Synchronicity and Maria Callas (Revisited)

 

Callas and Onassis, circa 1962

 

syn. chro. nic. i. ty: noun. (Psychology): a coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events, which have the same or similar meaning.

Sophia Cecilia Anna Maria Kalogeropoulos, also known as Maria Callas: An American-Greek soprano, generally considered the greatest singing actress of the 20th century.

29 Augusto 2012 6:06 pm

Re: Callas

To: Filippo Malerba                                                                                                                     

From: Isabell Serafin

Caro Filippo,

I can scarcely believe you sent this. I could not help smiling. To issue a mere thank you doesn’t feel appropriate. It falls oddly flat. But I do thank you—so much. I will hold onto this forever.

Isabell

One Monday last summer I sat alone reading over dinner in a Turin restaurant. I had dedicated my August summer vacation to Nicholas Gage’s Greek Fire, a biography of the love affair between arguably the two most famous Greeks of the 20th century, the opera diva, Maria Callas and her equally charismatic paramour, the shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis.

For years I read biographies on Callas and was fascinated by her life. Her reign over the world of opera during the 1950s and 1960s transported me to another time. During restive evenings, I often found myself falling asleep to the sounds of her voice in archival television interviews. This preoccupation with the singer had lasted for years, and seemingly sans logic. Prior to my discovery of Callas’ art, I had been no great fan of opera and yet increasingly the soprano’s music and the stories of her life fascinated me.

Seven years into my discovery of Callas, I never tired of reading those books that revealed the most intricate aspects of her life. I found the operatic nature of her personal life as moving as her music. That summer as I walked the streets around Turin’s Teatro Regio, I remembered Callas’ summer spent directing at the theater. The year was 1973 and her renowned voice had given out after years of dramatic performances. That August, as I walked the streets around the theater, I imagined La Callas behind its grand walls. I spent my early evenings alongside her ghost, replaying O mio bambino caro and Vissi d’arte inside my head, each aria linking me to another era.

No One Interesting Remains in Turin During August

This is what everyone says. The interesting people decamp to Liguria. They go to the seaside and spend their vacations along the blue-green Mediterranean. This was in part why I had arrived in Turin that August. I wanted to avoid anyone interesting. I wanted to be alone. Until late that summer, I had passed most of the year in Lille penning a novel, my first. I spent my days hunched over a sheaf of pen-marked pages in a chain of small French cafes.

The process of writing my novel, a story told in fragments about a young woman whose life decomposes after the end of a pivotal affair, was one I likened to a bloodletting. The book possessed a maudlin quality that had in equal parts fueled and exhausted. My afternoons spent meandering Turin’s quiet, arcade-lined boulevards were meant to serve as a soul refurbishment. Over the course of a month the desired effect had been achieved. I walked the streets around Piazza Vittorio. I looked out over the Roman theater ruins of Porte Palatine and ate croissant alla crema in the mornings and drank caffé shakerato in the late afternoons. On the weekends I walked the streets around Via Po.

The entire time I read of the heights of Callas’ fame. I read of her divorce from Giovanni Battista Meneghini, an opera-loving businessman nearly thirty years her senior. Meneghini and Callas had enjoyed a placid marriage until her 1959 affair with Aristotle Onassis drove the singer to a tempestuous separation that eventually ended in the dissolution of her marriage, a near impossible feat in Italy, as divorce was not yet legal. It was Callas’ brilliant Torinese attorney who rendered the Callas-Meneghini union invalid. Seven years after Callas and Onassis began their much-publicized affair, a clever legal maneuver finally legitimized the lover’s relationship, a coup that captured the attentions of the international media.

That summer I read of Callas’ long trips from Onassis’ yacht the Christina, to Turin where she sought the counsel of her attorney, whose former office-cum-home apartment was, unbeknownst to me, around the corner from the very restaurant where I sat that same Monday in particular, eating a torta insalata al fomaggio and finishing the last of a small bottle of white wine.

I had been at the restaurant for about an hour. It was a large and unpretentious place that overlooked Piazza Solferino. I had been making my way through Greek Fire when I caught sight of a gentleman on the opposite side of the restaurant who smiled at me shyly and nodded hello.

“Ciao,” he said.

“Ciao,” I said and smiled. Before I knew it, he was standing before me.

I fail to remember precisely those first fragments of conversation. What I do remember was his English, which was near accentless courtesy of ten years spent living on the East Coast of the United States. I remember that our conversation flowed, was easy. When he asked if I might join him for an after dinner coffee, I did not hesitate to say yes. We walked over to a nearby café and sat in the early evening darkness at an outside table along a tree-lined avenue.

He asked how long I had been in the city. I told him a month. He was clearly surprised. I said that it had been nice. “This is the first vacation I’ve taken alone.” Suddenly he stopped short, and looked curiously at me. “Were you at the restaurant a few weeks ago?”

I nodded and told him I had gone there a number of times over the last month. “You were wearing a pair of white shorts and a hat and you were writing. I didn’t recognize you without the hat. That day, two weeks ago, I thought about coming up to you. I wanted to ask you if you might have a drink with me but I couldn’t get the nerve up to do it. I go to that restaurant all the time. It is very close to my uncle’s house.”

I laughed. “You were scared to approach me?” He nodded.

“So, tonight why did you suddenly have the courage to come up and say hello?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” he shrugged his shoulders and then ginned, “it just felt right.”

After dark sugar-sweetened espressos, we walked through the center of the city. He spoke animatedly about the fascist architecture of Piazza San Carlo, the Roman base of Piazza Madama. He spoke of his work. He had studied analytic philosophy in Rome and had taught in Philadelphia. These days he was conducting research at the University of Prague. He had been in Turin since the end of May and had just returned from his annual two-week stint in Liguria with his mother, a vacation he faithfully accompanied her on each summer. Liguria. It was a place he hated, but he went because he knew she enjoyed it. Unlike most sea-loving Italians, Filippo did not like the water, nor did he like the heat and crowds of the typical seaside cities where the trendy Piedmontese conglomerated: Portofino, Alassio, San Remo. They bored him. Each August he looked forward to his two weeks spent on the sun-lit, empty streets of Turin. We each laughed at the coincidence of our love of the desolate city in summertime.

After our walk, he handed me a spare helmet and coaxed me to climb on the back of his Piaggio, then called out to me as we coursed down the city’s cobblestone streets.

“When are you due to leave Turin?” The motorbike whirred softly over the current of warm evening air. I told him I would depart the day after tomorrow.

“Really?” I heard his voice drop just slightly. I told him I was on my way to Berlin. I’ve just taken a job doing writing work there.

“You’re a writer?” he asked. His curiosity suddenly peaked. “What do you write?”

I told him I had just finished a novel.

“Earlier at the restaurant I saw you were reading a book.”

“Yes.”

“What were you reading?”

“A biography,” I said, “one on Maria Callas.”

He stopped the Piaggio. We had arrived at my apartment. As I took my helmet off, he turned to look at me. I could see my response had caught him unaware.

“You’re an opera connoisseur?”

“Not really,” I said laughing. “Just a Callas connoisseur. I just happen to really like Maria Callas.” He gave a bemused smile.

“When exactly are you due to fly out?”

“Wednesday early in the morning. My flight is due to leave at seven-thirty.”

“I’d like to see you again before you leave. Do you have some time to get together tomorrow evening?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Great. I have something to show you before you go.”

I looked at him, puzzled. “Something to show me?”

“You’ll see.” His eyes shone. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at five-thirty.”

“Va bene. Buona notte.”

“Buona notte,” he said. Once I was safely out of sight, I heard the Piaggio drive off.

The Following Evening

At five-thirty, Filippo pulled up outside the apartment I had rented. It was a place too far from the center of the city to be convenient, a modest third floor walk-up. Filippo looked as he had the previous day, pale and clean-shaven with a mop of flaxen hair. He wore a black t-shirt, beige trousers and a pair of comfortable-looking black loafers. His style of dress was more American casual than Italian chic. It was obvious: Filippo had little interest in superficial matters. He was a man of books, of history, of ideas. I felt oddly comfortable in his company.

He suggested we go to Superga, the eighteenth-century basilica perched on one of Turin’s verdant hillsides. As we walked the grounds, we spoke of my creative writing and of his academic work. He told me about his mother who had once been a philosophy student at the University of Turin and of his great-grandfather who had been a philosopher. But it was his grandfather he wanted me to know more about. He told me I should accompany him back to his uncle’s apartment.

“It was my grandfather’s old office,” he said. “The other day I found a box of papers that belonged to my grandfather. My uncle saved all of them. There are some I’d like to show you.”

Before I knew it we were back on the Piaggio, racing through Turin’s dusky streets. When we arrived at the apartment, I was struck by the interior, dark-lit with expansive wood floors and oil paintings that hung on the walls.

“This was my great-grandfather,” he said pointing to an over-sized piece that depicted a staid looking man, posed with a book in his hands. “The book he is holding is one of the philosophy texts he wrote. It was published at the end of the nineteenth-century. And this is a portrait of my great-grandmother,” he said and pointed to an oil painting of a pretty auburn-haired woman with a soft expression.

The portraits, each of which was the length of half my body, were aristocratic in rendering. Later, as we sat on the couch in his uncle’s study, he produced several large boxes. In each were carefully preserved documents from the 1950s and 1960s.

“My grandfather was Maria Callas’ attorney from 1952-1968,” he pronounced. “He handled her divorce from Giovanni Battista Meneghini when she decided she wanted to leave him for Aristotle Onassis,” and with that handed me a stack of letters from La Divina, herself.

My hands trembled as I held the correspondences. There, before my very eyes were letters Maria had hand-written, telegrams she had sent, negotiations for her performances and a slew of other documents. There were the legal contracts involving all those characters I had read so much about: the famed Luchino Visconti, Larry Kelly of Maria’s beloved Dallas Opera House, and letters from Rudolph Bing, the former director of the New York Metropolitan Opera. It was all there for me to see. Overcome, and scarcely knowing what to do or say, I wept.

It was the Austrian psychiatrist, Carl Jung who coined the term synchronicity, describing it as “a coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events that have the same or similar, meaning.”

1) Two strangers randomly arrive at the same restaurant, in an otherwise empty city twice, two weeks apart.

2) At the very moment a woman is reading a book on Maria Callas, she finds herself suddenly face to face with the grandson of one of La Callas’ most trusted confidants, and after a month spent reading of the opera singer’s life, finds herself holding Callas’ letters while seated in the very apartment where the diva herself used to commiserate with one of her advisers.

I left Turin the following morning in late August with an odd sense of fulfillment, a sense of the coincidences that link us, prompting me to believe that some of the connections we make might very well be orchestrated by that which lies beyond us, a phenomenon one might refer to as fate.

30 Augusto 2012 4:17 pm

Subject: Callas

From: Filippo Malerba                                                                                                                            

To: Isabell Serafin

Cara Isabell,

I’m with my uncle… Not surprisingly, many more of Callas’ personal correspondences were in a separate folder. I have hundreds of personal letters and signatures… In attachment, you will find one of them…

Con affetto,

Filippo

More on Auster and Hustvedt

 


LITERATUR-TIPP
Siri Hustvedt stellt ihren Roman im Schauspielhaus vor
Von Maike Schiller

Ach, die Kunstwelt, diese abgehobene Parallelgesellschaft, auch sie meint es selten gut mit den Frauen. “Artemisia Gentileschi, von der Nachwelt gering geschätzt, ihr bestes Werk ihrem Vater zugeschrieben. Judith Leyster, zu ihrer Zeit bewundert, dann ausgelöscht. Ihr Werk Frans Hals zuerkannt. Camille Claudels Ansehen ganz von Rodins verschluckt. Dora Maars großer Fehler: Sie schlief mit Picasso, eine Tatsache, die ihre brillanten surrealistischen Fotos auslöscht.”

Man kann es paranoid finden – immer sucht dieser vermaledeite Feminismus das Haar in der Suppe! – oder schlicht konsequent: Harriet Burden (und also, das darf man wohl unterstellen, auch deren Schöpferin Siri Hustvedt) weiß genau, wo welche Künstlerin zurückstecken musste. Die immer unsichtbare Frau. Burdens Plan: diesen Mechanismus offenzulegen. Die ganze Mischpoke bloßzustellen. Endlich den Respekt zu erobern, der ihr – meint sie – seit so langer Zeit zusteht.

Mit ihrem aktuellen Roman “Die gleißende Welt” und der eigenwilligen Protagonistin Harriet Burden hat Siri Hustvedt eine Figur erschaffen, die der Leser so bald nicht vergessen wird. Schon weil der kluge, verspielte und ungewöhnliche Romanaufbau, eine Art vielstimmige Collage aus Tagebucheinträgen, Interviews, absurden Kunstrezensionen und Protokollen, sich derart geschickt gestaltet, dass man sich kaum wunderte, tauchte Harriet Burden irgendwann tatsächlich in einem realen Kunstlexikon auf. Vielleicht unter “B” wie Burden, was natürlich nicht zufällig, sondern lustvoll aufdringlich “Last” bedeutet. Oder unter “H” wie Harriet, seit ihrer Kindheit Harry genannt, was das Spiel mit den Geschlechterrollen verdeutlicht. Oder unter “L” wie Lord, der ebenfalls sehr sprechende Nachname ihres flamboyanten Ehemanns, eines reichen Kunsthändlerdandys, dessen Prominenz die Wahrnehmung der kunstschaffenden Gattin deutlich überlagert.

The remainder of the article can be read here: http://www.abendblatt.de/hamburg-tipps/tagestipps/article205355047/Siri-Hustvedt-stellt-ihren-Roman-im-Schauspielhaus-vor.html