New year dedicated to Callas

The Greek Ministry of Culture has welcomed in the new year in grand manner, naming 2007 Maria Callas Year in commemoration of the 30th anniversary since the great diva’s death. Callas died of heart failure in Paris on September 16, 1977, at the age of 54, and even though the commemoration does not come on the customary 25th or 50th anniversary, it is a first-rate opportunity for the state to improve its international cultural image. It appears at this early stage that the ministry will be using this initiative as a means to build a much-needed international profile and to use the Maria Callas Year as a launching pad to promote a more sophisticated cultural agenda. Within the next few weeks, the Culture Ministry is expected to announce the program of events planned for the campaign. The year of Callas will be hailed as a spearheading initiative, since it does just not involve a wider sector of society (Callas is, after all, a very widely recognized artist), but also a plethora of other bodies and institutions who are active outside the arts. In one sense, Callas Year is, or could become, a test of the government’s readiness to embrace a less populist and predictable cultural agenda. Callas’s broad popularity, however, may turn out to be a double-edged sword for the government: While it may bring about a more profound understanding of the diva’s life and work, such a large campaign, structured wholly around her, may also lead to her name being used to draw the public’s attention to less qualitative events. By announcing this year as the Year of Callas, the Ministry of Culture is also admitting that it is not in any position to go it alone in such a huge, international campaign. For the initiative to succeed, even on the most basic level, the ministry understands that it will have to collaborate with more experienced bodies in order to ensure that it achieves its goal in terms of cultural projection, as well as on a financial level. Maria Callas is not just a Greek, but an international figure. Or, rather, she is an artist of such great international standing that she transcends the boundaries of any single country. In fact, Callas is less popular in Greece – both in terms of how well her art is recognized by the public and in terms of simple record sales – than she is in other parts of the world. Basically, Callas «sells» less in Greece and it is no secret that the Greek establishment has never fully recognized her contribution, internationally, to the arts. For example, every September for several years now, the Athenaeum Cultural Center – an institution dedicated to propagating her memory and her work – has held a concert tribute to the opera singer at the Herod Atticus Theater. Unfortunately, however, this annual event is not promoted to a broader audience and is viewed rather as an elitist show that does not concern everyone. Today, the establishment looks as if it is trying to improve this uneasy relationship with the legacy of Callas. After years of appearing to not quite know what to do with the diva, it is now trying to make the most of the 30th anniversary of her death. Does anyone remember the filthy plaque on the building where Maria Callas used to live on 61 Patission Street? The crumbling facade of the 1920s building best symbolizes the Greek establishment’s relationship with Callas. Some hope that this relationship will finally improve, and 2007 is without doubt a good opportunity to make a new start.

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