WITH CALLAS IN MIND
Personal reflections on visits to New York,
by GRAHAME AINGE
We had an almost interminable wait along with a few hundred other foreign visitors to pass through a JFK airport building-site which was serving as the immigration check. But we were lucky: we were two visitors who had managed to fill in our green immigration forms without a mistake so we were not sent to the back of the queue. The cubicled immigration officer was jovial but uncertain that we would find enough to do in New York if we stayed for a whole week. When we said we'd come to see four operas as well as for a holiday his expression changed to one of puzzlement and we were waved on our way with 'Have a good day!'
It was not the most comforting 'immigration' after a long journey. And my wife Anne and I were only visiting for a short holiday. We wondered how the Kaloyeropoulos family had felt back in 1923 on their arrival in the US as immigrants responding to a tempting call from the New World. It must have been one of the most stressful times in their lives. We knew something of their feelings having recently read Nicholas Petsalis-Diomidis' scholarly and eminently readable The Unknown Callas. The Greek Years. Notwithstanding its title it contains detailed information on Maria Callas' early life. Thus prepared we were arriving back in New York just a year after our first visit, determined to search out sites associated with Maria's early years.
A passionate interest in Maria Callas is for us a relatively recent experience. It is with much regret and a certain amount of shame that I have to admit that as a teenager in the early sixties, already interested in opera, I had sat glued to the radio at Christmas 1964 when the LPs of 'Callas is Carmen' were broadcast by the BBC, yet the uniqueness of Callas was lost on me and to my innocent ears her voice sounded dark and strange. And as for seeing her live, my only excuse is that I could never have afforded a ticket at Covent Garden for her Tosca.
In 1973 we were preparing to get married with our minds consequently not on opera and our ears still not properly tuned into Maria to even know about those farewell concerts. With our later discovery of bel canto opera we suddenly woke up to what we had missed. Callas' voice became an emotional and unsurpassed experience eventually sparking a desire to dig deep into every aspect of her life and work.
Copyright © 2 December 2003
Grahame Ainge, Hertford, UK