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Callas’ death is still a mystery

02 December 2013 / 19:12:22  GRReporter
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The 2 of December marks the 90th anniversary of La Divina (Divine) Maria Callas. Too many facts about her life are known, as usually happens with the majority of celebrities.

However, some things remain hidden or just unanswered, thus gradually becoming a source of various theories and conspiracies. The death of the legendary singer who, at the end of her life, was like a shadow of her former glory is typical in this case.

Maria Callas died in Paris on 16 September 1977. The funeral service took place four days later, on 20 September, after which her ​​body was cremated. In the spring of 1979, her ashes were scattered over the Aegean Sea as she had requested.

According to the generally accepted version, Callas killed herself by taking an overdose of sleeping pills because she could not accept that Aristotle Onassis had rejected her. Three years ago, however a group of scientists from the University of Bologna presented the results of their examination of the causes of Callas’ death. According to them, the famous soprano had been suffering from a very rare disease that affects the muscles and tissues. In particular, they believe that she had been suffering from dermatomyositis and that she had been aware of this fact. To treat the symptoms she had been taking, for many years, corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents that can cause cardiac failure. In support of their theory, professors Franco Fussi and Nico Paolillo state that, according to the medical report, Callas died of cardiac arrest.

If this theory sounds logical, the version that Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli launched in 2004 could be clearly defined as a conspiracy. He suggests that a member of Maria Callas’ circle of friends in the last years of her life poisoned her.

According to the author of "Callas Forever", a film that describes the end of her life, in her last years, Callas was totally under the control of a woman named Vasso Devetzi. "I have been told that Maria left a will giving everything to her maid, her driver and to a musicians’ retirement home. But after she died, there was no sign of this will and Vasso Devetzi got most of what Maria had," states Zeffirelli.

According to him, she was giving Callas sleeping pills and amphetamines. "Why else would Devetzi have her body cremated immediately after the funeral service? Maria hated the idea of being cremated. Was it because Devetzi was covering her tracks? Maria’s death was put down as a heart attack but there was never an autopsy," continues the director.

The truth is unlikely ever to be revealed. Vasso Devetzi herself passed away in 1987. However, it is believed that she was one of the heirs who received 1 million pounds from the sale by Sotheby's auction house of some of Maria Callas’ fabulous jewellery.

Zeffirelli defines the sale as "disgusting," stating that those behind it are "jackals exploiting Maria’s legacy."

According to her biography, Vasso Devetzi was a talented and famous piano player. She met with Maria Callas at the height of her own career, when Maria’s was declining. Devetzi was part of the closest circle of the singer and she scattered her ashes over the Aegean Sea in the presence of the Minister of Culture of Greece at the time.

After the death of the opera diva, Devetzi reduced her performances to dedicate to her memory. So, in 1980 she founded the Maria Callas International Foundation based in Switzerland with the assistance of the founder of the Athens Concert Hall, Christos Lambrakis, and of other eminent persons from Greece, France, Switzerland and Germany. The main objective of the Foundation is to promote Callas’ work.

36 years after her death she is still fascinating the admirers of opera music. "In the age of Callas her contemporaries wanted perfect voices. Some sopranos were more concerned about the beauty of the voice and far less about the interpretation itself. Maria had brought something different, something unusual. She did not care so much about the beauty of the voice but about being able to express the dramatic opera culminations and to respond to them. In some cases, her voice was like a knife, able to "cut" everything that stood in its way," states Italian conductor Riccardo Muti.

"Of course, she had a great technique and was able to use her voice in an amazing way. Even today we become dumb when listening to her coloraturas. In any case, the cleanliness of the voice itself was not sufficient for her. She skilfully used her talent, doing on stage things that others could not even think of. In roles such as Norma, Amina in "La sonnambula", Medea or in Donizetti’s operas in which the soprano is the queen of the stage, the overall interpretation which she was able to achieve in combination with the power of her voice was literally unique," says the famous conductor.

Tags: MusicMaria CallasAnniversaryDeathFranco ZeffirelliVasso Devetzi
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