Monday, October 10, 2011

Maria Callas in Paris

Callas retired from the opera stage in 1965, and she spent her subsequent years living largely in isolation in Paris in her elegant apartment at 36, ave. Georges Mandel, not far from the Place du Trocadero. There is a plaque on that corner apartment building commemorating her residence there, and there are often fresh flowers tied to the gate. The service lanes in front of the building along Avenue Georges Mandel were renamed in her honor and now bear this sign:

Allée Maria Callas
Lyric Artist

She died alone in her Paris apartment on September 16, 1977, of a heart attack, at the age of 53. A funeral was held at Agios Stephanos (St. Stephen's) Greek Orthodox Cathedral on rue Georges-Bizet in Paris on September 20, 1977, and her ashes were interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in eastern Paris. After being stolen and later recovered, her ashes were ultimately scattered over the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Greece, according to her wishes. There is still an engraved plaque with gilded lettering in front of the now empty space in the wall of that famous cemetery’s columbarium.
Amazingly, thirty years after her death, she is still one of classical music’s best-selling vocalists. Maria Callas remains a phenomenon of the opera world, a prima donna assoluta whose influence has never waned. She could communicate with an audience at an emotional level as few opera singers were able. Evidence can be seen in this brief video, a televised segment of a Covent Garden recital performance in 1962, when Callas was 39 years old. Although she is standing on a nearly empty stage, Callas becomes Carmen before our very eyes. Every gesture and turn of the body reinforces the Habañera text, translated below. Even the 1960s coiffure and elegant concert attire do not distract us from her peerless interpretation.

Love is a rebellious bird that can’t be tamed.
You call out to him quite in vain if it suits him not to come.
Nothing helps, neither threat nor prayer.
One man talks well, the other's mum;
It's the latter that I prefer. He's silent, but I like his looks.

Love! Love! Love! Love!
Love is a child of the Bohemian way;
It has never, ever, known a law.
Love me not, then I love you;
But if I love you, you'd best watch out!

The bird you thought you had caught beat its wings and flew away.
Love stays away; you wait and wait. But when least expected, there it is!
All around you, swift, so swift, it comes, it goes, and then returns.
You think you hold it fast, it flees; You think you're free, it holds you fast.
(repeat of Love! Love! Love! section)

This short video is a decidedly voyeuristic visit to her Avenue Georges Mandel address; her apartment is now owned by an Arabian entrepreneur.
Note: Frenchman Georges Mandel was a Jewish journalist, politician and WWII resistance leader who was murdered in the forest of Fontainebleau in 1944.

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