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‘Callas Forever’ a fantastic farce

By |2018-01-16T02:43:35-05:00December 23rd, 2004|Uncategorized|

Knowing very little about the legend that was Maria Callas – after all, I was only five in 1977 when she died of a sudden heart attack in her Paris apartment – I was initially enchanted with Franco Zeffirelli’s “Callas Forever.” Then, at the very end of the credits, I came across a little blip that gave me pause. “The events depicted in this film belong to both the fantasy of the author and the memories of his longstanding friendship with Maria Callas.”
That’s right, the story in the film – the final days of perhaps the greatest opera singer of the 20th century, her triumph over her demons and short-lived career rebirth – is all a farce. It never happened.
If you’re not bothered by this concept, then you should have no trouble enjoying the film. Zeffirelli (“Tea With Mussolini”) was a longtime friend of Callas. He directed her on the stage, both in Puccini’s “Tosca” – her last operatic role – and in a series of gala concerts recorded at the Royal Opera House and later released on film. So there’s reason to believe that the essence of Callas has been preserved intact, and that much of the dialogue was inspired by actual conversations the director shared with his favorite diva. Indeed, Zeffirelli even wrote himself into the film in the form of Larry Kelly (Jeremy Irons, who perhaps shows more passion in his other film currently in theatres, “Being Julia”), the gay and completely fictional former manager/producer who hatches a plan to return Callas to glory. That plan, to have Callas make films of her favorite operas and then match them to recordings she made decades earlier when her voice was in its prime, is provocative.
The same can be said for much of the film, though it does surrender to pure melodrama from time to time and also suffers the occasional nagging blunder. For instance, the film takes place in 1977 – when Callas was 53 – though you never actually feel you’re in that era, despite the fabulous couture from Chanel.
Another bothersome boo-boo is the muddied accent French actress Fannie Ardant brings to Callas’ speaking voice (the film, of course, utilizes Callas’ own vocals for the musical selections). Callas was born in New York and spent her first 14 years in the States.
The film also fails at times at interspersing doses of reality into Zeffirelli’s fantasy. At one point, and out of blue, we’re made witness to one of the master’s classes Callas taught at Julliard in 1971, a full six years before the time period the film is supposed to depict.
These technical glitches aside, the film is a revealing portrait of the turmoil that engulfed Callas after her voice failed her and her longtime lover, Aristotle Onassis, dropped her for the biggest trophy bride of all, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Gay filmgoers have obviously been impressed. “Callas Forever” won the audience award for best film at both the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival.
So, if youÕre not a stickler for facts, you’ll have fun revisiting the last days of a legend.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.