Who Is Maria Callas? Meryl Streep Is Set To Play Opera Legend in HBO's 'Master Class'

We’ve seen her as Margaret Thatcher and she’s about to play Emmeline Pankhurst, but two time Oscar winner Meryl Streep has just been cast as another famous figure, opera legend Maria Callas. Page Six is reporting that Meryl is set to star as Callas in in a film version of Terrence McNally's Tony-winning play, 'Master Class' for HBO.

Meryl StreepStreep will play Callas in 'Master Class'

In her day, Maria Callas was one of the most famous women in the world, with her voice and often turbulent personal life making her an international star. Maria was born Sophia Cecelia Kalos in New York to Greek parents. By the age of three, Maria’s mother Evangelia had discovered her daughter could sing and began pressuring her to perform. Evangelia later moved back to Athens with Maria, enrolling her in the Greek National Conservatoire. With her mesmerising soprano voice, wide range and overbearing stage mother, Callas was performing professionally by the age of 18, making her debut with the Greek National Opera in 1941.

More: Meryl Streep To Play Opera Star Maria Callas

But it was in Italy where Callas would really make her name on the world stage as an operatic performer. In 1949 she appeared as Elvira in 'I puritani'. Callas had been given the role just days earlier when the original singer had fallen ill and despite only a small amount of preparation she managed to redefine the role a give a unforgettable performance which would change the course of her career.

During the 1950s Callas’s career soared and she performed all over Europe and the Americas. She also changed her image by loosing around 80 pounds of weight. But it was her private life which would became of most interest to reporters and eventually lead to the end of her stage career. By the late 1950s the singer had became known for a number of ‘scandals’, including reported professional rivalries and the cancellations of performances. But it was her relationship with shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, later the  husband of Jacqueline Kennedy, which would attract the most column inches.

More: Will Meryl Streep Win Another Oscar For 'Suffragette' Movie?

When Callas met Onassis she was still married to husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini, but by 1959 she had left him for the wealthy magnate. Callas was so in love with Onassis that she eventually renounced her US citizenship to facilitate her divorce and enable her to remarry in a Greek Orthodox Church. But despite her sacrifice, Onassis ended the relationship two years later marrying Jacqueline Kennedy the widow of the former US president.

Meryl StreepStreep has previously played Margaret Thatcher and will soon star as Emmeline Pankhurst.

Callas died of a heart attack in 1977 aged just 53. Her final years had been spent in Paris where the former opera star had been living a reclusive life in the city. Five years earlier, she had travelled to New York to gave a series of master classes at the Juilliard School of performing arts on which Terrence McNally's play is based.

In ‘Master Class’ McNally portrays Callas as “glamorous, commanding, larger-than-life, caustic, and surprisingly drop-dead funny” woman. Undoubtedly a legend, Callas left behind a lasting legacy in opera, becoming one of the field's most influential performers. Nearly forty years after her death, she is still regarded as one of the greatest opera stars of all time with her recordings continuing to sell, making her still one of classical music’s most popular and enduring artists.


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