After a quarter of a century of construction, the Greek capital, Athens, is inaugurating on Thursday a museum honoring the legendary soprano Maria Callas, billed as the first of its kind in the world.
Designed to mark the centenary of his birth, the museum features more than 1,300 exhibits, including Callas’ school notebook, inscribed books and scores, opera dresses and photographs, organizers said.
“The great diva, Maria Callas, is going home,” Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis said on Wednesday during a media tour of the scene, AFP reported.
“We are very proud of this first museum that combines technology and lived experience,” he said.
A four-story listed building dating from the 1920s and previously housing a hotel, this cream-colored museum near the central Syntagma Square took more than a decade to complete, at a cost of €1.5 million (1 .6 million dollars).
The collection began 24 years ago, when the city acquired Callas objects at an auction in Paris.
“It’s a museum for all the senses,” said Konstantinos Dedes, one of the project supervisors.
The tour begins on the second floor, where visitors enter a forest scene while Callas – silhouetted on a stage on the back wall – sings an aria from Bellini’s opera Norma.
It was one of the defining performances in an illustrious career spanning more than three decades during which Callas was nicknamed “La Divina”, the divine.
Another room recreates the nighttime view from the diva’s balcony in Paris, complete with billowing curtains.
There is also a recording of Callas giving a masterclass at the Juilliard School of Music in New York in the early 1970s.
“Don’t overdo it”
“There’s no need to overdo it,” she told the students sternly, urging them to use their faces and eyes.
Key exhibits from the collection include the soprano’s personal photo album, her backstage mirror and her prescription glasses, which she almost never wore in public.
There are also monogrammed matchboxes given to him by airlines and hotels during his final world tour in 1973-74, as well as the menu from the fateful party in Venice in 1957, where Callas met the Greek magnate Aristotle Onassis.
She eventually divorced her husband, Italian industrialist Giovanni Meneghini, for Onassis, who then left her to marry former US first lady Jackie Kennedy.
Dozens of Greek institutions and private collectors, including artists Alekos Fassianos, Dimitris Mytaras and Panayiotis Tetsis, have contributed to the new museum, the city said.
Some of these objects were donated by La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera, the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and the Verona Arena, where Callas made his Italian debut in 1947, the press release said.
“We wanted to charm those who don’t know (Callas) and don’t listen to opera (…) and help them understand what made it different,” the museum’s scenographer, Erato Koutsoudaki, explained to AFP.
Tickets cost 10 euros.
Born in New York to Greek immigrant parents in 1923, Sophia Cecilia Anna Maria Kalogeropoulos lived in Athens from 1937 to 1945 after her parents separated.
“As soon as my mother realized my vocal qualities, she decided to make me a child prodigy,” Callas later wrote. “But child prodigies never have a real, authentic childhood.”
The Athens building where Callas lived briefly with his mother and sister will become a music academy, Bakoyannis announced Wednesday.
After taking singing lessons at the National Conservatory, she made her professional debut at the Royal Opera of Athens in 1941.
Callas retired after a final stage appearance in Sapporo, Japan, in 1974. She died in Paris of a heart attack in 1977, aged 53.
His ashes were scattered in the Aegean Sea two years later.
A Callas biopic starring Angelina Jolie, titled Maria, is expected to be released next year.