Written and performed by Shelley Cooper. . Directed by Mariangela Chatzistamatiou.
“Wherever I stay, I make the goddamn rules.”---Maria Callas
Maria Callas (1923-1987) was one of the most celebrated and influential opera singers of the 20th Century, so much so that she was called La Divina, “The Divine One.” The great conductor Leonard Bernstein called her “the Bible of Opera.” Born in New York City to Greek immigrant parents, her mother relocated her and her sister to Athens when Maria was 13. It was there that the young prodigy began her formal musical education, which led to her phenomenal career.
In La Divina: The Last Interview of Maria Callas, Shelley Cooper portrays Callas near the end of her life, granting an interview to an unseen broadcast journalist. Callas attempts to keep the talk focused on her art, her work and her career, while the interviewer tries to deflect the discussion onto her scandalous personal life, specifically her complicated relationship with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. This intense affair would morph into an ongoing friendship with Onassis that would last the rest of her days, even after he married Jackie Kennedy.
Callas recounts a young life with a loving father, and an overbearing mother who forced her into developing her musical talents from the age of 5, denying her the happy childhood she deserved. She recalls how opera saved her life during World War II, when Greece was occupied by Axis soldiers. After the war, when her career became established in Italy, she would astound the world with her incredible musical gifts, becoming one of the most celebrated singers of her generation.
As Cooper-as-Callas, relates the story of La Divina, she sings selections from Callas’ repertoire, including ariras from Puccini, Verdi, Bizet, Gluck- a selection of some of opera’s greatest hits, as it were. Cooper’s own thrilling soprano singing works associated with La Divina is perhaps the finest homage one could make to her acclaimed predecessor. It has the effect of making Cooper’s show a concert as much as a narrative.