Ari Onassis was a business partner but above all a very good friend of mine for many years until his death in 1975. It was great to know him and fantastic to be involved in his odyssey and contributes to build his empire. There are so many things that are said about Ari and by creating this blog I want to reflect the reality about him to make sure his memory is not stained by gossiping people that don't know anything about him. You can also view my website:

Monday, October 01, 2007

Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas

MARIA Callas's life is eloquent testimony to the truth of Erik Erikson's observation that ''when artists go under, it is not as slaughtered lambs, but as the vanquished in the struggle for power.'' Callas's formidable personality and temperament gave her insight into the larger-than-life heroines of many 19th-century operas. With the tools of her musicianship and remarkable technique, she translated this identification into performances that could transform people's lives. Her style was at one with the Romantic period and altogether alien to our own time. No one knew this better than she. Even at the end of her career, when a director of Covent Garden asked her to narrate ''L'Histoire du soldat,'' she refused: ''I'm not very keen on Stravinsky. I don't really like modern music. ... I don't really even approve of Puccini. Mine is the nineteenth century.''
The 19th century also marks the style of Arianna Stassinopoulos, Callas's most recent biographer. The author, who never met her subject and attended only one of Callas's performances (when Miss Stassinopoulos was 10 years old), was the choice of British publisher George Weidenfeld. And an interesting choice it was. Miss Stassinopoulos has produced a biography loaded with detail, high on hyperbole and lacking in objectivity. ''Maria Callas'' contains the elements of a juicy libretto, complete with malevolent mother, opportunistic husband and sadistic lover, all bent on exploiting a vulnerable female.
The London equivalent of America's Marabel Morgan, the author of ''Total Woman,'' Miss Stassinopoulos is best known abroad for her book ''The Female Woman,'' in which she attacks the feminist emphasis on career and celebrates the traditional womanly virtues. In this biography, she portrays Callas as a tragic figure for whom Aristotle Onassis was a necessity because he awakened her sexuality and womanhood: ''Aristo had brought love, frivolity, passion and tenderness to the life of a dedicated nun. ... He had opened the way for a host of feelings never before experienced and impressions never before sensed. ... Onassis made her aware of her sensuality, and he was her first real lover. Maria discovered sex at thirty-six and she discovered it through Onassis.''
However frivolous this book may be, Callas was in no way frivolous. Even one note alone of hers was unmistakable; that cannot be said of anyone else. Her voice ranged from a low dramatic soprano to the highest coloratura and she could articulate virtuoso runs and trills with impeccable accuracy. Her timbre was unique, something like an English horn, and in her recordings her voice conveyed emotion as few others ever did. Callas was an extraordinary artist and one of the most electrifying personalities of our time. What ---------------------------------------------------------------------
Joan Peyser is the editor of ''The Musical Quarterly'' and author of ''Twentieth Century Music: The Sense Behind the Sound'' and ''Boulez: Composer, Conductor, Enigma.'' caused her to subjugate herself and her art to years of degradation with Onassis, a man who ''belittled her constantly: 'What are you? Nothing. You just have a whistle in your throat that no longer works' ''? This is a reasonable question for any Callas biography to raise, but it is not one that is answered adequately here.
To paint a faithful portrait of her subject, the author need only have listened carefully to the central figures in the story; instead she follows their every comment with angry refutations. Callas's husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, a millionaire in his 50's when she married him, told a reporter when she left him for Onassis: ''This man has billions, you must understand.'' Then Miss Stassinopoulos undermines him: ''It was the rich man's impotent envy of the superrich, the stingy millionaire's resentment at the extravagant multimillionaire ...'' Callas's mother backs up Mr. Meneghini: ''I was Maria's first victim. Now it's Meneghini. ... Maria would (like to) marry Onassis to further her limitless ambition.'' But here again Miss Stassinopoulos argues: ''She could not have shown less understanding of her daughter. Ambition was the last thought in Maria's mind when ... she was at the Milan airport, boarding the private plane Onassis had sent for her.''
Both literally and figuratively, Callas had an enormous appetite, and it manifested itself in behavior that Miss Stassinopoulos repeatedly refers to in her narrative: ''As was her lifelong habit, (Callas) picked what she wanted from everybody else's plates.'' It was not enough for her to thrill millions, to have her fans break down doors or yell themselves hoarse. Callas had to be Number One and she demanded more money than anyone else only because, as she readily admitted, she had to have the most: ''I'm not interested in money,'' she told the Vienna State Opera, ''but it has to be more than anyone else gets.''
Her voraciousness knew no limits; no challenge was too much to attempt. Callas began her career singing Wagner, but she soon moved into coloratura roles and almost singlehanded revived the entire bel canto repertoire. She even went so far as to sing Donizetti's ''Anna Bolena,'' a role that the born coloratura Beverly Sills claimed took five years off her own operatic life. Callas's challenges were not merely vocal. In 1952, when she weighed 180 pounds, she set Audrey Hepburn as her model and lost 62 pounds in less than two years. By 1954 she was thin, rich, beautiful, famous. Around this time her voice began to falter and she turned her attention elsewhere. She moved into Elsa Maxwell's circle, met Aristotle Onassis and made every effort to marry him.
Unlike many sopranos, for whom the voice is an end and not a means, Callas used hers as a tool, a source of revenge, a way of thumbing her nose at the gods for a wretched childhood. Fat, ugly and acned, she lived in awe of her sister, ''tall, slender, beautiful Jackie with chestnut hair and brown eyes'' who was her mother's expressed favorite. All Maria ever had was her voice, and she could work wonders with it: ''Only when I was singing did I feel loved.'' Later Callas remarked: ''If you live, you struggle. It is the same for all of us. What is different are the weapons you have and the weapons that are used against you.'' When her mother was on welfare and appealed to her for help, she replied with a letter later published in Time magazine: ''If you can't make enough money to live on, you can jump out of the window or drown yourself.''
All of this can be gleaned from Miss Stassinopoulos's book, which contains large doses of information, some of it useful, some of it cheap. We learn that Callas's mother, who wanted a boy to replace the son she had lost to typhoid fever, would not look at Maria when she was born. During her marriage to Mr. Meneghini, Callas was in love with the Italian film director Luchino Visconti, described by Miss Stassinopoulos as ''largely homosexual.'' Callas became for Elsa Maxwell ''the object of an almost adolescent passion. ... (Callas) always made sure that she was not left alone with Elsa, even for a few minutes.'' When Callas was 43 years old, she became pregnant and, at Onassis's insistence, aborted the baby. After Onassis married Jacqueline Kennedy, Callas relied on tranquilizers and sleeping pills and attempted suicide.
The material is presented with little nuance, and conclusions are seldom drawn even when the facts cry out for some. Consider, for instance, Callas's weight loss. Miss Stassinopoulos writes that following Callas's 1954 appearance as Queen Elizabeth of Spain in Verdi's ''Don Carlo,'' it was an ''ironic tribute to her transformation that the rave reviews were reserved for her physical appearance ...'' and not for her voice. Nowhere does the author suggest that the weight loss may have affected the instrument.
Miss Stassinopoulos claims that, in contrast to Callas's passion for Onassis, her relationship with Mr. Meneghini was loveless from the start and that she married him because his wealth allowed her to be more ''selective'' in accepting engagements without suffering financially. ''She liked his stability,'' the author continues, ''she liked the way everyone deferred to him, and above all she liked the way he liked her.''
But surely Onassis, too, appealed to her in those ways. The point is that by 1957, with a triumphant career behind her, she required a man l0 times more powerful than the one she had needed 10 years before. As for the matter of selectivity in accepting engagements: with Onassis as her lover, Callas became so selective that during 1963 she did not appear in a single opera. And she was then only 40 years old.
Callas claimed that there is no such thing as coincidence, that ''the patterns, large and small, of every aspect of her life'' all had some clearly defined meaning. Unlistening, her biographer ignores the fact that the name of the sister Callas hated in her youth was the same as the woman who finally married Onassis. Nor does Miss Stassinopoulos mention that two-and-a-half years after Onassis's death, Callas died during the very week that Jacqueline Onassis won a $20,000,000 suit against her late husband's will. Mrs. Onassis's victory may well have been for Callas the last in a series of grotesque defeats.
To say that Callas's acquisitive purposes were outside the realm of art is, as Erikson suggests, to misunderstand art. Miss Stassinopoulos's major error is to separate the human being from the artist: her subtitle is ''The Woman Behind the Legend.'' In portraying the soprano as ''Maria ... suffocated by La Callas,'' Miss Stassinopoulos has produced a lively but superficial biography. The awesome artist who is her subject deserves a more insightful evaluation.

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