, November 2009
Soprano Maria Callas (1923–1977)—née Maria Kalogeropoulou—is such a legend that her short, fabulous operatic career and tragic personal life have inspired countless books, plays, films and even opera itself, in Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna, which is coming to Toronto next June. So it’s refreshing to see a good, straightforward documentary that tells her life story—from lowly birth in New York to Greek immigrants, to her sad and lonely death in a Paris apartment—in an absorbingly personal way. French filmmaker Philippe Kohly loops the narrative around a key moment in her life, when she chose to plunge into a doomed affair with the late Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Kohly has tapped into a rich lode of personal photos and period video footage that sharply trace Callas’s progress from ugly (but talented) duckling into an international 1950s glamour icon. There are details on her triumphs and failures, as well as many, many clips of her singing. If there is a downside to this tidy, 95-minute bio-doc made in 2007, it’s the lack of any full-length performances or any other extras.