Athens, the cradle of civilization and art, has added another jewel to its cultural crown. Nestled in the vibrant heart of the city stands a newly inaugurated museum, a shrine dedicated to the prodigious talents and illustrious life of the legendary opera soprano, Maria Callas. The museum’s opening couldn’t have been timed better; it coincides with what would have been Callas’ 100th birthday on December 2nd.
Visitors stepping into this three-storey neoclassical edifice are instantly transported to an era of opera’s golden age. As they tread softly on the polished floors, they are greeted with artifacts that once graced the life of the diva. A particularly intimate piece is a strand of her hair, a memento that her hairdresser had thoughtfully preserved, which later found its way into an auction and was subsequently donated to the museum. This and other relics provide a deeply personal connection to the diva, a glimpse into her life beyond the limelight.
One of the showstoppers is a blue velvet dress that Callas donned after her stirring 1955 rendition of Verdi‘s La Traviata at Milan’s La Scala, an evening that was etched into the annals of opera history. The dress is a silent testament to a night of magic, echoing the thundering applause and the encore that must have followed.
Other treasures that await discovery include Callas’ prescription eyewear, an array of her resplendent costumes, and a cherished notebook, which she relied upon to meticulously memorize the nuances of her roles. A highlight is a sketch, a hand-drawn design by the illustrious luxury shoemaker Manolo Blahnik. This piece, inspired by the allure and grandeur of Callas, was a generous donation by the Maria Callas Greek Society.
Maria Anna Sophie Cecilia Kalogeropoulos, or Maria Callas, as the world reverently knows her, was born in New York in 1923 to proud Greek parents. She went on to become a tour de force in the world of opera, championing and rejuvenating the Italian bel canto vocal technique. The museum, in its evocative ambiance, houses a special section on the second floor where aficionados can immerse themselves in snippets of Callas’ hallmark performances. The haunting strains of “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s opera “Norma” and recordings of her instructive sessions at the Juilliard School in New York during 1971-1972 are certain to leave visitors spellbound.
A poignant moment awaits as Callas’ voice resonates in a farewell address from March 1972. “Keep on going… in the proper way, not with the fireworks, not with the easy applause,” she advises her proteges, encapsulating her philosophy of life and art.
Though the world lost this gem to a heart attack in 1977 when she was just 53, her legacy lives on, immortalized in this museum.