MY WIFE MARIA CALLAS by Giovanni Battista with Renzo Allegri Meneghini

MY WIFE MARIA CALLAS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Shortly before his death in 1981, Meneghini--upset by alleged misrepresentations and ""absurd fabrications"" in Arianna Stassinopoulos' Maria Callas--dictated this memoir of his twelve years with Callas, determined to prove that Maria truly loved him. And, with long excerpts from the diva's letters, the result is indeed a very different sort of Callas portrait--not always convincing, often obviously self-serving, yet frequently eye-opening and sometimes pathetically touching. Meneghini recalls his late-1940s romance and eventual wedlock with the young, overweight, insecure Maria, a newcomer to Italy; for her sake he alienated his relatives, neglected the family business. (""The woman who revolutionalized opera was also responsible for the rending apart and destruction of the Meneghini family."") He portrays her--through her undeniably effusive letters--as even more devoted to him than to her career. He gives Maria's own version of the famed falling-out with her mother. There are surprising glimpses of Maria-the-passionate-interior-decorator, Maria-the-homesick-traveler--as well as more familiar flashes of Maria as a competitive, vengeful, ambitious, yet self-righteous career-woman. (""God, who is good and great, has allowed me to have my revenge. And this is certainly because I have never tried to harm anyone. . . ."") Among the more intriguing Meneghini revelations and versions: Maria's weight-loss was apparently caused by the removal of a tapeworm; Maria not only didn't love Visconti, she loathed his life-style, ideas, and vulgar language; Maria was physically unable to conceive--notwithstanding Stassinopolous' story of pregnancy (by Onassis) and abortion. Plus: a fascinating audition with Toscanini, the problems at La Scala and other houses, and ""that accursed cruise"" in 1959 . . . when Onassis stole Maria away. Why, if she loved Meneghini so much, did she succumb? ""I have refused to understand, and that is that."" And similarly, throughout, there are weak links and inconsistencies in the Meneghini version (some of which are conscientiously footnoted). But, with all its glaring biases and possible distortions, this only-half-readable testimony contains a slew of new details and a hoard of fresh letters: required reading for anyone seriously interested in sorting out the whole complicated, elusive, often-petty Callas saga.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux