Maria Callas: Humble Pie

When Maria Callas signed a contract to perform at the 1958 Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, the diva explained to Gian Carlo Menotti that he was saving money by egaging her. Not only could he enlist an inexpensive tenor (as crowds would flock to hear her in any case) but he could virtually dispense with the decor, which would only distract attention from her incomparable voice.

"I've signed up Luchino Visconti as director," Menotti later told Callas. "Wonderful!" she replied. "But he lacks just one thing. He lacks humility."

[Rome, 1958: After an especially weak first act of "Norma" was met with tepid applause, Callas failed to reappear for the second act. Without an understudy, the show was stopped. "The audience swelled forth like a pack of feral dogs ready to devour their heroine for disappointing them. So impassioned was their response that Callas's husband had to smuggle her out through a convenient underground tunnel that connected the opera house to their hotel in order to make an escape." (New York Times magazine, 2002/06/02)]

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