Feb/Mar 2008

Callas: Images of a Legend

Eric Banks


To jaded Us Weekly readers of the early twenty-first century, it’s still a shock to the system to look back on what a walking, talking, singing scandal Maria Callas was, and how this Greek dramatic soprano raised in Queens fed the paparazzi machine of the 1950s and ’60s. But tabloids and newsmagazines alike fawned over Callas’s mythic allure and stoked the rivalry between the diva and her lyric-soprano competitor Renata Tebaldi in a manner guaranteed to roil their vocal partisans. It is still debated whether Callas’s brief career—her voice was basically shot by the late ’50s, and her career was largely kaput by her fortieth birthday, in 1963—might have been prolonged had she not shed more than seventy pounds in the early part of the ’50s. Whatever the verdict, she would not have become the Callas of imagination without the transformation, nor would her postoperatic experiences with Aristotle Onassis have taken on as much gravity. This new edition of a stunning collection of photographs is a loving look at Callas both onstage, at La Scala and elsewhere, and off-, and it brings together the work of photographers as celebrated as Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, and Gordon Parks.

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