Related topics

Maria Callas ‘more alive than ever’ two decades after death

September 16, 1997 GMT

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ One by one, the laurel wreaths were tossed into the sea that meant so much to Maria Callas.

It was where she sailed with Greece’s richest man before he left her brokenhearted. It was where the ashes of one of the greatest opera divas had been scattered.

Callas, who died of a heart attack 20 years ago today in her Paris apartment, continues to set standards for her admirers, in opera and matters of the heart.

Callas brought a fiery voice and new sensitivity to roles in ``Medea″ and ``La Traviata.″ In her personal life, she soared with the jet-set 1960s and then plunged low when shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis spurned her for another ultra-famous woman: Jacqueline Kennedy.

A ceremony Sunday brought together opera singers, conductors, biographers and friends of Callas, who traveled by sea to the ancient theater in Epidauros, where she had performed almost 40 years ago.

Before arriving, the boat anchored in the Aegean Sea between the islands of Aegina and Angistri, and three wreaths were cast into the sea. Callas’ voice resounded from loudspeakers: ``I cannot change my blood. I will always be Greek.″

The soprano’s ashes were scattered into the Aegean in 1979, in accordance with her last wishes, off the coast of Sounion, almost 40 miles east of Angistri.

``With this modest ceremony, full of symbolism, Greece and the world are remembering and honoring the greatest modern tragedian,″ Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

In Greece, Callas came to be seen as a permanently sad, yet glamorous and proud woman who embodied the themes of the ancient tragedies.

``Callas today is more alive than ever,″ said soprano Renata Scotto, who was in Athens to attend a three-day international opera congress as part of tributes to Callas.

At Epidauros, a ``flame of civilization″ was lit in Callas’ memory, and Avramopoulos announced that a similar ceremony would be held every two years.

``When I became interested in Maria Callas ... it occurred to me before long that the real story was about the woman Maria Callas, and not about the singer,″ said Tony Palmer, the British director of a documentary on the singer.

``I realized the story of her life was probably one of the greatest love stories of our time.″

Callas, originally Marianna Kalogeropoulou, was born to a Greek immigrant family in New York in 1923. At 13, she moved to Athens and began her singing career. She died in Paris on Sept. 16, 1977, at 53.

Television stations in both Greece and Italy, where a great part of Callas’ career was based, planned to air tributes to Callas this week.

Commemorative concerts are being held in both cities today, with the Mediterranean Philharmonia Orchestra performing in Rome.

In Athens, musicians from throughout Europe join winners of the Maria Callas Grand Prix: Greek soprano Irene Tsirakidou, mezzo soprano Eleni Matos, British tenor James Oxley and Russian baritone Askar Abdrazakov.