CALLAS FOREVER is a beautifully written, tenderly directed and acted tribute to the immortal Maria Callas by a man who knew her as well as anyone - Franco Zeffirelli. The fantasy of placing Callas on film for posterity in the last year of her life, the year she died of heart failure, when her voice was gone but her artistry remained is the means by which Zeffirelli memorializes the Diva and in every way he succeeds.
The year is 1977 and Maria Callas (Fanny Ardant) is in seclusion in her Paris apartment, grieving over 1) her beloved Aristotle Onassis who left her for Jacqueline Kennedy and then died and 2) her disastrous farewell concert in Japan which ended her magnificent career with a flop. No longer able to sing she lives in the past, listing to her old recordings and taking pills. Only her constant maid Bruna (Anna Lelio) is allowed to comfort her with occasional visits from her warm-hearted publicist Sarah Keller (Joan Plowright).
In Paris for the promotion of a punk group Bad Dreams is Larry Kelley (Jeremy Irons) who has just met and bedded a young artist Michael (Jay Rodan): Kelley had been Callas' agent in her heyday and Michael has been creating paintings inspired by her recordings. Seeing Michael's obsession over Callas whom he has never seen perform forces Kelley to visit Callas, their devotion to each other is 'rekindled' and Kelley proposes a film version of Callas not only to bring her out of her depression but to capitalize on the fact that present and future generations should have a filmed account of the penultimate opera singer of the 20th century.
Callas is recalcitrant at first, not wanting to produce a fraudulent film made using her old recordings dubbed onto the sound track of a current staging, but she finally resolves her hesitancy by granting the filming of 'Carmen', a role she recorded but never played on the stage. Thus the project is launched and Callas is revitalized and happy again, being satisfied with the miracle of technology that allows her to invest her energies in the acting of Carmen while consenting to lip-synch to her old recordings. She even has a say in the casting of the other roles, especially Don Jose - Marco (a very hunky Gabriel Garko, a former model and Mr. Italy!). She retains her temper tantrums and demands for perfection that hallmarked her real career, doing her own dancing, having a say about costumes, etc.
The film is eventually finished and the result is magnificent. There is even some intrigue when Marco shows more than a little interest in her (a hint of the Strauss Marshallin/Octavian encounter). But alas at the end of the film Callas is forced to admit that her youth cannot be regained and decides the film is a 'fraudulent work' is not compatible with her life's devotion to truth in music. She asks Kelley to destroy it. How these two come to grips with their individual lives (Kelley's Michael has left him and he is once again as alone as Callas) is finessed by one of the most tender endings on film.
Fanny Ardant is a miracle as Callas: she inhabits her physically, understands Callas' facial features as she lip-synchs her operas, and seems to be a reincarnation of the Diva. Jeremy Irons gives one of the finest performances of his rich career as the aging gay agent and Joan Plowright adds just the right amount of lightness and grace as Sarah Keller - wise, acerbic, yet supportive of both Callas and Kelley. The scenes of Paris are correctly nostalgic: the sets for 'Carmen' by Carlo Centolavigna create a gold standard for all future true productions of 'Carmen'. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent.
Zeffirelli has succeeded in giving us a memorial to Maria Callas and for that the opera world will be forever grateful. The passages of the many arias used in this film are among the finest versions Callas recorded. Everything about this work is brilliant and it deserves the widest audience possible. Grady Harp
Biography / Drama / Music
Biography / Drama / Music
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In 1977, Maria Callas (Fanny Ardant), the most famous diva in the world, lives confined in her Paris apartment. Larry Kelly (Jeremy Irons), a producer friend, offers her to sing "Carmen" in a televised concert. Unfortunately, Maria's voice, tired and worn by years and strain, is not what it used to be. Larry knows the way around the problem: a technical stratagem will create the illusion. Maria, disregarding her friend Sarah Keller's (Dame Joan Plowright's) warning, agrees with the idea and the show is a tremendous success. With that in mind, Larry now considers a new version of "Tosca". But this time, Maria objects to the subterfuge. Her decision will mark the beginning of the end for the legendary singer.
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June 21, 2022 at 07:01 PM