Maria Callas was born in New York in 1923.
She was Greek by parentage and naturalization, American by birth and early upbringing and Italian by career and by Marriage to G.B. Meneghini.
In 1937, Maria Callas left the USA for Greece with her mother and became a pupil of the well-know soprano Elvira de Hidalgo at the Athens Conservatory. After a few appearances as a student and in secondary roles, she made her true debut at the Athens Opera on 4 July 1941 as Tosca, going on to sing Santuzza and Leonora during the new three years.
In 1945, Callas returned to New York where she by heard by Zenatello who engaged her for La Gioconda in the Arena at Verona. This successful appearance under Serafin was the start of her real career, and she was soon in demand in Italian theatres for such heavy roles as Aida, Turandot, Isolde, Kundry and Brunnhilde.
Her versatility was shown in Verice in 1949 when, only three days after singing a Walkure Brunnhilde, Callas deputised for an indisposed colleague in the florid bel canto role of Elvira in I puritani.
Gradually, under the guidance of Serafin she relinquished her heavier roles in order to concentrate on the earlier Italian operas. Besides adding to her repertory, Violetta, Gilda and Lucia, Rosina, Amina and Norma, she was in constant demand whenever rare and vocally taxing operas of the older school were revived. Thus, in addition to the Verdian heroines of Nabucco, Il trovatore, Don Carlos, Un ballo in maschera and I vespri sicilani, she also sang in memorable revivals of Haydn's Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck's Alcese and Iphigenie in Tauride, Cherubini's Medee, Spontini's La vestale, Rossini's Armida and Il turco in Italia, Donizetti's Anna Bolena and Poliuto and Bellini's Il Pirata.
Her greatest triumphs were won in Norma, Medee, Anna Bolena, Lucia di Lammermoor, La traviata and Tosca. Many of these roles she repeated in the major opera houses of the world, where her fame reached a level that recalled the days of Caruso and Chaliapin. Her debut at La Scala was in Aida in 1950; her first appearances in London (1952) Chicago (1954) and New York (1956) were in Norma.
Callas had the deepest comprehension of the classical italian style, the most musical instincts and the most intelligent approach, coupled with exceptional dramatic powers. Her first appearance on a stage aroused immediate excitement and while she remained there, she riveted the attention of the house. There was authority in all that she did, and in every phrase that she uttered.
Her voice, especially during the early 1950s was in itself and impressive instrument with its penetrating, individual quality, its rich variety of colour and its great agility in florid music. During the 1960s, she withdrew gradually from the operatic stage and gave her final performance as Tosca at Covent Garden in 1965.
In 1971-2 Maria Callas gave an extensive series of master classes mainly in New York and in 1973 and 1974 she emerged from a long period of retirement to make a concert tour with her former colleague, Giuseppe di Stefano.
During the 1950s and 1960s Maria Callas recorded exclusively for EMI and was one of the most eminent and prolific of artists to record furing the Walter Legge years. Her first recording for the company was in 1953 and her extensive discopgraphy includes:
Verdi's Aida, Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino, Rigoletto, La traviata and Il trovatore; Rossini's Il barbiere di Seviglia and Il Turco in Italia; Puccini's Manon Lescaut, Turandot, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Le Boheme; Ponchielli's La Gioconda; Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana; Leoncavallo's Il Pagliacci; Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor; Bizet's Carmen; Bellini's La Sonnambula, I puritani and Norma.
Maria Callas died in Paris in 1977 aged 53. She left behind many remarkable recordings of recitals and complete operas which remain as a testament to her artistic genius.
The art of Maria Callas is comprehensively represented in the EMI Classics catalogue, but in 1992 for the 15th anniversary of her death EMI Classics issued a collection of Callas recordings which either had not been readily available worldwide on compact disc or were being released for the first time on any sound carrier. Both Maria Callas Rarities and La Divina, a collection of arias from her most celebrated recordings, were released in September 1992.
Maria Callas remains the epitome of the operatic soprano. In the 15 years since her death she has suffered no eclipse; in fact her reputation has continued to grow, thanks to her recorded legacy and the discussion and debate her life and art has generated. At no stage has her position at the pinnacle of operatic achievement been contested.
She is the point of reference for the singers who have followed her in the opera house and recording studio. For her admirers her performances remain definitive.