I encountered this exceptional soprano when I was little more than 20 years old. She was two or three years older…
says Dario Fo, who steps on stage in Milan next week with a new work, Una Callas dimenticata (A forgotten Callas). It is the last piece he wrote with his wife Franca Rame who died last year. He is 88, which indeed makes him two years and a couple of months younger than Callas would have been.
I attended the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and the students were often engaged by La Scala to help out in the workshop to freshen up the backdrops and drapes.
One day from the scaffolding on which I was working I noticed a rather attractive girl crossing the stage quietly, oblivious to what going on in the flies above her where all sorts of objects where dangling! Preoccupied, I yelled “Stop, it's dangerous to walk across the stage at the moment! Can't you see that arches and columns of the scenery are being lowered from the grid? Where are you going? Do you want to end up crushed like a Sfogliatella?*
She said, “I'm going to the front of the stage. We've got a rehearsal there.” The stage manager arrived hurriedly, saying, “Don't worry Madame Callas, leave it to me,” and he took her hand and led her round the side of the stage.
Una Callas dimenticata recounts her whole life, with three actors, including one who plays Callas herself who comments with irony on the events in her life. The Nobel Prize winner continues,
Then I heard her sing! All the students working on the scenery just froze. We clambered down the ladders and, taking care not to attract attention, crept up to the proscenium. Soon we were all sitting on the floor in the wings, enthralled by her singing of Casta Diva. When she finished we couldn't help applauding, and the stage manager chased us offstage as though we were intruders: “Worse, you are musical voyeurs! You don't hide to listen secretly to a soprano like this one!”
Aria extracts are taken from Warner Classics' recently issued Callas Remastered project.
* A Sfogliatella is a shell-shaped Italian pastry. “Sfogliatella” means “small, thin leaf” as the pastry's texture resembles stacked leaves.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.