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Greek Fire: The Story of Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis Hardcover – October 3, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375402446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375402449
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.7 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #398,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Nicholas Gage's meticulously documented and consistently absorbing account chronicles the stormy love affair between Maria Callas (1923-77) and Aristotle Onassis (1906-75). Gage sees the soprano who reinvented the art of opera and the tycoon who transformed the shipping industry as kindred spirits, drawn into romance by a deep connection to their Greek origins and a shared sense that, despite all they had achieved, something was missing. They found that absent element in a once-in-a-lifetime passion, which Onassis betrayed by marrying Jacqueline Kennedy in 1968. Gage appears to share the view of the tycoon's Greek coterie, who viewed this marriage as an act of hubris that inevitably led to financial and personal reversals which embittered Onassis in his final years. But he doesn't blame the tycoon for Callas's decline, pointing out that by the time they met, she was already experiencing severe vocal problems and was eager for respite from her taxing performance commitments. In any case, her career and his business dealings take a back seat here to Gage's evocative portrait of his subjects' outsized personalities and the jet-set society in the gaudy postwar years. Some of the new information is revelatory, particularly Gage's persuasive contention that Callas bore Onassis a son who died hours after his birth in 1960. At other times his investigative-journalist approach seems too weighty for this highly personal story of love, rage, and big, big egos. Fortunately, these lapses don't seriously mar a text distinguished by smooth prose, the seamless interweaving of several narrative strands, and a warm sympathy for its genuinely tragic protagonists. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

Arguing that previous books about Maria Callas (1923-1977) and Aristotle Onassis (1904-1975) are full of errors, investigative reporter Gage (Eleni) attempts to set the record straight on the couple's birth dates, where they first met, when they first slept together and many other details of their ill-starred love affair. His most interesting revelation, based on Callas's private papers and statements by her maid and butler, is that instead of the abortion Callas said Onassis forced her to have in 1966, she actually had a "secret son," a baby, conceived at the beginning of their affair in 1959, who died the day he was born. Gage gives an exhaustive account of the infamous three-week cruise on which the much-publicized liaison began, accounting for each meeting between the opera diva and the shipping tycoon, what they said, what they ate and wore, and how the other passengers, including Callas's husband and Onassis's wife, reacted to the developing scandal as they sailed along the Greek and Turkish coasts on Onassis's opulent yacht. The author asserts that the lovers were drawn together in large part by their shared Greek heritage, and he equates their mutual passion with "Greek Fire," the all-consuming incendiary substance used in battle by the warships of the Byzantine empire. Unfortunately, the book, laden with excess detail, fails to emanate the same heat. So much has already been written about the affair that, even though the particulars may change and new facts are found, the story is all too familiar, especially the depressing endingAthe aging tycoon marrying Jackie Kennedy instead of Callas and immediately regretting it, and the prescription-drug-dependent diva living as a recluse in Paris, still in love with Onassis but refusing to accept him again as a lover. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

I highly recommend this book if you like reading biographies and memoirs.
Ari Alcocer
What makes this stand out are the personal interviews and the meticulous detail with which Gage's research is conducted.
Elizabeth Wallace
Engrossing tale of a magnificent love story and the lives of the rich and famous.
Dudley Ristow

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Amon Emanuel on October 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a long time Callas fan, I grabbed this book the minute it hit the bookstores. And I read it in about a day. Of course, it is extremely well researched, and probably the definitive book on the Callas-Onassis affair/relationship. Maria the woman is very well depicted, and made a touching, if not sometimes infuriating character and it is obvious that Mr Cage is more interested in her than in Callas the Artist. But in spite of the dichotomy between the two, Callas was an Artist even when she let her love for Onassis lead the way. I may not have been on that fateful cruise, or at the Paris Opera when she sang her last "Norma", but from the recordings, the videos, the interviews, it seems that right until the end, she remained a dedicated musician, always respectful of her Art. This book makes it seem like music became a nuisance for her after she had met Onassis. It doesn't sound that way when one listens to the material she recorded during that time. The "Gioconda" she recorded in Milan a few weeks after she met Onassis and while she was separating from Meneghini is musically and emotionally perfect. It doesn't sound like it was a chore recording it. And all those Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti arias she recorded in the studio after 1959 are musical masterpieces. The voice may be frayed at the edges but she sings with such soul and commitment that it is obvious she loved her music right until the end. Reviews from performances she gave after 1960 are very scarce in the book, and there is one small technical error. Giuletta Simionato, who was interviewed for that book, was a mezzo-soprano, and not a soprano. It is not very important but it shows that music was not Mr Cage's main focus, although it seems to have been very much in Maria Callas' thoughts right until the very end.Read more ›
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By marzipan on January 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is a convincing portrait of 20th century jet-set society as lived in Greece and Monte Carlo and aboard Aristotle Onassis's yacht Christina. This society comes off as duller than one would imagine, yet thanks to the author's power, I couldn't put the book (which was given me as a Christmas gift) down.
Aristotle Onassis is rendered as a figure out of Greek literature. He's as wily, competetive, manipulative as Odysseus--almost always a winner. But in the end he's undone by his own hubris, fulfilling his classic tragic destiny. The parts telling of his childhood in Smyrna are riveting, and terrifying. The story of Turkish massacres of Greeks and Armernians shed light on the ethnic hatred toward all Muslims still felt by many Orthodox Greeks.
Onassis is neither a likeable nor an admirable hero, yet Gage does a convincing job of letting us see him in all his Greekness, and somehow we accept that he charmed almost everyone he met. Especially the great prima donna, Maria Callas.
Gage doesn't do as well with Callas as with Onassis. I think you wouldn't understand her greatness from reading this book, yet she was very great indeed. To hear Calla sing is to understand all opera is capable of, yet her voice gave out earlier than is the case with most singers for reasons no one understands. Onassis is sometimes blamed for her problems with high notes, but Gage points out that the problems were there before she met Onassis. He doesn't present her as a particularly intelligent, complex or interesting woman, just one undone by her grand passion for Aristotle Onassis. I suspect, given her incredible understanding of tragic heroines in song, there was a lot more to her than this book shows.
Worshippers of the late Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (and there are many) are definitely not going to like the portrait painted here!
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By klavierspiel VINE VOICE on November 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The respected Greek-American journalist and biographer Nicholas Gage has written an exhaustive chronicle of perhaps the most sensational episode in Maria Callas' sensational life--her stormy and ultimately tragic involvement with Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping magnate.
The tale of Callas' life and art, of course, has been told and retold in many volumes of varying worth, but biographically Mr. Gage's carefully researched and verified effort cannot fail to impress. Due to his dual subjects, his chronology largely limits itself to the last two decades of Callas' life (she became seriously involved with Onassis in 1959), but within this time frame he has come up with some startling new revelations, including the astonishing assertion (supported by convincing evidence) that Callas gave birth to a son by Onassis in 1960. The baby died the same day it was born, and this tragic event affected the entire rest of their relationship. There is a reverent, almost mystical tone in Gage's writing about the pair, a feeling that their romance was fated to happen and should have turned out much more happily than it did. This is backed up by the opinions of numerous people close to the couple that Onassis' impulsive pursuit of and marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy was the greatest mistake of his life.
Undoubtedly Onassis and Callas come vividly to life in these pages as people, warts and all. About Callas the musician Gage is less convincing. Although he speaks denigratingly about the false stories of the diva that have been uncritically perpetuated by biographers copying from each other, Gage himself does the same on occasion.
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