The popular Italian gossip magazine Chi has published a series of articles about soprano Daniela Dessì. Her death at 59, just over two months ago, shocked the opera world, and beyond: Chi is not a magazine for opera lovers. It reported part of an interview with Dessì when she recounted her meeting with Maria Callas.
Dessì’s grandfather was a fan of Beniamino Gigli, her mother studied singing and her aunt was in the chorus of the Rome Opera.
In our family, everyone always said that I’d started to love opera from when I was two. They were exaggerating, but my earliest memories of opera take me back to my childhood. I think that I’ve always loved opera and I’ve never had a dream other than to become an opera singer.
In 1973 she met Maria Callas.
I was 16 and had been studying at the conservatoire for a year. During the summer, I was an extra in the operas at the Caracalla Baths. Callas was in Rome.
My aunt, who was in the chorus, knew her well and was able to arrange a meeting. I arrived at the appointed time with my heart ready to explode.
In front of me I found an elegant woman wearing a sapphire-blue dress with gold decoration. She was so beautiful. She smiled at me. I was captured… enchanted… though not intimidated. You could feel that she emanated easiness, warmth, tenderness. I wanted to hug her. We talked for a long time.
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I told her about wanting to become a singer. She was encouraging, but she told me, “Remember, you mustn’t study to become a famous singer. You must study to become a good singer. You mustn’t tire yourself out, but you must study.”
At the end, she took out a photo that she had with her and she wrote, “To Dessì Daniela. Sincerely, Maria Callas 1973.” That photo is like a holy relic to me. From that moment Maria has remained inside me like a guardian. Her words have guided my career. Success has never diminished my desire to study, as Callas told me, and above all I try to be a ‘good’ singer.