High-profile Greek tragedy: How Maria Callas and Ari Onassis finally lost at love
By Rebecca Redshaw
Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sunday, November 12, 2000
Maria. Ari. Jackie. People so famous in the 20th century that no last name is needed. Now Nicholas Gage, best-known for his memoir “Eleni,” focuses on the relationship of Callas and Onassis from an intelligent perspective.
With countless books already on the shelves dedicated to his main characters (more than 30 biographies of Callas alone), one wonders what fresh perspective warrants our attention.
Gage successfully uses his Greek heritage to gain access to and, ultimately, the trust of people close to his main subjects. Bruna Lupoli, Callas’ maid from 1954 until her death in 1977, had refused to speak to anyone regarding the diva but finally granted Gage interviews and then only through an intermediary.
Lupoli revealed facts and corrected misperceptions known by few. She stated that Callas never had an abortion, as rumored, but in fact conceived and delivered a male child fathered by Onassis. Along with confirmation of the birth by two other intimates of Callas, Gage offers printed documentation including a picture of the infant and official papers stating the date of birth and death as March 30, 1960.
Callas spoke of Lupoli in devoted terms. “If you can’t trust your husband or your mother, to whom do you turn? My maid Bruna, who adores me and who has been a nurse, sister and mother to me.”
The soprano was shunned by her mother from the day she was born. Because Maria was not a boy but an ugly 12-pound girl, her mother refused to hold her for the first four days of her life.
The relationship with her family was a lifelong disappointment. Her beautiful sister, Jackie, was always the center of attention, and in spite of Maria’s extraordinary vocal talent demonstrated at an early age, the future diva was an obese young girl searching for acceptance and maternal love.
Onassis came at a time in Callas’ career when she reigned supreme in the world of music. His reputation as an extravagant womanizer was well-deserved and his determined pursuit of the already married diva was not to be denied.
He phoned her constantly. When she traveled, he would fill the seat beside her on the plane with dozens of roses. When they cruised aboard his yacht “Christina” with their respective mates and selected guests, including an elderly Sir Winston Churchill, Onassis’ attentions to his conquest stretched into the wee hours of the morning. The couple would sit for hours under the stars speaking Greek and sharing their similar childhood struggles in war-torn Greece.
Gage intertwines the details of the lovers with information about their individual lives. He stressed the importance of Onassis’ son to him, the intricacies of his business dealings and the shipping magnate’s need for social acceptance. Callas’ struggles with her demanding public, her waning vocal skills and her need to be with Onassis all played into their tempestuous affair.
The availability of the widowed Jackie Onassis and the accidental death of Alexander Onassis changed their lives forever.
Gage is benevolent in his assumption that the singer’s several drug overdoses later in her life were accidental. What is clear is that through careful research, the author dispels the myths and innuendoes that became attached to this glamorous couple over the ye