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Maria Callas did not kill herself from grief for Onassis, a rare disease cost her career and life

28 December 2010 / 13:12:05  GRReporter
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A study held by the University of Bologna is about to completely change the attitude towards the world-famous soprano Maria Callas. It reveals that she was suffering from a rare disease of vocal cords rather than the proverbial whims of opera divas.

Professors Franco Fussi and Nico Paolillo studied the records of the famous singer and her voice changes in the last 18 years of her life using the latest technology and have concluded that Maria Callas was suffering from a rare disease that affects muscles and tissues. Long intake of cortisone, which is used for symptomatic treatment of the disease, seems to have caused the premature death of the world famous singer.

The research of Italian doctors

The two professors from the University of Bologna presented their research on the "Callas case." "We managed to separate only her voice from several bad recordings made at that time. They were made in the period 1958-1976. It was very difficult to study the changes in her voice and make our conclusions. The available videos allowed us to note the anatomical state of the muscles and their formation over the time."

According to the research of the two professors, the famous soprano Maria Callas was sick with dermatomyositis - an illness that affects muscles and tissues, including those of the larynx. Dr. Franco Fussi stresses that the disease is treated with cortisone and immunosuppressive medications that can cause heart failure. According to the official medical report, Maria Callas died of cardiac arrest.

The research of the Italian professors says: 

“Maria Callas was aware of her illness. The first signs appeared yet in 1958. It is not accidental that she often asked her closest friend Giovanna Lomazzi whether her voice was stable or not. She started to feel that she was losing control of her voice vibrato ever since then. It has been noted in her health record only that she was hypotonic and that is why she was sleeping long hours, almost until noon. We know that Maria Callas drank many cups of coffee a day.”

The first symptoms

The first "loss" which was described as a scandal happened on January 2, 1958 during the premiere of Norma in the Roman opera in the presence of the Italian President Giovanni Gronchi. After the audience had been waiting for an hour Callas decided not to finish the first part of the opera and left the stage.”

Reactions that night were great. The participants in the research sought and analyzed the press writings from that time.

"First we found and heard the recording of that night. We heard how Maria Callas sang during that performance and then we made a spectacular reproduction. Her voice was unaffected.

Then why did she leave the scene? Her friend Giovanna Lomazzi that was almost always with her called her at 2 am to wish her success and the answer of the soprano was: "It is a miracle that I have a voice and I can talk to you right now."

Scientists note it is possible that Maria Callas could have inflammation of the vocal cords in the early stages that night. So, tumefaction of the lining deteriorated during the break in the first part of the opera and as a result the singer could not manage well the dynamics of the intensity of her voice.

"The singer vainly tried to explain the extraordinary absence from the scene that night with a hand-written note. She wanted to reject the accusations that she was a "wild" and "capricious singer" that pursued her during her career. She did not achieve almost anything. According to some rumours, they considered from the Interior Ministry her behaviour offensive to the President Giovanni Gronchi who attended the performance and ordered theatres in Rome not to accept Callas on their stages. Of course, at a press conference a little later the singer received a bouquet of flowers from the wife of the president, which sought to dispel rumours that way."

The video shows the dimensions of the scandal which Maria Callas caused on January 2, 1958, when she broke the official premiere of Norma by Vincenzo Bellini in Rome and left the stage in the presence of the Italian President Giovanni Gronchi and many ministers.

The rare disease

The clinical condition of Maria Callas has deteriorated gradually after 1960 and in 1975 she visited Dr. Mario Giacovazzo – the former personal physician of Aldo Moro – in the hospital in Rome.

The experienced doctor immediately noticed the bluish colour of her skin and a red spot on the left side of her neck. Her hands were full of scars. Everything showed that the singer was strongly affected by dermatomyositis.

For the first time at the time a doctor came to the conclusion that the gradual loss of the voice of Maria Callas was due to genuine illness not just psychosomatic factors, as was believed previously.

"Everything is to show that she was suffering from dermatomyositis. The disease was very rare at that time and most doctors were aware of it only from books of medicine, not of contact with a patient. Dermatomyositis is developing very slowly and leads to progressive atrophy of certain muscles and tissues. It is possible to affect the muscles of the neck, larynx and pharynx and the muscles of respiration. Dr. Mario Giacovazzo respected the medical confidentiality for years and told about the case in 2002. After the soprano was diagnosed she began taking anti-inflammatory medications, which led to an apparent improvement."

The end

Tags: Nine musesHistoryMusicMaria CallasAristoteles OnassisRare deseaseDeath
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