October 18th, 2005
Join Date: Dec 2003
Maria Callas hated the televitz
Letters show Callas' pen was dipped in vitriol By Jeremy Lovell
Tue Oct 18,12:17 PM ET
Mercurial in temperament and talent, opera diva Maria Callas shows for the first time the extent to which her pen was dipped in the same vitriol that tainted her public persona.
A series of waspish letters, which go on sale at Christie's London auction house on November 30, shows how her public quarrels with rivals and the management of the Metropolitan Opera in New York were also carried on in private correspondence.
"This is her in full diva mode," Thomas Venning, Christie's manuscript expert, told Reuters on Tuesday.
In one letter dated November 2, 1958 to Rudolf Bing, manager of the Met, she asks: "do you make your judgements with the brain of some little fool or rather with your own brain?"
Prophetically, the same letter concludes: "Your important organization and I do not work on the same principles and thus it will be just as well that each should go its own way..."
Bing announced he was sacking her four days later just before she was due to go on stage in "Medea."
Fired by outraged indignation -- despite the fact that she schemed toward this very result -- Callas went on to give what was acclaimed as one of her greatest performances.
Never the retiring violet, she explained the virtuosity of that show to a reporter with the phrase: "I don't do routine. My voice is not an elevator."
In another letter, Callas, the foremost soprano of her generation who is credited with the almost single-handed revival of Italian bel canto opera, explained why she disdained the new mass medium of television.
"I hate opera on the little screen done by people with no taste at all," she wrote in May 1956.
Venning said the unique nature of the letters lay in the insight they gave into the lengths star artists will go to protect their careers.
"This shows the excess of self-belief that comes with deep insecurity," he said. "She is harsh, defensive, aggressive and passionate."
Other letters in the collection up for sale reveal the intense rivalry between Callas and Renata Tebaldi, an antipathy the pair publicly claimed to be fabricated by the press.
Notorious for her autocratic attitude, Callas, who died in 1977 aged 53, at one time traveled first class with her husband-manager in tourist class.
Asked by a reporter to explain this apparently odd arrangement she retorted: "If those stinkers (at the Met) won't pay for him to travel first class, I won't either.
"Anyway I always order a second portion of whatever I eat and drink, put it in a vomit bag and send a stewardess to take it back to him."