2023 marks the centenary of Maria Callas's birth – an anniversary included on UNESCO's celebratory list. Various events have been planned to honor one of the most important musical artists of Greek heritage, and the Greek National Opera (GNO) is of course at the forefront of these initiatives, organizing an extensive tribute to Greece’s most iconic opera singer – and, arguably, the greatest soprano of the 20th century.
The tribute, curated by the GNO 's Artistic Director, Giorgos Koumendakis, will run from April through December 2023, featuring a production of Cherubini’s Medea, an art installation in the GNO Foyer, an Opera Gala at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an exhibition at the National Library of Greece, a documentary on the lesser known early years of the "La Divina", a video recital dedicated to her "first, formative repertoire", and an educational workshop run in partnership with the Digital Media Lab (DmLab) at the Technical University of Crete.
Maria Callas as Norma in the first staging of Bellini's namesake opera at Epidaurus in August 1960, directed by Alexis Minotis, sets and costumes designed by Yannis Tsarouchis (from GNO’s Virtual Museum).
Maria Callas and the Greek National Opera
As pointed out in GNO’s Press release, Maria Callas's contribution to the art of opera in the 20th and 21st centuries is beyond dispute: in a career spanning just over two decades, she both refreshed the repertoire of her time –revitalizing long-forgotten bel canto masterpieces– and highlighted the importance of opera’s theatrical aspect through her superb dramatic performances.
The Greek National Opera is paying tribute to Callas not only as a soprano of international fame, but also as on one of its own greatest founding members, since the singer signed her first contract with GNO in 1940, just a few short months after its founding the previous year (as a branch of Greece’s National Theatre). From 1940 through until 1945, she built a career with her birth name (Maria Kalogeropoulou). Following the first classes she took at the Greek National Conservatoire with Maria Trivella, and alongside her subsequent studies at the Athens Conservatoire under the Spanish soprano Elvira de Hidalgo, Kalogeropoulou performed major roles at the GNO.
Photo from the first staging of D'Albert's The Lowlands (Tiefland) at Olympia Theater, in April 1944, directed by Renato Mordo. Starring are the baritone Evangelos Magliveras as Sebastiano and soprano Maria Kalogeropoulou (Callas) as Martha (from GNO’s Virtual Museum).
"La Callas" would return to the Greek National Opera fifteen years later as a star of world renown, to be part of the first opera performances ever presented at the Ancient Theatre of Epidauru: Bellini’s Norma in 1960, and Cherubini’s Medea in 1961. As a token of her gratitude to the GNO for helping her in her first steps, Callas donated her fees from both these productions to help establish of a scholarship program supporting young opera artists.
As part of the Callas tribute, the public will have access to never-before-seen materials drawn from the GNO Historical Archive, which in recent years has acquired some major archival collections, including recordings, rare publications, photographs, and personal items. For the purposes of this tribute, GNO was granted use of archive materials drawn from the Katina Paxinou – Alexis Minotis Archive, courtesy of the Hellenic Literary and Historical Archive (ELIA) of the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation (MIET).
Photo from the production of Bellini's Norma at Epidaurus, in August 1960, directed by Alexis Minotis, sets and costumes designed by Yannis Tsarouchis. In the center, soprano Maria Callas (Norma) (from GNO’s Virtual Museum).
As Giorgos Koumendakis notes in the announcement, "Maria Callas shaped the very history of the Greek National Opera. [...] The training she received and stage experience she gained during the years she lived in Greece laid solid foundations for the next phase of her career, which began in 1947, in Verona."
GNO's Artistic Director also explained that the program of events honoring the centennial of Maria Callas aims to showcase the legendary soprano's connections to the GNO, but also to connect younger generations with the heritage of "La Divina" as a symbol of talent, hard work and dedication".
Photo from the production of Cherubini's Medea at Epidaurus, in the context of the Epidaurus Festival, in August 1961, directed by Alexis Minotis, sets and costumes designed by Yannis Tsarouchis. The title role was interpreted by soprano Maria Callas. Next to her, tenor Jon Vickers as Jason (from GNO’s Virtual Museum).
The GNO Maria Callas tribute program is sponsored by the Public Power Corporation (PPC). This program is made possible by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to enhance the GNO’s artistic outreach.
The flagship GNO event of the tribute is a production of Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, to be presented on 25, 27, 30 April and 2, 4, 9 May 2023 inside the Stavros Niarchos Hall, conducted by Philippe Auguin and directed by David McVicar, in a major international GNO co-production with three leading North American opera houses: the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the Canadian Opera Company, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
GNO also presents the arts programme UNBOXING CALLAS (4 May – 9 June 2023); taking the new production of Medea as its starting point, this first part of the programme sees Vassilis Zidianakis invite the visual artist Panos Profitis to undertake a multi-format art experiment titled From Callas to Medea – An Installation in Three Acts, to be installed for the first time inside the foyer spaces of the Greek National Opera at the SNFCC.
Callas at the Herodium (September 2023): The precise repertoire of Callas's historic recital at the 1957 Athens Festival is to be presented at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus by the Greek National Opera, featuring four internationally-renowned leading lights of the opera world.
On 2 December 2023 (exactly 100 after the artist’s birthday), the documentary Mary, Mariana, Maria – The Unsung Greek Years of Callas by Vasilis Louras (co-produced by the Greek National Opera with ESCAPE Productions) will premiere at the Stavros Niarchos Hall.
Photo from the first staging of Puccini's Tosca at the open-air theater of Klafthmonos Square, in August 1942, directed by Dino Yannopoulos. The shot captures baritone Titos Xirellis as Baron Scarpia and soprano Maria Kalogeropoulou (Callas) as Floria Tosca (from GNO’s Virtual Museum)
In December GNO will also present thevideo recital The Repertoire Never Heard…, featuring the repertoire performed by Maria Kalogeropoulou in Athens from 1937 through until 1945, which will be screened for free on GNO TV.
Finally, the pioneering educational workshop titled Visualising the Voice of Maria Callas is being jointly organised by GNO and the Technical University of Crete. The workshop will focus on further broadening the relationships between architecture and music, space and sound, and –through the use of new digital media– will seek to experimentally visualise the very sound of Maria Callas.
For more information, dates, and prices, visit the GNO’s official site