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December 30 and January 3-8-11 1948
TRISTANO E ISOTTA (in Italian) as Isotta with Fiorenzo Tasso (Tristano), Fedora Barbieri (Brangania), Raimondo Torres (kurwenal), Boris Christoff (Re Marke), director Tullio SERAFIN

January 29-31 and February 3-8-10
TURANDOT (as Turandot) with Josè Soler (Calaf), Elena Rizzieri (Liù), Bruno Carmassi
(Timur), director Nino SANZOGNO

January 8-12-14-16
LA VALCHIRIA (in Italian) as “Brunilde”, con Gianni Voyer (Siegmund), Bruno
Carmassi (Hunding), Giulio Neri (Wotan), Jolanda Magnoni (Sieglinde), Lucy Cabrera
(Fricka), director Tullio SERAFIN

January 19-22-23
I PURITANI (as Elvira) with Antonio Pirino (Arturo), Ugo Savarese (Riccardo), Boris
Christoff (Giorgio), director Tullio SERAFIN

January 13-15-19
NORMA (as Norma) with Elena Nicolai (Adalgisa), Gino Penno (Pollione), Tancredi
Pasero (Oroveso), Nerina Ferrari (Clotilde), director Antonino VOTTO

January 8-10
LA TRAVIATA (as Violetta) with Francesco Albanese (Alfredo), Ugo Savarese/Carlo
Tagliabue (Germont), director Angelo QUESTA

February 13-16-21
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR (as Lucia) with Luigi Infantino (Edgardo), Ettore Bastianini
(Enrico), Giorgio Tozzi (Raimondo), Giuseppe Zampieri (Arturo), director Angelo

March 2-4-7
MEDEA (as Medea) with Renato Gavarini (Giasone), Gabriella Tucci (Glauce), Giorgio
Tozzi (Creonte), Miriam Pirazzini (Neris), director Vittorio GUI


Ciò benedeto…(my dear).The Venetian expression was so many times used by Maria Callas, even in society, to greet her closest friends. In the mixture of international languages and in her fairly good Italian there was always some typical Venetian expressions, untranslatable, but always particularly significant. The great singer’s first “Italian” was peppered by unmistakable Veronese inflections, that were colourful, extravagant, confidential and nice indeed . She owed a lot to Verona, the town of her Italian but also of her worldwide debut for her international career; it was the town where she had met the first man of her life, who somehow had substituted her father and was of great help and support to her at the beginnings.

A deep love broke out at first sight, when Meneghini took her to Venice for the first time; at once she was fascinated and she was in ecstasy admiring Titian “Assunta”(Our Lady of the Assumption), in the Frari Basilica. After that summer in 1947 she asked many times to be back in Venice, even only to visit her “Madonna”. When she sang in the dressing-room, she used to have a little eighteen century picture representing the “Sacred Family”. It was a reproduction, silver and gold framed, not only a simple lucky charm, but a religious token of protection. We often talk about destiny, and maybe this attraction towards Venice (that many years later would have changed her woman life because here she met Onassis and she fatally went on a cruise on board of “Christina”, the Greek shipowner’s multimillionaire yacht), was rightly “perceived” by Callas.

It was not “Gioconda” at Verona Arena, but a quick succession of performances at the Fenice Theatre to lead her, clearly and definitively, to a brilliant artistic future. We can state Callas was born as great singer on December 30th in Selva hall, focusing a very appreciated “Isotta”, directed by Tullio Serafin, with other big singers as Boris Christoff and Fedora Barbieri, who was several times by her side.

“An artist with an unusual sensibility, – Giuseppe Pugliese, a critic of that time for the Gazzettino wrote – a stage mistress, that has revived her love passion with sweet, feminine enthusiasm rather than with druidism and virility. But her beautiful, passionate voice, has found, above all in the high notes, shrill, lyrist tones”. Few days later on the same stage another role, arduous but different in style: Puccini’s Turandot. And Pugliese sang the deserved praises: “Turandot is admirable for her shrill, high voice, unusual, above all, in high tones; an extremely sensitive artist, with such a scenic mastery to get over some tone variations, she has dealt with her task with energy and confidence and moreover has sung first with statuesque attitude, then with deep softness as the character required, under the maestro Nino Sanzogno’s guidance”.

It was a complete victory, considering the critic’s well known strictness, just because the two reviews emphasized, in every sense, how many were the strings of the bow of the 24-year-old soprano; she was praised as actress and singer as well, even though she had not met Visconti and Zeffirelli yet. Since then she came back to her beloved Venice every year till 1954, singing one or two operas at the Fenice Theatre and making her revealing debuts. Other towns are linked to the greatest singer of this century; Milan, where she was unquestionable queen at the Scala Theatre, and Paris, where she lived the last years and tragically passed in1977, at the age of 53 (they both and Venice dedicated her a street).

But let’s get back to the unforgettable performances that gave fame to the Hellenic singer, and also to the theatre that by intuition called her. Things were changing in Italy too and the world of music was looking at her with increasing interest.

Ferdinando Ballo, for example, in June 1948 invited her to the premiere in Italy “Cardillac” by Paul Hindemith, produced by The Biennale of Venice for the XI Festival of Contemporary Music, where the greatest stage managers, film directors and singers worked. In that time Maria Callas was singing “Forza del Destino” ( Strenght of Destiny) in Trieste “Tristano e Isotta” in Genoa and was going to rehearse “Turandot” at Terme of Caracalla and for this reason she refused.

In 1949 she was reconfirmed at the beginning of the season for “Walchiria” ( a “Brunilde”-Pugliese wrote-with a Wagner natural esprit, fierce, moved, simple and incisive), with Serafin once again.

During the successful performances, just the day before the second opera of the season “Puritani”, Margherita Carosio withdrew because of a sudden illness, and there was no other singer substituting her. Searches were unsuccessful. At last maestro Serafin went to the Theatre suggesting Maria Callas in the role of Elvira. His idea caused much surprise and perplexity: how could Brunilde’s strong and high voice fit the soft intonations of Bellini.

“Wait and you will see” the maestro said. The preparation was a real tour de force, but on January 19th the curtain punctually raised for Puritani. “Many other singers with Callas’s voice and personality, but without her intelligence- Pugliese affirms- would have failed in the passage between the two operas. Callas didn’t. She could brilliantly sing in accordance with the variety of tones and renditions, since she is a perfectly able singer. She technically overcame trills, scales, virtuosities, even in the dizzy expressive rises, with a great musical strength; in a word, a rehearse worthy of a great skill”. A new example of dramatic soprano was born on the Italian scene, recalling clearly great myths of the past Malibran and Pasta, that had dealt with a wide, different repertoire, reaching the mezzo soprano’s low notes as well as the soprano’s high ones (but in that case diapason and orchestra were quite different).

The real Callas, therefore, was born at the Fenice in January 1949. In the following years they did not think about Wagner any more, but about romantic and tragic melodrama heroines; the Venetian public was charmed by unforgettable interpretations. A solemn Norma, a moving, anguished Violetta in “La Traviata”, a “Lucia di Lammermmor”, striking for virtuosity and expression and, at last, soon after Florence and Scala, her masterpiece: “Medea”, where ,singing and acting , she was able to represent the character’s desperate obsession. For Norma there was on the stage Antonio Votto ( another important maestro for her career) and, for the recovered opera by Cherubini, the great Vittorio Gui.

On the whole Maria Callas performed eight operas in Venice till 1954; it was a good time for the Fenice Theatre, that had realized the new opera goddess but failed in bringing her back to the lagoon. As we told before the Doges’town influenced a lot the leading lady’s private life. This new worldly-sentimental chapter started ten years after her debut, in summer 1957, when a scandal broke out in Edimburgh because of her leaving the scenes at the last performance of “Sonnambula”, to take part to the great ball at the Danieli’s Hotel, organized for her by Elsa Maxwell. There were 160 guests, the most important names of the international jet-set: countess Volpi, Arthur Rubinstein, Henry Fonda, Consuelo Crespi and other people of the world of cinema.

Maria Callas sought the friendship of “Hollywood’s witch”, who had supported Renata Tebaldi when they were rivals; all this in order to blandish the gossipy journalist, who had written very unfriendly articles on occasion of some performances in Chicago. They had met by chance at a party for the Hellenic-American Aid Fund, and Maria succeeded in upsetting the situation making the terrible Elsa become her most enthusiastic fan. From a social and sophisticated point of view, the masked ball was a great success, and the pictures of the party and Maria’s ones, where she, already very thin, is wearing a bathing-costume in front of a box of Lido Excelsior, went around the world.

The performances in Edimburgh were very important since it was a Scala official tour. The four performances at the end of August had an enormous success, and then Ghiringhelli, Superintendant of Milan Theatre, decided to add an extra performance, in order to satisfy the numerous demands. Maria was inflexible; her contract had been honoured and, without saying a word, she left The Festival to go to the Venetian party, giving a young and unknown Italian singer a great chance. Her understudy, Renata Scotto, substituted her successfully and the critics declared: “a star was born”. An important detail: at Maxwell ball there were also Tina and Aristotele Onassis, but nothing happened except for the ordinary compliments.

Her destiny was waiting for her two summers later, in June 1959, at countess Emanuela of Castelbarco’s house where there was a party in her honour. The beautiful house, at Salute, also mum Wally and grandfather Arturo Toscanini’s home for a long time, was surrounded by a gorgeous garden, where the most important personalities had passed. Among the ladies Tina Onassis, wearing an amazing diamond coronet, stood out for her beauty. But that very night Tina realized that her husband’s eyes were stuck to Callas. Ari soon managed to sit by her and invited her to a cruise on Christina, few weeks later.

At first Callas and her husband recused, but Onassis went to the premiere of “Medea” at Covent Garden and organized a gorgeous after-performance (inviting also Churchill, Margot Fonteyn, Cecil Beaton and John Profum). He repeated her invitation to the cruise and Callas, after getting Biki (Milanese coutourière, who devotedly followed her for many years) to prepare a fabulous cruise outfit, at last accepted. Departure from Montecarlo, arrival to Venice.

After Portofino, from the Mediterranean to The Aegean Sea, Istanbul, Smirne (Onassis’s hometown), stopping at Mount Athos, on August 7th all the guests were entertained by the Patriarch Atenagora. The Patriarch knew Onassis and Maria too. He started speaking in Greek and blessed them, almost a wedding ceremony. The cruise ended in Venice, where the Christina anchored, and Mr. and Mrs. Meneghini went back to Sirmione by one of Onassis’s private plane. But the same night Onassis went to Meneghini to “ask Maria’s hand in marriage” and soon took her away to Venice.

From that moment she would have been queen of Christina. Onassis’s love didn’t last long and Maria went back to Venice other times. In the 60s there was a hypothesis: “Anna Bolena” at the Fenice, but the plan was not brought to an end, even if it was going well. She went to the Cinema Festival to celebrate Visconti when he got the Leone d’Oro (Golden Lion), and the film director offered her a great role in a film dedicated to Puccini. Giancarlo Menotti wanted her protagonist of “Console”. Several times she was allured by both theatre and cinema and in Venice she also met Joseph Losey, who offered her a film based on Tennessee Williams’s “Boom”, that was later played by Liz Taylor.

In Venice she also met more than once Pier Paolo Pasoloni, the only one who convinced her to play in his debated but enchanting “Medea”, and for whom she felt a tender affection, as demonstrated by their love correspondence. One night they went on speaking for hours in front of Excelsior Blue Bar, regardless of photographers and curious people. A long time had passed since she went to Venice to devoutly admire “Assunta”.

Bruno Tosi



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