Review: Maria By Callas is a fawning yet fascinating doc about the legendary soprano

Unearthed letters and a long-lost TV interview shed light on the singer's life, career and enduring legacy

MARIA BY CALLAS (Tom Volf). 113 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (October 26). See listing. Rating: NNNN

Maria By Callas is a slightly fawning but fascinating documentary about the Greek-American soprano’s life and career, told in her own words. 

Director Tom Volf has unearthed lots of material, in particular a long-lost TV interview with David Frost that acts as a structural device and contains the diva’s sad claim that a woman’s main vocation is to have a family and raise children.

Footage of Callas’s opera appearances in the 50s – when her voice was at its peak – shows off her natural stage presence, and there’s lots to document various controversies: her cancellations (especially her Rome Opera gala, which made international headlines), her fight with the Met’s Rudolf Bing, and the last act of her life, which came to resemble a tragic opera itself.

Some of the most poignant sections come from newly found letters, especially one addressed to her lover Aristotle Onassis after he married Jacqueline Kennedy. (The letters are read by mezzo Joyce DiDonato.)

Throughout, the musical choices are tasteful and thematically apt, and Volf shows respect for his subject by revealing footage, but no singing, from Callas’s disastrous comeback tour in the 70s.

A must-see for opera lovers.

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