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Maria Callas: An Intimate Biography Paperback – February 27, 2003
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Anne Edwards has made a career out of writing intelligent biographies of prominent women, from the tortured (Vivien Leigh, Judy Garland) to the indomitable (Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Temple). Her gift for vivid characterization and lively narrative is once again in evidence in this readable portrait of opera's revolutionary diva, Maria Callas (1923-77).
Edwards doesn't add anything new to the well-known story of Callas' tumultuous life, and she disagrees with Nicholas Gage's controversial assertion (in the book Greek Fire) that Callas bore Aristotle Onassis a son who died shortly after his birth in 1960. But the author lays out the familiar facts deftly, nailing each of the forceful personalities who shaped Callas' destiny, from the obsessively ambitious mother who pushed her into performing and denied her a childhood to Onassis, the great love of her life, who broke her heart after a nine-year affair when he married Jacqueline Kennedy. Most forceful of all is Callas herself, who transformed opera with the revelation that great singing became even greater when buttressed by great acting.
Callas' fanatical devotion to the libretto, her deep understanding of character, and her incomparable musicianship get as much attention from Edwards as her famous feuds (most notably with Renata Tebaldi), the diet that transformed her into a sex symbol, and the notorious cancellations that occurred with increasing frequency to match the worsening of her vocal problems, which eventually forced her retirement from performing. The result is an exemplary popular biography that judiciously balances juicy anecdotes with critical commentary, giving the general reader a colorful, poignant portrait of Maria Callas the woman without ever losing sight of Callas the visionary artist. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Edwards (Katharine Hepburn), author of several biographies of iconic women, including Princess Di and Judy Garland, delivers a fresh, highly engrossing take on one of history's most legendary divas. Even those with little interest in opera or celebrity will be swept into this tale of an "awkward, fat girl" who became the "slim, lionized diva who... changed the face of opera forever." While there are more than 30 biographies of Callas (1923-1977), Edwards's perhaps most handily pierces fable with fact. (Most notably, she produces evidence refuting Nicholas Gage's claim in his recent Greek Fire that Callas had and lost a son by Onassis.) Edwards chronicles Callas's life from her humble beginnings as a pharmacist's daughter in Astoria, Queens, New York, to formal music training in war-torn Greece to phenomenal triumph in the world's most renowned opera houses. She also provides descriptions of opera plots, costumes and sceneries, and admirably captures the economics, passions and egos that drove the major players in Callas's life, including her most famous paramour, Aristotle Onassis, and her publicity-seeking, self-martyring mother. "There was something of Norma Desmond and Sunset Boulevard about Maria's life after Onassis and her voice died," Edwards writes, describing Callas's lonely final years. Edwards recounts, too, the star's death at 53, her dispiriting funeral ("A high wind rose just as the ashes were being offered to the blustery sea, and some of them flew back and landed on the clothes of the mourners") and the grifters who swooped in to feed on Callas's financial remains. Edwards's riveting book is sure to prompt new interest in Callas's dramatic life. Two 8-page b&w photo inserts. Agent, Mitch Douglas. (Aug. 20) Forecast: Certain to lure Callas cultists, but its appeal is likely to be much wider; several of Edwards's biographies have been bestsellers, and this one, too, has strong commercial potential.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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There are new details about Callas' life that pique the interest: a closer recounting of her miserable years in wartime Greece, painting her mother Litza in even blacker colors than in previous material; gossip about Onassis' encounters with other famous women (I had never heard, for example, of his alleged youthful affair with another diva, Claudia Muzio); and more detail about the tangled web that was woven after her death, when the pianist Vasso Devetzi, who had befriended her in her last years, swindled her mother and sister out of literally millions of dollars from the singer's estate. These tidbits are recounted with enough authority to make the reader wonder where the information came from, since Edwards provides only scanty documentation about her sources. Her refutation of Nicholas Gage's claim of there having been a Callas-Onassis "love child" proves to be largely assertion and re-interpretation of existing fact. Set against this is the mostly familiar retelling of stories that have been told ad nauseam--the feud with Bing, the Rome walkout--perpetuating in some cases falsehoods that have been disproven. Edwards proves unable to shed new light on what created the excitement about Callas in the first place--her vocal and dramatic abilities that made her the most charismatic operatic performer of her time. A plethora of careless misspellings that could easily have been checked (Renata "Tibaldi", "Katrina" Paxinou for example), further undermines credibility when she attempts to address the diva's career.
The reader who wants true insight into Callas' unique artisty should investigate vastly superior writing by John Ardoin, Gerald Fitzgerald, George Jellinek and Michael Scott. As far as gossip about her life is concerned there are any number of books by people who actually knew Callas. For that matter, Arianna Stassinopoulos' effort from the early eighties is better written, and if she plagiarized her material, as some assert, she at least stole from authoritative sources.
It's a familiar story. We all know of many tragic rags-to-riches stories where the hero or heroine finds life with the white picket fence elusive. Think of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley for instance. This story begins very dramatically as Callas was caught up in a hand-to-mouth existence during World War II. Her lover Onassis admired her greatly for triumphing over such a harrowing beginning. But her life was strewn with broken dreams and adulterous unions and scheming people, not to mention the fact that she had to be a slave to her career. My throat hurt just thinking about her getting out of a sick bed with a sore throat because the "Show must go on!"
Edwards writes this intimate biography with compassion for Maria Callas. In the final pages she speaks of her flaws, but for the most part she helps the reader to empathize with the singer. This is by no means a tawdry hate-filled memoir--Anne Edwards is not Kitty Kelley--she's fair-minded and tolerant. I felt that I had a better view of Callas and all the characters in her life by the end of the book and felt more grateful than ever that I had a so-called ordinary life. If you're not rich and famous and have some of the trappings of the white picket fence life, maybe you too will heave a little sigh of relief. The paparazzi alone add so much to the miseries of the rich and famous. Picture yourself at one of the lowest points in your life being hounded by people trying to get a picture of you in all your misery. Then, count your blessings!
And nowhere in the book is Callas ever described as a thougtless and egotistical artist until the second to last chapter when we learn she "was obsessively self-centered" and that "she saw people in relation to herself and seldom the other way around". It's jarring to hear Edwards describe her subject in anything but glowing praise. And the last chapter of Maria's death and battle over her estate ends abruptly with the death of her self-appointed executor.
Maria Callas deserves a better biography than this and other reviewers have mentioned works by other biographers if you want a more definitive story of her life and art. But this will satisfy anyone's thirst for the gossip of her life.