British Universities Film & Video Council

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Maria Callas: Living and Dying for Art and Love

Maria Callas appeared on the operatic stage for the very last time at Covent Garden in July 1965. She sang the role of Tosca. Though a huge success, it also marked the beginning of the end for this celebrated soprano, who amazed the world - and continues to fascinate us to this day.

No other female singer has been so adored and admired as Maria Callas. No soprano was bathed in such a golden aura as she was. No matter where she sang, those who experienced her were entranced: by her appearance, by her voice, by her very being. Maria Callas is what they call a "phenomenon" and no other singer has prompted so much to be written about her as Maria Callas, her life and her art.

TDK now offers this documentary DVD, featuring excerpts of the Tosca that was to be her final triumph. - Director Franco Zeffirelli devised the staging especially for Maria Callas’ return to the stage in 1964 after a three year break. The audience in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London on July 5, 1965, witnessed one of the saddest and most dramatic farewells from the opera stage. This documentary explores the causes for the artist’s decision to finally say goodbye to opera for good. Friends and colleagues - all eminent personalities of the arts world like Placido Domingo and Grace Bumbry - speak about the soprano and their memories of her.

Her last great glory had lasted nearly a year: With Maria Callas in the title role, the amazingly accomplished Tito Gobbi as Scarpia, Renato Cioni as Cavaradossi, and conducted by Carlo Felice Cillario, the 1964 London Tosca performances must have been unforgettable.
Callas sang Norma again at the Paris Opéra in May and June of that year and, flanked by Gobbi and Cioni, gave several performances of Tosca, some at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Back at Covent Garden in London, Maria Callas decided to make only one of four planned appearances. Georges Prêtre conducted the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, and Tito Gobbi and Renato Cioni again sang alongside Callas. When, for the last time, she sang that lyric-dramatic aria from the second act that seemed to have been composed for her - "Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore" - only a few people were aware that this was Maria Callas’ swan song.

The film sets her unsurpassed and legendary Tosca interpretation against her dramatic personal life. According to Zefirelli, the singer saw her former lover, Aristoteles Onassis, in the role of Tosca’s tormentor Scarpia when she performed it in 1965. The film explores the singer’s relationship with the Greek billionaire - who was to marry Jackie Kennedy after ending his engagement to Maria Callas - and the tragic implications this had on the Diva’s life and career.

After meeting Onassis, the singer had taken a pause from her opera engagements and was rarely seen on stage between 1960 and 1963. According to her biographer Nicholas Gage who is also interviewed in this film, she gave birth to a son in 1960, who allegedly died at birth. The wounds caused by this tragic turn in her life would never heal, and in the mid-sixties, the devastated diva could no longer count on her lover’s ongoing support as he gradually bowed out of, and cooled the relationship until he eventually let go of Callas.

When Onassis married Jackie Kennedy, widow of the assasinated US president, in 1968, Callas had still held hopes of becoming his wife - after annulling her own marriage. She could not bear the situation and her personal crisis affected her stage presence - there were situations were she sang close to collapsing physically and psychologically. Was the end of Onassis love for her the real reason behind her retreat from the opera stage in 1965? When Tosca stabs Scarpia, is Maria Callas perhaps stabbing her unfaithful lover, whose baby she bore in secret?
Great Britain
Year of production
Drama; Music
opera; performance extracts


Franco Zeffirelli; Judi Dench; Plácido Domingo
Maria Callas 

Distribution Formats

Region 0
71 minutes

Production Company



01737 773773
01737 773809
TDK House
5-7 Queensway

Distributor (Sale)


Select Music and Video Distribution limited

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017 37 64 56 00
017 37 644065
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Handles distribution for TDK in the UK.



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