Maria Callas was one of the first musical voices I remember hearing on record when I was growing up – my Dad was a huge fan and was lucky enough to see her perform at Covent Garden. I can still see the look on his face when he reminisced about these performances and if I had to describe that look I’d probably say it was akin to the look on the faces of Alfie fans when they first hear him sing live. When you’re struck by a voice, it really hits you.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, of course, last night saw the first episode of Alfie Boe’s Opera Heroes in which the first hero was Maria Callas, the most famous soprano of the twentieth century. Guiding us through Callas’ life and career, the emphasis of the programme was on the sublime voice, with a large portion of the programme given over to Callas’ recordings.
Alfie fans will know that he was introduced to opera by his elder brother Michael (thanks Michael!) and we again heard of the importance of music to the Boe family home, with Callas being the favourite voice of Michael. Apparently, Michael still owns every Callas recording on vinyl and CD. In my first ever interview for thoughtsofjustafan, Michael’s reply to the question ‘Which person, alive or dead, would you most like to sing with’ met with the response that “I’m a HUGE Callas fan and would have loved to have sung with her”. Click here to see who else Michael said he loved singing with. Alfie told us that the Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana was Michael’s favourite Callas recording – is it still the same, Michael?
Even though the voice of Callas was showcased, no programme about her could ever be complete without mention of Aristotle Onassis. In some respects, their relationship has overshadowed her career but in others, the story of their relationship is perfectly suited to the image of her as the ultimate tragic diva. It would have been interesting to have followed this idea further to see how much our idea of Callas the singer is influenced by her private life. Having said that, Alfie touched on this idea when he said that the story of Callas and Onassis is so well known and perfectly suited to to opera that it’s surprising no one has written it yet. If we can have operas about Anna Nicole Smith and Jerry Springer, why not Callas and Onassis?
As a presenter, Alfie’s natural passion and enthusiasm shone through; if we can’t hear Alfie singing opera, the next best thing is to hear him talk about it with such enthusiasm and passion. In a fitting end to the programme, Alfie spoke with absolute conviction that Callas knew her art and her audience inside out, left us with a quote from Callas herself:
I give a little happiness. Music has enriched my life and hopefully, through me, a little of the public’s life too. If anyone left an opera house feeling more happy and at peace, I have achieve my purpose.
It seems to me that this quote could be used to sum up Alfie’s attitude to music and his audience too. I’ll leave you with Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano (another operatic superstar I’ve heard Alfie enthuse about) singing an aria from La Boheme that all self respecting Alfie fans should recognise:
Alfie Boe on Maria Callas is available on BBC Radio iPlayer (click here) and the next two episodes will feature Mario Lanza and Enrico Caruso.
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