Maria Callas

Maria Callas was born in New York City in 1923 and died aged fifty-four in Paris in 1977, from a heart attack, though some call it a broken heart.

Callas’s extraordinary gift was her voice, a penetrating voice of incredible range – she could sing dramatic soprano arias alongside coloratura pieces; she sang the emotions in the music: suffering, delight, hubris, despair; and she had charisma, making her performances memorable. During the 1950’s her voice began to decline and she went into semi-retirement. Though she did emerge to go on tour with Giuseppe di Stefano in 1974, this was a brief moment as her performance was slated by the critics.

“She was very prim, very strange sometimes, very moralistic. But the reason was because she was shy. And in the end she never had really a confrontation with a man – never had a clash – a big bang with a man that ends up in a great sexual or emotional relationship. Never happened for her. Never happened until Onassis appeared.”

Franco Zeffirelli, Maria Callas Biography 1977

In 1957, when Maria was in her mid-30’s she met Aristotle Onassis, a man nearly 60, at a party. At that point, she was married to Giovanni Battista Meneghini and Onassis to Tina Livanos. Onassis pursued Maria relentlessly, assaulted her with gifts, threw parties for her. It was on board the luxurious Onassis yacht, whilst Meneghini remained in his cabin with seasickness that Onassis succeeded in seducing Callas and the affair began.

Aristotle Onassis

“When Maria eventually capitulated, she did so completely. She threw herself into the role of Onassis’ mistress with whole-hearted passion, allowing herself to fall as deeply in love with him, as she believed he was with her. A woman who knew no half-measures, she believed this to be destiny.”

In 1959, she left Meneghini. Though Onassis divorced Tina in 1960, he and Maria never married. The tabloids covered their tempestuous and torrid relationship – they were a glamorous, power couple: the Greek diva and the Greek shipping tycoon who alternately adored and raged at each other.

In 1968, Onassis abruptly cast Maria aside and married Jacqueline Kennedy. Callas was heart broken and humiliated. She retreated to her Paris apartment and remained silent behind curtained windows. The marriage to Jackie hit rocky ground quickly. Within five months Ari was back and wooing Maria again. She was always ready to take him back, but nothing came together.

“As Onassis suffered a series of tragedies — the death of his only son and the suicide of his former wife — as well as business reversals, the couple’s devotion deepened, but she refused to be his lover as long as he remained married.”
The New York Times

Protracted divorce negotiations between Jackie and Onassis were still going on in 1975 when he  fell ill and died in hospital. Two years later, Maria followed him.