Saturday 17 March 2018

Mary Kenny: The diva who starved her voice

Heartbreak and weightloss turned Maria Callas's life into a Greek tragedy

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Next Saturday, September 16, her adoring fans will gather together in many parts of the world to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Maria Callas, whom they regard at the "greatest soprano ever".

Callas died alone in Paris in September 1977 at the age of 53, and, like one of her own romantic heroines, her last years were often lonely and sad. Her death was attributed to heart failure, or, more probably, a pulmonary embolism, but some claimed that she took her own life - she used the drug methaqualone to help her sleep and that could have contributed to her demise.

Yet Robert Sutherland, who was her final musical accompanist, and wrote a memoir of his time with Callas, Diaries of a Friendship, says that she would never have turned to suicide. She was religious, he says: she always carried a picture of the Virgin Mary with her, and propped it up before her as she prepared for a performance. She told him: "I have been touched by the hand of God." She believed that her gift came from God and that it was her destiny to assume the power "to give something to the public". She certainly did. And still does. Hear her sing Casta Diva on YouTube, and the gift still goes on giving. (There are also fine re-mastered versions of her greatest performances being reissued for the anniversary.)

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