Maria Callas's voice still divine

The peaks, troughs, tormented love life of a great diva

(ANSA) - Rome, September 11 - The 40th anniversary of the death of the great opera diva Maria Callas is approaching on September 16, reminding fans of the singer known as "La Divina", considered by many as the greatest singer of the 20th century.
    Her fame derived not only from her voice, but also from her unique acting ability, which was likely attributed at least in part to her tormented and passionate life.
    Her personal ups and downs made her a much-followed and beloved figure with the public, especially during the years of her complicated love story with the billionaire Aristotle Onassis, and through to her death, which was shrouded in the mystery of a possible suicide.
    Born Cecila Sophia Anna Maria Kalogeropoulos in New York on December 2, 1923, she first gained fame in Greece in the 1940s, where her mother had taken her in 1937 after separating from her father and where Callas began studying music and singing.
    "Her voice had no limits," said Italian director and opera producer Franco Zeffirelli, who worked with Callas on various occasions.
    "She was at the same time a soprano, a mezzo-soprano, and a contralto, and she had the genius to turn this defect of hers into a virtue, able to continually astound surprisingly, as if she had come from another planet," he said.
    Upon her return to New York in 1945, she paid for her studies by babysitting in the home of a friend of Toscanini, who cast her in Ponchielli's "La Gioconda" in 1947 at the Arena di Verona.
    It was in Verona that she met industrialist Battista Meneghini, who became her first husband and manager as her career took off in Florence the year after with Bellini's "Norma", which she would perform more than 90 times, making the aria "Casta Diva" her signature.
    She met Onassis in America and in 1959 he invited her and Meneghini on his yacht the "Christina" together with Winston Churchill, the Prince of Monaco and the Agnellis.
    Callas separated from Meneghini less than one year later, embarking on a tormented 10-year affair with the Greek shipping magnate that ended when he left her for Jackie Kennedy.
    Her last tour, in 1973, was deemed a failure, and she lived out the final years of her life in Paris, where she died in 1977, provoking rumours of suicide by drug overdose.