Some of the most zealous opera fans are the ones using the stage entrance. Recently, Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka stopped by the office of Lucy Lindquist at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Lindquist is wardrobe mistress; Rebeka was seeing about her costumes for Violetta, as the lead in Verdi’s La traviata. Rebeka recalls her jaw hitting the floor when she noticed the headpiece. Lindquist explained, “It was worn by Maria Callas.”
Rebeka could barely contain her excitement, “I know it was worn by Callas! It’s in the famous photograph! I can’t believe I’m looking at it!”
The New York Times called Callas the “most exciting opera singer of her time.” Photographs (post weight-loss) of Maria Callas are burned into our national memory as the classic beauty: svelte, elegant, unattainable. In her own memory, Rebeka was at first put off by the voice of Maria Callas. She described an almost scratchy quality, something that would have been discouraged in her own training. Then the dramatic effect, the anguish in Callas’ expression hit home. Ms. Rebeka began collecting Callas recordings, looking for videos, and biographies.
Lucy Lindquist put Marina Rebeka in touch with a former colleague, Vincenza “Virginia” Di Iorio, who had done Lyric’s costumes during the 1950s and 1960s. Mrs. Di Iorio’s husband was friendly with Callas’s first husband Giovanni Meneghini. She was also the woman behind the costumes when Maria Callas made her American debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago. In September, Virginia celebrated her 100th birthday.
On a cold Saturday, Marina Rebeka traveled to the Chicago suburb of Inverness to meet Virginia Di Iorio. What Virgina reveals is the story behind an infamous Callas photograph which earned the singer the unfortunate nickname of tigress (view photo below).
La traviata continues at Lyric Opera of Chicago through December 20. To hear a sampling of Callas recordings, tune in to Arias and Songs for Callas at 90 (Sunday at 4:30 PM).