Born Sophie C. Kalos on Dec. 4, 1923 in Brooklyn, NY
Died Sept. 16, 1977 of heart attack in Paris, France
Maria Callas was an American-born opera star famed for her dramatic skill, her fiery temperament and her romance with Aristotle Onassis.
Critics hailed her for bringing operatic acting to new theatrical heights and revitalizing the bel canto repertory.
In 1937 her mother took her to Greece where they were stranded by the outbreak of World War II. There she was awarded a scholarship at the National Conservatory and began a serious study of music.
Callas made her debut in Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” at the Royal Opera House in Athens at 15. But her career really began when the great La Scala Opera House of Milan offered her a role in “Aida” and then signed her as a member of the company in 1951.
She made her American debut in 1954 performing the title role of Bellini’s “Norma” at Chicago’s Lyric Theater and in 1956 made her first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in the same role.
The dark-eyed diva was also famed as “opera’s bad girl” because she walked out on so many performances in her career.
She battled with managers and conductors — including well-published duels with the Metropolitan Opera’s Rudolf Bing over contracts and what roles she should sing.
During her career Callas sang a remarkably broad repertory, encompassing lyric, dramatic and coloratura roles mostly in Italian. Early in her career she played such Wagnerian heroines as Isolde, Bruennhilde and Kundry. In later years, however, she concentrated on Lucia, Lady Macbeth, Violetta in “La Traviata,” Medea, Anna Bolena and Tosca.
She made numerous recordings, including 19 complete operas and 10 albums of operatic selections.
Callas retired from concert singing in 1966 because of ill health. She returned briefly to the stage in 1973 and 1974. She was greeted with enthusiasm by sellout audiences, but many critics were disappointed.