Opera Singer. She was temperamental, turbulent and tragic, often considered the Edith Piaf of the Opera. However, despite a short career that flourished for only two decades, she gave stellar performances at all the major opera houses in the world. Her outbursts during performances with audiences and directors resulted in firings and walkouts. Her debut at La Scala was in "Aida" in 1950; her first appearances in London, England (1952), Chicago, Illinois (1954), and New York City, New York (1956), were in "Norma". She is remembered today mostly for her stumbling private life starting with her marriage to Giovanni Battista Meneghini, a wealthy industrialist and avid opera fan, a man almost 30 years older. Ten years later she announced their divorce and commenced an affair with another older man, Aristotle Onassis, only to lose him in his marriage to Jackie Kennedy. She was born in New York City to a pharmacy operator who legally changed the family name to Callas. Maria was singing at an early age while studying the piano. At age eleven, Maria won an amateur radio singing contest and the prize was a Bulova watch. When her parents separated, she was 14, and her mother returned to Athens taking her along. She was quickly accepted into the National Conservatory and a year later made her stage debut in the Conservatories production of Cavalleria Rusticana winning a prize. During the Nazi occupation of Athens, she made her true debut at the Athens Opera as Tosca and then proceeded to sing Santuzza and Leonora until the allies liberated Athens, when she offered her services as an interpreter. In the postwar, she returned to the United States making her professional debut in Boccaccio with the Lyric Theatre Company in Chicago while using her reinstated name Maria Callas. She returned to Europe and her career spiraled at La Scala while concurrently engaged in a recording contract. She made her debut at the Met in Norma followed by performances in Tosca and Lucia. Maria gave up the stage for the jet-set life with Onassis. She made a comeback in Paris appearing in 'Norma' and then at the Met in Tosca. The final curtain for Maria went down at Covent Garden. Her career now over, she renounced her American citizenship expecting to marry Onassis, a destiny which remained only a dream. Her voice now virtually gone, she filmed an unsuccessful production of Medea then gave a number of master classes at Juilliard in New York and even after being offered the position of Artistic Director at the Met, she declined to make yet another attempt at a comeback. Maria made a disastrous European tour of recitals culminating in a final public performance in Sapporo, Japan. She became reclusive in her last year and died at her Paris Apartment without receiving medical attention at age 53 from a heart attack. She was cremated and her remains kept in a niche at the cemetery of Pere Lachaise until the spring of 1979 when the urn was taken by plane and scattered over the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece by the minister of culture for that country. A niche plaque was placed as a memorial by the cemetery while indicating the now empty space was the initial resting place for the urn containing the ashes of Maria Callas.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield