Monday, July 16, 2007

Callas Forever

Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Marria Callas Recalled in Fictionalized Account of Opera Diva's Last Days

Maria Kalogeropoulos was born in New York City in 1923 to parents who had immigrated to America from Greece. But after her parents' divorce in 1937, the child prodigy moved with her mother to Athens where she continued her classical music training at the National Conservatoire.
Upon her return to the U.S. in 1944, she changed her surname to Callas before embarking on a storybook career as the foremost opera star of her generation. Today, besides being remembered for her magical voice and that meteoric rise, many recall Maria's torrid, extra-marital affair with Aristotle Onassis which began in 1957 and ended when the Greek shipping magnate turned his attention to Jackie Kennedy.
Writer/director Franco Zeffirelli decided to not revisit any of the above in Callas Forever, opting instead to focus narrowly on the diva's declining days in the months before her unexpected demise. For as an opera impressario who mounted lavish productions in the Seventies at both the Met and Milan's La Scala Opera House, Zeffirelli had enjoyed unusual access to the petulant prima donna during that period of her life.
What we have here, in essence, is a fictionalized bio-pic, set primarily in Paris in 1977, revolving around the strained relationship between the temperamental Callas and her selfless manager. Fanny Ardant, who bears a striking resemblance to the post-menopausal Callas, reprises the title role she first brought to the stage in a play entitled The Master Class, directed overseas by fugitive from justice Roman Polanski. Meanwhile, Jeremy Irons co-stars as Larry Kelly, a thinly-veiled version of Zeffirelli, himself.
Ms. Ardant's aristocratic bearing and inexplicable mood swings certainly conjure up the convincing image of a washed-up recluse in the tragic throes of a depression exacerbated by substance abuse. And Irons is equally effective as a flamboyant sycophant so deep in denial that he can't recognize that his once-peerless soprano's voice is too shot to mount a credible comeback.
Regrettably, the picture is otherwise not at all compelling. Lip-synched sequences of Callas' performances fall flat as presented devoid of context. More disturbing are the careless production’s glaring anachronisms like the omnipresence of late-model automobiles in scenes supposedly taking place over 25 years ago. This means the movie amounts to little more than the rantings of an embittered 'has-been' at the last person left in her dwindling entourage.
A show that's oh so over before the fat lady sings.

Fair (1 star)
Running time: 108 minutes
(In English and Spanish but without subtitles)
Distributor: Regent Releasing

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