Rare images of Maria Callas

A quarter of a century since her death, the myth surrounding the greatest prima donna of the 20th century has never ceased to generate emotion and excitement. It is this kind of adoration which prompted Italian collector Giancarlo Tanzi to spent the last 47 years gathering all manner of items related to the late diva. The result is a unique archive of objects reflecting Callas’s shining path. Tanzi’s vast collection includes photos, records, reviews, books and other objects shedding light on 40 years of Callas’s life, while concentrating on her 30-year-old mythical career. There are hundreds of photos, beginning in New York in 1937 and ending in Paris in 1976, including Callas onstage in Venice, at Milan’s La Scala, Florence, Naples, Verona, New York, Dallas, Epidaurus as well as Athens – the latter dating back to the beginning of her career. A photographic panorama of Tanzi’s exceptional collection will be presented in Thessaloniki this month, as part of an opera gala commemorating 25 years since Callas’s death. The event will take place at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall on September 16. A lifetime’s passion The collector – who lives in Munich and comes to Greece every year to attend the annual concert in memory of Callas at the Herod Atticus Theater – is still frustrated that Greece did not take advantage of a Callas auction in Paris in December 2000, in order to create a museum. He has written two letters to the municipality of Athens and has never received a reply, while Callas’s belongings have since been scattered among various collectors round the globe. As a young man in 1955, Tanzi heard Callas’s voice for the first time on the radio: «They were referring to her as the heir of Giuditta Pasta, the legendary prima donna who lived in my neighborhood,» Tanzi said to Kathimerini. It was the beginning of his great passion for the diva. «When I heard her sing ‘Casta Diva,’ from ‘Norma,’ I felt the magic. I felt that this was not just a singer with a beautiful voice, but Norma in person! That is when I started gathering anything to do with her. My first finding was a ‘Casta Diva’ single. Then I took a part-time job at a kiosk. Being alone all day I went through newspapers and magazines and started clipping anything on Callas. Those who are aware of my passion are still enriching my collection today!» Tanzi’s dream of seeing Callas on stage came true in December 1960, at La Scala, where the diva was interpreting Paolina, in Donizetti’s «Poliuto.» «I saw her again in ‘Medea,’ in 1961, again at La Scala, and then in 1964 in ‘Norma,’ this time in Paris. It was the most expensive performance of my entire life. In just three days I ended up spending my month’s salary. I found myself penniless in Paris; I didn’t even have enough to pay for my room. In the end, a friend and colleague came to my rescue, on the condition that I would spend a whole month talking about her.» When you finally met Callas, what was it that struck you about her? When she was singing in Milan I couldn’t afford myself the luxury of traveling to see her; later on, when I started making a better living, things were different. I met Callas in 1973, in Turin, where she was singing Verdi’s «Vespri Siciliani.» A good friend of mine, baritone Ferruccio Montefusco, invited me to the dress rehearsal and introduced me to her. She was very polite and I offered her a coin depicting Maria Theresa, La Scala’s founder. The sad thing is that when I went to see her in Paris I looked like Carreras, whereas when I actually met her, I was more like Pavarotti… Why, in your opinion, is Callas still such a fascinating figure? Besides the wonderful voice and the way in which she brought the characters to life – without ever allowing her audience to get bored or fall asleep – another factor was her incredible will power to lose weight! Barely elegant at the beginning of her career, she suddenly became a star, an attractive woman, one of the most refined in Italy. Her power in transforming herself played an important part in the Callas phenomenon. Do you know of other private collections on Callas? I know there is one in Italy. Unfortunately, the collection’s owner took part in that shameful Paris auction, where he put various items on the block.

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