Callas and Armgart

Oh, I am happy! The great masters write
For women’s voices, and great Music wants me!
I need not crush myself within a mould
Of theory called Nature: I have room
To breathe and grow unstunted.
George Eliot, Armgart (1871)
Armgart is a dramatic poem by Mary Anne Evans, in art George Eliot. The protagonist speaks these words after her triumphant operatic début when, as one critic puts it, “the cage-door of Victorian domesticity was at last flung wide and a seemingly limitless horizon of possibilities lay before her.”

Maria Callas had a fraught relationship with domesticity and the possibilities open to her as a woman in the mid-twentieth century. She described herself as “Victorian” and, if biographers are to be believed, she was very much a submissive, traditional partner to both her husband Meneghini and her lover Onassis.

On the other hand, it seems obvious to me that the hostility Callas has aroused in life and in death has much to do with her strength, will, and ambition. “Nature” made her a poor, obscure, fat woman with an intractable voice; Callas made herself a wealthy, celebrated, glamorous woman with a voice that (for a decade) could do almost anything. While she “breathed and grew unstunted” for a few years, she paid dearly for this relative freedom.

The audio excerpt, I believe, is from Maria Callas’s 1953 Cetra recording of Verdi’s La traviata.

Please see other posts about Maria Callas in La traviata.


  1. I don't remember where I read a phrase by Simionato, who said something like: "Once Maria told me that as a matter of fact she was born to be a housewife. If she was born to that, what were we born to???". Did you know this one?

    Some years ago it was published a book with her recipes. I have it, but still haven't tried any of them. :-)

  2. Dear José Luiz: No, I don't know that quote, and if you can identify the source I would be grateful to know it. Someone (Petsalis Diomidis?) quotes her as saying she would rather have been the first singer of Athens with a happy family. RE: The recipes, a friend gave me the book in German (!). They're conventional and swiped from restaurants and such. Thank you for writing, m