Cherubini, Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini.
In the words of soprano Montserrat Caballé:
She opened a new door for us, for all the singers in the world, a door that had been closed. Behind it was sleeping not only great music but great idea of interpretation. She has given us the chance, those who follow her, to do things that were hardly possible before her. That I am compared with Callas is something I never dared to dream. It is not right. I am much smaller than Callas.[page needed]
As with I puritani, Callas learned and performed Cherubini's Medea, Giordano's Andrea Chénier and Rossini's Armida on a few days' notice.[page needed] Throughout her career, Callas displayed her vocal versatility in recitals that juxtaposed dramatic soprano arias alongside coloratura pieces, including in a 1952 RAI recital in which she opened with "Lady Macbeth's letter scene", followed by the "Mad Scene" from Lucia di Lammermoor, then Abigaille's treacherous recitative and aria from Nabucco, finishing with the "Bell Song" from Lakmé capped by a ringing high E in alt (E6).
Although by 1951, Callas had sung at all the major theatres in Italy, she had not yet made her official debut at Italy's most prestigious opera house, Teatro alla Scala in Milan. According to composer Gian Carlo Menotti, Callas had substituted for Renata Tebaldi in the role of Aida in 1950, and La Scala's general manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, had taken an immediate dislike to Callas.
Menotti recalls that Ghiringhelli had promised him any singer he wanted for the premiere of The Consul, but when he suggested Callas, Ghiringhelli said that he would never have Callas at La Scala except as a guest artist. However, as Callas's fame grew, and especially after her great success in I vespri siciliani in Florence, Ghiringhelli had to relent: Callas made her official debut at La Scala in Verdi's I vespri siciliani on opening night in December 1951, and this theatre became her artistic home throughout the 1950s. La Scala mounted many new productions specially for Callas by directors such as Herbert von Karajan, Margherita Wallmann, Franco Zeffirelli and, most importantly, Luchino Visconti.[page needed] Visconti stated later that he began directing opera only because of Callas, and he directed her in lavish new productions of La vestale, La traviata, La sonnambula, Anna Bolena and Iphigénie en Tauride. Callas was notably instrumental in arranging Franco Corelli's debut at La Scala in 1954, where he sang Licinio in Spontini's La vestale opposite Callas's Julia. The two had sung together for the first time the year previously in Rome in a production of Norma. Anthony Tommasini wrote that Corelli had "earned great respect from the fearsomely demanding Callas, who, in Mr Corelli, finally had someone with whom she could act." The two collaborated several more times at La Scala, singing opposite each other in productions of Fedora (1956), Il pirata (1958) and Poliuto (1960). Their partnership continued throughout the rest of Callas's career.
The night of the day she married Meneghini in Verona, she sailed for Argentina to sing at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Callas made her South American debut in Buenos Aires on May 20, 1949, during the European summer opera recess. Aida, Turandot and Norma roles were directed by Serafin, supported by Mario Del Monaco, Fedora Barbieri and Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. These were her only appearances on this world-renowned stage. Her debut in the United States was five years later in Chicago in 1954, and "with the Callas Norma, Lyric Opera of Chicago was born."
Her Metropolitan Opera debut, opening the Met's seventy-second season on October 29, 1956, was again with Norma, but was preceded by an unflattering cover story in Time magazine, which rehashed all of the Callas clichés, including her temper, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi, and especially her difficult relationship with her mother. As she had done with Lyric Opera of Chicago, on November 21, 1957, Callas gave a concert to inaugurate what then was billed as the Dallas Civic Opera, and helped establish that company with her friends from Chicago, Lawrence Kelly and Nicola Rescigno. She further consolidated this company's standing when, in 1958, she gave "a towering performance as Violetta in La traviata, and that same year, in her only American performances of Medea, gave an interpretation of the title role worthy of Euripides."
In 1958, a feud with Rudolf Bing led to Callas's Metropolitan Opera contract being cancelled. Impresario Allen Oxenburg realised that this situation provided him with an opportunity for his own company, the American Opera Society, and he accordingly approached her with a contract to perform Imogene in Il pirata. She accepted and sang the role in a January 1959 performance that according to opera critic Allan Kozinn "quickly became legendary in operatic circles". Bing and Callas later reconciled their differences, and she returned to the Met in 1965 to sing the title role in two performances as Tosca opposite Franco Corelli as Cavaradossi for one performance (March 19, 1965) and Richard Tucker (March 25, 1965) with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia for her final performances at the Met.
In 1952, she made her London debut at the Royal Opera House in Norma with veteran mezzo-soprano Ebe Stignani as Adalgisa, a performance which survives on record and also features the young Joan Sutherland in the small role of Clotilde. Callas and the London public had what she herself called "a love affair", and she returned to the Royal Opera House in 1953, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1964 to 1965.[page needed] It was at the Royal Opera House where, on July 5, 1965, Callas ended her stage career in the role of Tosca, in a production designed and mounted for her by Franco Zeffirelli and featuring her friend and colleague Tito Gobbi.
In the early years of her career, Callas was a heavy woman; in her own words, "Heavy—one can say—yes I was; but I'm also a tall woman, 5' 8+1⁄2" (1.74 m), and I used to weigh no more than 200 pounds (91 kilograms)." Tito Gobbi relates that during a lunch break while recording Lucia in Florence, Serafin commented to Callas that she was eating too much and allowing her weight to become a problem. When she protested that she wasn't so heavy, Gobbi suggested she should "put the matter to test" by stepping on the weighing machine outside the restaurant. The result was "somewhat dismaying, and she became rather silent." In 1968, Callas told Edward Downes that during her initial performances in Cherubini's Medea in May 1953, she realized that she needed a leaner face and figure to do dramatic justice to this as well as the other roles she was undertaking. She adds,
I was getting so heavy that even my vocalizing was getting heavy. I was tiring myself, I was perspiring too much, and I was really working too hard. And I wasn't really well, as in health; I couldn't move freely. And then I was tired of playing a game, for instance playing this beautiful young woman, and I was heavy and uncomfortable to move around. In any case, it was uncomfortable and I didn't like it. So I felt now if I'm going to do things right—I've studied all my life to put things right musically, so why don't I diet and put myself into a certain condition where I'm presentable.
During 1953 and early 1954, she lost almost 80 pounds (36 kg), turning herself into what Rescigno called "possibly the most beautiful lady on the stage". Sir Rudolf Bing, who remembered Callas as being "monstrously fat" in 1951, stated that after the weight loss, Callas was an "astonishing, svelte, striking woman" who "showed none of the signs one usually finds in a fat woman who has lost weight: she looked as though she had been born to that slender and graceful figure, and had always moved with that elegance." Various rumors spread regarding her weight loss method; one had her swallowing a tapeworm, while Rome's Panatella Mills pasta company claimed she lost weight by eating their "physiologic pasta", prompting Callas to file a lawsuit. Callas stated that she lost the weight by eating a sensible low-calorie diet of mainly salads and chicken.
Some believe that the loss of body mass made it more difficult for her to support her voice, triggering the vocal strain that became apparent later in the decade, while others believed the weight loss effected a newfound softness and femininity in her voice, as well as a greater confidence as a person and performer.[page needed] Tito Gobbi said,
Now she was not only supremely gifted both musically and dramatically—she was a beauty too. And her awareness of this invested with fresh magic every role she undertook. What it eventually did to her vocal and nervous stamina I am not prepared to say. I only assert that she blossomed into an artist unique in her generation and outstanding in the whole range of vocal history.
The Callas sound
Callas's voice was and remains controversial; it bothered and disturbed as many as it thrilled and inspired.[page needed][page needed] Walter Legge stated that Callas possessed that most essential ingredient for a great singer: an instantly recognizable voice.
During "The Callas Debate", Italian critic Rodolfo Celletti stated, "The timbre of Callas's voice, considered purely as sound, was essentially ugly: it was a thick sound, which gave the impression of dryness, of aridity. It lacked those elements which, in a singer's jargon, are described as velvet and varnish... yet I really believe that part of her appeal was precisely due to this fact. Why? Because for all its natural lack of varnish, velvet and richness, this voice could acquire such distinctive colours and timbres as to be unforgettable." However, in his review of Callas's 1951 live recording of I vespri siciliani, Ira Siff writes, "Accepted wisdom tells us that Callas possessed, even early on, a flawed voice, unattractive by conventional standards—an instrument that signaled from the beginning vocal problems to come. Yet listen to her entrance in this performance and one encounters a rich, spinning sound, ravishing by any standard, capable of delicate dynamic nuance. High notes are free of wobble, chest tones unforced, and the middle register displays none of the "bottled" quality that became more and more pronounced as Callas matured."
Nicola Rossi-Lemeni relates that Callas's mentor Serafin used to refer to her as Una grande vociaccia; he continues, "Vociaccia is a little bit pejorative—it means an ugly voice—but grande means a big voice, a great voice. A great ugly voice, in a way." Callas herself did not like the sound of her own voice; in one of her last interviews, answering whether or not she was able to listen to her own voice, she replies,
Yes, but I don't like it. I have to do it, but I don't like it at all because I don't like the kind of voice I have. I really hate listening to myself! The first time I listened to a recording of my singing was when we were recording San Giovanni Battista by Stradella in a church in Perugia in 1949. They made me listen to the tape and I cried my eyes out. I wanted to stop everything, to give up singing... Also now even though I don't like my voice, I've become able to accept it and to be detached and objective about it so I can say, "Oh, that was really well sung," or "It was nearly perfect."
Carlo Maria Giulini has described the appeal of Callas's voice:
It is very difficult to speak of the voice of Callas. Her voice was a very special instrument. Something happens sometimes with string instruments—violin, viola, cello—where the first moment you listen to the sound of this instrument, the first feeling is a bit strange sometimes. But after just a few minutes, when you get used to, when you become friends with this kind of sound, then the sound becomes a magical quality. This was Callas.
Callas's voice has been difficult to place in the modern vocal classification or Fach system, especially since in her prime, her repertoire contained the heaviest dramatic soprano roles as well as roles usually undertaken by the highest, lightest and most agile coloratura sopranos. Regarding this versatility, Serafin said, "This woman can sing anything written for the female voice". Michael Scott argues that Callas's voice was a natural high soprano, and going by evidence of Callas's early recordings, Rosa Ponselle likewise felt that "At that stage of its development, her voice was a pure but sizable dramatic coloratura—that is to say, a sizable coloratura voice with dramatic capabilities, not the other way around." On the other hand, music critic John Ardoin has argued that Callas was the reincarnation of the 19th-century soprano sfogato or "unlimited soprano", a throwback to Maria Malibran and Giuditta Pasta, for whom many of the famous bel canto operas were written. He avers that like Pasta and Malibran, Callas was a natural mezzo-soprano whose range was extended through training and willpower, resulting in a voice which "lacked the homogeneous color and evenness of scale once so prized in singing. There were unruly sections of their voices never fully under control. Many who heard Pasta, for example, remarked that her uppermost notes seemed produced by ventriloquism, a charge which would later be made against Callas".[page needed] Ardoin points to the writings of Henry Chorley about Pasta which bear an uncanny resemblance to descriptions of Callas:
There was a portion of the scale which differed from the rest in quality and remained to the last 'under a veil.' ...out of these uncouth materials she had to compose her instrum