Anne Edwards has made a career out of writing intelligent biographies of prominent women, from the tortured (Vivien Leigh, Judy Garland) to the indomitable (Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Temple). Her gift for vivid characterization and lively narrative is once again in evidence in this readable portrait of opera's revolutionary diva, Maria Callas (1923-77).
Edwards doesn't add anything new to the well-known story of Callas' tumultuous life, and she disagrees with Nicholas Gage's controversial assertion (in the book Greek Fire) that Callas bore Aristotle Onassis a son who died shortly after his birth in 1960. But the author lays out the familiar facts deftly, nailing each of the forceful personalities who shaped Callas' destiny, from the obsessively ambitious mother who pushed her into performing and denied her a childhood to Onassis, the great love of her life, who broke her heart after a nine-year affair when he married Jacqueline Kennedy. Most forceful of all is Callas herself, who transformed opera with the revelation that great singing became even greater when buttressed by great acting.
Callas' fanatical devotion to the libretto, her deep understanding of character, and her incomparable musicianship get as much attention from Edwards as her famous feuds (most notably with Renata Tebaldi), the diet that transformed her into a sex symbol, and the notorious cancellations that occurred with increasing frequency to match the worsening of her vocal problems, which eventually forced her retirement from performing. The result is an exemplary popular biography that judiciously balances juicy anecdotes with critical commentary, giving the general reader a colorful, poignant portrait of Maria Callas the woman without ever losing sight of Callas the visionary artist. --Wendy Smith [via]