(director/writer: Tom Volf; editor: Janice Jones; cast: Maria Callas, Joyce DiDonato; Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Emma Lepers, Gaël Leiblang, Tom Volf, Emmanuel Chain,Thierry Bizot; Sony Picture Classics; 2017-France-in English, French and Italian)

”A well-researched, personal and fascinating documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A well-researched, personal and fascinating documentary, with no narration, by the French photographer Thomas Volf on the legendary Greek-American opera diva Maria Callas. She was born in New York City, studied opera in Athens, lived in Greece during the war and came from humble beginnings to become a glamorous international star. It took Volf four years to research with depth all the material on her, and he has already written two books on her with a third on the way.

Callas died in 1977, at the age of 53, from a heart attack. The documentary gets the controversial diva soprano to tell her side of the story instead of others doing it for her. It uses her unpublished memoirs, never-before-seen footage, letters, performances (showing her singing entire arias), home movies, family photos, TV interviews with David Frost and Edward R. Murrow, and there are  extended conversations with Callas herself. When recordings of Callas are not clear, opera star Joyce DiDonato does the honors of reading her words.

The tempestuous diva shows her gentler side, even feeling sorry that her career at first prevented her from becoming a mother and claiming later on it was her husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, who preferred career over family.

The headline making Callas was linked to the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, who dumped her to marry Jackie Kennedy.

Volf fawns over the diva, always taking her side, no matter if it’s the snide journalists who tried to show her bad side, or her difficult relationship with her strict mother, or her ongoing feud with Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi or her walkout at the Rome Opera House with the President of Italy in attendance (with the diva stating emphatically that she lost her voice through an illness and for no other reason was she a no show).

It’s one of the better opera biopics.

maria callas

REVIEWED ON 7/22/2019       GRADE: A-