Film Reviews

Film Review: Maria By Callas (2017)

Director: Tom Volf

Clare Martin

There have been many explorations into the life of Maria Callas. Tom Volf’s film Maria by Callas is the first time that Maria’s life story is told completely in her own words - letters, her memoirs, interviews. Volf tells us this is the story of Maria the woman as told by Callas the star.

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Maria Callas, one of the greatest opera singers of her time. An artist in the 1950s and 1960s when the rich and fashionable crowded to opening nights. When the newspapers were hungry to sell a story no matter the cost. When the cult of celebrity was beginning to boom.

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Maria Callas

Volf is clearly an adoring fan. None of Maria’s later and slightly ‘off’ recordings are included in this film. Who wishes to see their venerated diva’s decline? Actually, I don’t … there is so much to celebrate with this singer. There has been so much negative press and invasive judgement of this performer. Almost as if the greater the star, the more scrutiny they’re subjected to.

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Told through interviews, home movies, family photographs, private letters and memoirs, much of the footage has never been shown to the public. This is a huge feat of assembling, apparently done over four years. And it is fascinating.

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But is this truly the voice of Callas telling this story? The film editor can shape the viewers’ view, we are at the mercy of the filmmaker, and are bound to get Volf’s view of the great singer. So this is a fan’s film made for fans. Fair call.

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Along with unique interviews of Maria, it is a huge treat to get so much footage of Callas’ performances. And not just snippets, thankfully, entire arias including Un bel di vedremo, Madam Butterfly, Casta Diva, Norma, and an absolutely stunning version of Ah! non credea mirarti, La Sonnambula. That certainly paused the rustling in the sweetie bag behind me.

A couple of jarring points were the frame intrusions in the older footage. And although truly appropriate, singer Joyce di Donato’s reading of Callas’ letters was somewhat unconvincing.

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Those aside, this is a totally wonderful celebration of a totally world-class artist. And if it is a tad biased, well I’m with the filmmaker Tom Volf. Go explore this fascinating foray into Maria’s world.

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Tickets are available to Maria By Callas at the 2019 New Zealand International Film Festival

Written By: Clare Martin Clare has performed as an opera, recital and oratorio artist in UK most notably the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London. In NZ she has performed with NZ Opera and with the NZ Symphony Orchestra but more recently she has moved into a wider range of contemporary genres including jazz and even Leonard Cohen. Since 2008 Clare has been teaching from her own music studio working with professional and beginner singers. In 2017 she was a mentor on TVNZ’s The Naked Choir working with a cappella choirs and she currently coaches barbershop and a woman’s ensemble.