Maria by Callas (2017) is a documentary that will likely appeal to fans of opera and quite possibly bore those who are not. Director Tom Volf pieces together interviews, performances, and has voice over readings of actual letters and diary entries by Maria Callas that ultimately tells her life story. There is reverence of the talented singer in the film, but also an honesty to who she was and the struggles she had.
Maria by Callas feels a bit too long, but still packs in enough content
I realized pretty early into this documentary that I am not a fan of opera. There are a few full-length performances in the documentary where we watch Maria Callas stand and sing. I’m sure it’s good, but it is not of my taste and I found these moments to drag. There are others where her singing is used as the soundtrack as we see footage of her living her life and traveling from place to place. Most of the footage is old archival news footage as reporters would bombard her as she departed her plane. All of this does little to give insight to the person behind the talented singing and, if you’re like me and not fond of the performances, makes this film feel every minute of its nearly two-hour runtime.
Fortunately, the parts of the documentary that focuses on who Maria was are compelling. Her views on the roles of women, destiny, and the relationships she had, whether professional or personal, are all compelling. She seems like a kind person who is clearly very intelligent, but with a deep sadness that permeates her essence. There is an air of nobility about her yet I picked up a strong naivety when she said things like women’s main vocation was motherhood. A role she herself was unable to take on because destiny guided her to her art and you can’t escape destiny according to her. In many ways, her successes and tragedies mirror the operas that she sings making a compelling narrative that is frequently disrupted by long performance pieces.
I went into the movie with very little knowledge of who Maria Callas was and what time period she came from. By the end, I had learned quite a bit about her life, had a strong sense of her personality, and a slight appreciation for an art that I know I’ll never dive into any further. Maria by Callas earns a Decent Watch rating and is playing in theaters now.