Callas seen by Maraini I

About a month ago, I promised you the entirety of the writer Dacia Maraini’s 2007 interview about Maria Callas.

For those unfamiliar with her work, Maraini is a keen observer of people and events and a gorgeous prose stylist. I have read only one of her works in English: The Silent Duchess (La lunga vita di Marianna Ucrìa), an unforgettable novel. (I reviewed it back in 1999, and please steel yourself, because my old site template is a horror.)

Maraini, who travelled with Callas and Pasolini, describes their meeting in the first part of the interview.

When did you meet Callas?
Pasolini introduced me to her one evening at dinner in a Roman trattoria. Of course, I knew her as an artist: I had heard her sing, and I admired her greatly. I had formed a different image of her having seen her on stage, where she seemed to be a panther. In private, she was shy and awkward. I took an immediate liking to her because of her shyness and awkwardness. There was nothing of the diva about her.

What kind of personality did La Divina have?
I realized immediately that she was a complicated person but also simple. She wasn’t an intellectual, and she was probably somewhat ashamed of this. She wasn’t well read. She trusted her instinct. She was extremely sensitive and highly intelligent, but hers wasn’t a systematic or rational intelligence. She was archaic: She thought that women should receive rather than analyze, love rather than reason.

As a result, she was very humble and fearful with Pier Paolo. Sometimes he would reproach her, very sweetly, for certain trite, even racist remarks that she had made unawares—like when we were in Africa, and she made certain less-than-anthropoligical observations. At his reprimand, she would shrink back like a snail into her shell and say, “You’re right, forgive me.”

She was also very worried about her body, which she considered malformed. She didn’t consider herself beautiful and tended to hide. Yet she was utterly beautiful. Still, she thought that she looked good on stage, not on a movie set. In fact, she wasn’t very natural during a shoot or with the cameras rolling. She had a natural understanding of acting, yet on the set she was simply someone doing her duty. She lacked spontaneity because she was ill at ease in front of the camera, which bore down upon her mercilessly.

I recently saw [Pasolini’s] Medea again, and I must say that one can sense her rigidity, her fear. In cinema, actors must know how to let themselves go, otherwise they become statues. And she was something of a statue in Medea, in both negative and positive ways. What I mean is, when she was only acting, she couldn’t recapture the freedom, the marvelous abandon she had when she was singing.

Further installments to follow.

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