“I never saw Callas on stage nor heard her sing, but I remember her death as one of the most painful moments of my life,» said soprano Vasso Papantoniou, founder and chairman of the Society for the Creation of a New National Opera House and Maria Callas Music Academy, at a recent press conference. «I once wanted to tell her, personally, not how much I admired her as an artist, but how much I admired her as a person. For me, she continues to live. Let’s just say that I owe it to her to keep her alive. «If ever the Music Academy is built, I want it to bear her name. The news on that front is good. From the very first, the new culture minister made reference to the opera house and academy,» she continued optimistically, referring to pre-election promises by Petros Tatoulis. Papantoniou is still forging ahead with her campaign to establish a National Opera House and Music Academy in Greece, and among the events organized by her group toward that effort is an exhibition on the great diva being held at the National Research Foundation until May 20. «The Star of Maria Callas: The Origins of a Legend» is a display of over 200 photographs of the late diva, costumes from her most celebrated performances and a selection of her personal items. These include bracelets and necklaces, and one of her wraps by Italian stylist Biki, which she wore at many of her recitals. (The fashion designer used to boast that even her models could not wear her shawls with the same elegance as Callas). Another highlight from her personal collection is the handbag she carried the opening night of «Phaedra» on October 15, 1968, just a few days before Aristotle Onassis married Jackie Kennedy, while the exhibition also contains song scores, menus from parties organized by the famed American society writer Elsa Maxwell in honor of Callas – among them the 1957 dinner at the Danielli Hotel in Venice where Callas first met Onassis – and a jewelry box that used to adorn her boudoir. Of particular interest to opera buffs are rare recordings and the audiovisual testimonies of people who knew the great diva and worked closely with her. «This exhibition has not been organized just to honor the memory of the great artist,» explained Papantoniou, «but to offer an opportunity to young people to brush against her great personality, her strength of character. The second, equally important, purpose of the exhibition is to draw attention to our campaign for a new National Opera house and music academy that will serve both as an educational institute and as a landmark to Callas’s memory. «I insist on the sanctity of locations, because both the artist and audience have to have some awareness of the importance of where they are. I also feel it is imperative that we reassess the quality of the musical education an academy of this sort can offer, so that it is on equal footing with similar institutions in the rest of Europe. We have faith in the new leadership at the Ministry of Culture to assist in the realization of a great vision that will, among other things, represent a beginning for the State to recognize in the world of music a powerful social group and a significant propagator of culture,» Papantoniou said. Within the context of the exhibition, the National Research Foundation will also be hosting two one-day seminars at which architects, town planning experts, conductors, musicians, composers and music professors will discuss the merits of opening an opera house and music academy in Greece, as well as the problems such a large-scale project could present. The first conference, scheduled for May 10, will focus on the architectural and town-planning aspects of the project, such as discussing locations and the practical issues involved. The conference will be coordinated by former Culture Minister Elissavet Papazoe. The second conference, to be held on May 12, will address the need for an academy to offer a more advanced level of music education in Greece, a country sadly lacking in such institutions. Speakers will include Dimitris Agrafiotis, Dimitris Malouchos, Vassilis Papavassiliou and Nikos Christodoulou. National Research Foundation, 48 Vassileos Constantinou, tel 210.727.3700. Open Mondays-Saturdays 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.