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Music

Operatic Tribute to Callas in Athens Brings Diva & Her Powerful Lover to Life

ATHENS – As the 100th anniversary of her birth approaches on December 2, the tributes to Maria Callas continue – literally all over the world. Apropos of Thanksgiving Day for the Americans who were in the audience and are grateful for her eternal contributions to music, on Thursday evening, November 23, the Vasilis and Marina (B&M) Theocharakis Foundation of Fine Arts & Music in Athens offered a unique production combining remembrances of the Diva’s life with recreations of her music.

The presentation took the form of scenes from operas interspersed with personal reminiscences and Callas bio snippets offered by Magda Mavrogianni playing the role of the noted gossip columnist and high society party organizer Elsa Maxwell, who turned from bitter Callas critic to fan to adorer after they met in 1956, the year of the Diva’s debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Mavrogianni conceived, wrote, and directed the mini play/concert that illustrated her words with marvelous musical clips from the operas that came to define Callas, performed by international soprano Eleni Calenos and gifted tenor Konstantinos Klironomos. Dimitris Giakas provided excellent accompaniment on piano and Eirini Georgiou appeared as the psychologist offering an analysis of Callas’ psyche.

With an arresting photo of the celebrated couple in the background, Magda Mavrogianni speaks as Elsa Maxwell while accompanist Dimitris Giakos observes. Photo by D. Sirigos

Born in Manhattan and raised in Washington Heights, the northernmost outpost of Hellenism in the borough, Callas revolutionized her art with her electrifying acting and spectacular voice, but as time goes by, what is remarkable is not only that her recordings are still widely sought after and that her biography fascinates, but that she is beloved the world over – and especially in Greece – as if she were still alive. It is a historical eternity that validates her being called ‘La Divina’ when she was alive.

Part of the credit for that goes to biographers like Nicholas Gage, creators like Mavrogianni, and artists like Calenos, whose fine voice and acting acumen bring Callas to life in 2023.

It should be noted that some biographers report it was Maxwell who introduced the two brilliant and fiery souls, Callas and Onassis, whose torrid affair and fascinating friendship formed the core of the Theocharakis Foundation’s presentation.

The scenes played out by Calenos and Klironomos strikingly illustrated the storminess and tenderness that co-existed in Callas’ relationship with Onassis, with its numerous alternations of attraction and repulsion both during and after the latter’s marriage to Jackie Kennedy. Mavrogianni’s Maxwell noted that Onassis did visit Callas at her home in Paris after the end of the affair.

The program included powerful and scintillating performances by both singers of excerpts from Francesco Cilea’s ‘Adriana Lecouvreur’, Giacomo Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ and ‘Madama Butterfly’, and Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’.

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