August 6, 2018  (Web Review)

Maria Callas—Magic Moments of Music: Tosca 1964

(2017) 52 min. DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $41.99. Naxos of America (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

In 1964, Maria Callas, arguably the leading operatic soprano of the mid-20th century, had largely retired from public performance. She was already a legend for the power and flexibility of her voice (even though it was widely considered an imperfect instrument), as well as for the dramatic acting she added to her vocalism. But at the age of 40 she was better known for her scandalous affair with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis than for her singing. The announcement of her return to the stage came as a shock: she would appear in Puccini’s Tosca at London’s Royal Opera House in the role that launched her career as a prima donna 22 years earlier. The production would be designed by Franco Zeffirelli and reunite Callas with frequent collaborator Tito Gobbi—playing the lascivious Scarpia—who demands that Tosca sleep with him in order to save her lover’s life. Holger Preusse’s 2017 documentary is a celebration of Callas’s triumph, juxtaposing black-and-white excerpts from a film of the performance with gushing commentary by present-day operatic luminaries (Thomas Hampson, Anna Prohaska, Rolando Villazón, Antonio Pappano), music critics, and fans who attended the performances. Preusse also edits in biographical clips about Callas’s troubled life, including discussions of her determined effort to lose weight in furtherance of her career, and Onassis’s eventual abandonment of her in pursuit of the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy. This heartfelt tribute to one of the most influential (although controversial) figures of 20th-century opera will definitely appeal to opera lovers. Extras include a performance of Tosca’s Act II that was made for TV broadcast in 1965. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (F. Swietek)