An excellent documentary of Callas' last role
The Cultural Observer | 05/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To those who think that this is a single-track documentary on Maria Callas' career, you are right. The DVD focuses not on Callas the woman, or Callas the singer of the 50's, but the Callas who returned to the theatre after a brief liaison with that snide Greek snake, Onassis. The events in the film are reported factually, and there is much involvement from people in and out of the opera business. Great singers like Grace Bumbry and Placido Domingo were here to give the public their thoughts on Callas the artist, the musician, the great singer (she really was), and as a professional too. The director Franco Zeffirelli, who was a good friend of Maria, was also there to recount detail by detail the great amount of passion that Maria dedicated to this extremely complex role, and actresses like Judi Dench comment on Maria Callas' ability to act superbly. Dame Judi Dench herself is a great actress, and undoubtedly she only comments on the best if they truly live up to their name. She also said that she sang like an angel, and what is more is she did attend the performances Maria gave to London as Tosca.
Although very little survives of the video performances that Callas gives on stage, what little we have is enough to prove what a dramatic force she was to reckon with. After watching snippets of Act 2 of Puccini's masterpiece in fuzzy black and white, I was no longer thinking of Maria on stage. Instead, I was seeing Floria Tosca. Every gesture Maria performs is simply astonishing. Her Vissi d'arte is sung almost like a prayer, and the murder scene that follows the aria is bloodcurdling. Hearing Tosca say "Muori!!! Muori!!! MUORI!!!" with Callas' voice is nothing short of being raptured to dramatic and musical heaven. Just watch her and Gobbi interact, and you will know why the Callas legend survives even up to this day. It will never end. Callas is immortal."
The Callas Legend Lives On
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 03/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The legend of Maria Callas seem to have taken on a life of its own with a continuing flood of books and articles, even a successful Terrence McNally play, 'Master Class,' and now this recent (2003) documentary from BBC-TV directed by Steve Cole. The subtitle of the documentary, 'Living and Dying for Art and Love,' is taken from 'Tosca,' of course, and in a very clever conceit, Cole structures this film delineating the cross-currents of art and love in Callas's life after the plot of 'Tosca.' The similarities, of course, are eerie and its no surprise that Floria Tosca was one of Callas's most potent and famous roles; indeed the last she ever sang. Using vintage footage both of her performances and of newsreel and TV news footage we get many glimpses of the diva in the last few years of her life, and as background there are generous dollops of recorded performances. Adding to this are extensive interviews with people who knew and admired her, including Grace Bumbry, John Copley, Dame Judi Dench (who called her, not surprisingly, a 'great actress'), Plácido Domingo, her biographer Nicholas Gage, Tito Gobbi, conductor Antonio Pappano, producer and impresario Alan Sievewright (one of her close friends), Sir David Webster and, best of all, Franco Zeffirelli.
Much is said (and shown) of the 1964 Zeffirelli/Covent Garden production of 'Tosca' mounted for her. Indeed, there are three 'bonus' tracks--one of Gobbi singing 'Tre sbirri ... Una carozza,' followed by 'Vissi d'arte,' and Scarpia's murder beginning with 'E qual via scegliete?'. (There are also some snippets of Callas singing 'Norma', but they are few; most of the focus remains on 'Tosca.')
Without giving away too much, it is fair to say that the notion that Callas was devastated by the loss of Aristotle Onassis to Jackie Kennedy and that it led to her death is cogently argued. It is hard to escape the impact of the tragedy on her final years. The editing of the footage of Callas, the musical background, the voice-over narration and the interspersed excerpts from the interviews are expertly, even artfully done. This 60 minute documentary has a dramatic arc not unlike that of a gripping verismo opera plot and one keeps thinking what a wonderful opera could be made from Callas's life; has that ever been attempted or even contemplated? I wonder.
The added footage from the three opera scenes brings the total timing of the DVD to 71 minutes. Sound in DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, LPCM stereo. The film is in English, with subtitles in German, French, Italian.
OTHER VIDEO BIOGRAPHIES ARE BETTER
Operaman! | Chicago, IL United States | 03/28/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This isn't a full Callas documentary. It centers upon her final operatic projects on stage - Tosca at Covent Garden, the Met and Norma in Paris. Nothing is objectionable here - it's factual and well presented, and many classic B/W still photographs have been "animated" in a 3-D sort of way. Anyone who wants to see the complete Act Two of Tosca is directed toward the EMI DVD called "At Covent Garden 1962-1964". As far as Callas video biographies go, you'd be better off with the first one produced shortly after her death and hosted by Zefirrelli (on Allegro), one entitled "Life and Art" that is available on EMI, and Tony Palmer's somewhat overdramatic "La Divinia" (on Image Entertainment). I was hoping that the A&E Biography of Callas produced on cable a few years ago would be produced on video, but it hasn't."
Not worthy of Callas the artist
Shahrdad Khodamoradi | St. Louis, MO USA | 05/06/2010
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This "documentary" merely rehashes a lot of the old clichés that have only clouded the artist that Callas was. It goes to all sorts of lengths to squeeze Callas' life story into the story of Tosca, a role which Callas despised, even thoug she was famous for that role. The only redeeming features of this DVD are several of the comments by Bumbry, Domingo, and a few others who actually speak of Callas the musican and artist. More than anything, however, this film does the same disservice to Callas that "Master Class" did: it drowns Callas the musician and artist in the drama of her personal life."