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Subject: Re: Books on Callas (ctd.)
From: Mike Leone <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Mike Leone <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 2 Mar 2017 02:26:57 +0000
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Hello all--
Max, thanks for this detailed survey of books on Callas.

I would add to this list Henry Wisneski's Maria Callas:  The Art Behind the Legend.  It is a coffee table book like the Ardoin/Fitzgerald.  Each of her roles gets a brief chapter with lots of photographs.  I believe her Medea film, her foray into directing (I vespri siciliani which she co-directed with di Stefano), and the late recital tour also get chapters.  There is also a detailed performance chronology at the end.  There are a number of copies available for cheap through amazon marketplace sellers right now.
There are a couple of other good books as well, but I don't remember them well enough to discuss them in detail.

Mike Leone
[log in to unmask] il Leone!
 

      From: Max D. Winter <[log in to unmask]>
 To: [log in to unmask] 
 Sent: Saturday, February 25, 2017 10:09 PM
 Subject: Books on Callas (ctd.)
   
This is a continuation of my review of Callas books begun in a previous post.

Excellent

Scott, “Maria Meneghini Callas.”  This excellent biography is concerned primarily with Callas 
the Artist.  It is specific, concise, and refreshingly lacking in maudlin sentimentality about its 
subject.  The title reflects the fact that the author considers Callas’ greatest years to have 
been those before and immediately following her drastic weight loss in 1953-54, which Scott 
says slimmed away Callas’ voice along with her waistline.  Scott claims that as Callas’ vocal 
problems increased, “artifice replaced artistry.”  His assessment of her recordings and 
performances will not be shared by many - for example, he does not have high regard for 
the “Berlin Lucia” - but his specific observations are hard to argue with, even if one 
disagrees with the final assessments.  But Scott constantly challenges one’s opinions, even 
if he does not always persuade one to revise them.  Still, I think Scott’s censorious attitude 
towards Callas post-weight-loss will turn off a lot of her admirers.

Ardoin, “Callas at Juilliard.”  This is a detailed account of Callas’ master classes at Juilliard, 
based on the tapes and on what she told the students.  It provides a lot of insights into how 
Callas worked on a role, although she is not always illuminating in communicating her 
insights to the students, at least verbally.  My impression of the Callas Juilliard classes has 
always been that she was not a particularly effective teacher, because so much of what she 
did was instinctive and inimitable.  She is a stickler for detail and insists that the students 
do everything that is in the score.  My personal favorite moment from the master classes is 
Callas singing “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata!” from Rigoletto.  It is hair-raising.        

Stancioff, “Maria: Callas Remembered.”  Nadia Stancioff was Maria’s secretary and 
companion for several years in the late 60s-early 70s, specifically during the period she was 
making the “Medea” film with Pasolini.  She came to know Callas well.  This book gives an 
honest, straightforward and well-written account of Callas the woman (very little on Callas 
the singer) during this time.  There are lots of interesting little details about her that one 
does not get elsewhere.  Much to her credit, Stancioff, does not try to make herself out to 
be more than she was – a good friend of Callas during an interesting time in her life and 
career. 

Sutherland, “Maria Callas: Diaries of a Friendship.”  Robert Sutherland was the accompanist 
for most of the Callas/Di Stefano tour in 1973-74.  This is a detailed, behind-the-scenes 
account of that tour.  Frankly, the book is a bit depressing, because the tour itself was 
depressing.  Still, one learns how hard Callas worked, before and during the tour, trying to 
get her voice back in shape.  Di Stefano comes off as an abusive pig, although it is clear 
that Sutherland basically likes him.  The book provides an interesting perspective on Callas 
from the point of view of an accompanist and fellow musician.  Like I said, I find it all a bit 
depressing, but well worth reading. 

Worth Having

Meneghini, “My Wife, Maria Callas.”  Some might be surprised that I have included this 
much-maligned, self-serving biography among the Callas books “worth having.”  Much of 
this book has to be treated with profound skepticism (for example, as Gage has 
demonstrated, much of what Meneghini writes about the Fateful Cruise is melodramatic 
fiction), and much of it has a grating, whining, “Poor Me!” feel to it.  But the fact remains 
that Meneghini was a very important person in Callas’ life and career, much more so than 
she and her admirers let on.  He knew Callas intimately long before she became famous, 
and there are many insights to be gleaned from this book even while one is sorting out the 
wheat from the chaff.  Among other things, we learn that Meneghini and Callas actually 
pushed Bing, deliberately, into canceling her contract with the Met, so that she could pursue 
a lucrative concert tour during the period she had contracted to do the Met Spring tour, 
without getting in trouble with AGMA for breach of contract.  (What they did not bargain on, 
I think, was Bing firing her so unceremoniously and spectacularly.)  This book also quotes 
extensively from Callas’ letters to Meneghini, which show that she really was in love with 
him in the early years of her marriage. 

Lowe, “Callas As They Saw Her.”  This is a collection of very interesting Callas materials: 
reviews over the course of her entire career, interviews by Callas, essays and appreciations 
by critics and artists (including Gobbi, Domingo, Sutherland and Bonynge, George London, 
Noel Coward and Yves Saint-Laurent).  It includes the transcript of a fascinating discussion 
on French TV about Callas with Fedele D’Amico, Rodolfo Celletti, Eugenio Gara, Luchino 
Visconti and Gianandrea Gavazzeni.

Jellinek, “Callas: Portrait of a Prima Donna.”  This book was written in 1960 and so did not 
cover many important events in Callas’ life after that year.  The 1986 edition contained a 
brief supplement covering Callas’ life after 1960 but not in any great detail.  The value of 
this book is that it is a basically contemporaneous account of Callas’ life and career as they 
were happening and so has an immediacy other bios lack.  And much of it holds up very 
well.  I have a nostalgic affection for this book because I checked out a copy from my High 
School library in 1972 and it started my life-long affair and fascination with Maria Callas. 

Trash

E. Callas, “My Daughter, Maria Callas.”  This is a work of fiction masquerading as a 
biography by Callas’s estranged and neurotic mother, Evangelia, who manages to be both 
pathetic and annoying at the same time.  The book gets off to a bad start by getting Callas’ 
birth date wrong and asserting that she was born in a blinding snowstorm (when the 
almanac shows that the weather was clear and cold), and it goes downhill from there.  I 
suppose the book has some entertainment value, but it is has all Meneghini’s self-pity and 
self-importance without any important insights into Callas’ life.

Stassinopoulos, “Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend.”  This was the first major 
biography of Callas to appear after her death.  Basically, it is the Soap Opera version of 
Callas’ life, heavy on melodrama and light on insight.  Of Callas the Artist the author (now 
Arianna Huffington) has nothing to say other than trite banalities.  This book was the first to 
peddle the self-serving fiction Callas spread (which Stassinopoulos simply repeated without 
verifying or investigating) about Onassis forcing her to have an abortion (a story 
persuasively debunked by Nicholas Gage).  This book plagiarized so heavily and blatantly 
from the Ardoin/Fitzgerald book that they sued her and won.  I have always felt that this 
book should have been published with a lurid cover picture of a bosomy Callas in low 
decollete, fainting in the arms of a swarthy Onassis, like the cover of a Harlequin romance.

Evans, “Maria Callas: An Intimate Biography.”  This is probably the nadir of books on Callas.  
Very poorly written and ungrammatical, it contains nothing original, being merely an 
inaccurate regurgitation of previously published accounts of Callas’ life with the sensational 
aspects emphasized.  The author clearly knows nothing about music and opera and has no 
appreciation of Callas’ importance as an artist.  She does, however, inform us about when 
Callas allegedly first performed oral sex on Onassis (albeit based on third-hand, unverified 
gossip).  That tells you the level on which this trashy book operates.  Handle with tongs.

MDW
 

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