Review by Dan Odenwald
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Monday, 10/18/2004, 7:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Lincoln Theatre
BY TURNS TORTURED and magnificent, this open love letter to Maria Callas is as much an homage to opera as it is to the diva herself. Dreamy, sentimental and often poignant, Callas Forever presents a fictionalized portrait of the singer in her final years. Her career over, her voice gone, Callas seals herself in her Paris apartment, sneaking pills and drink, lamenting late into the night over what once was.
But an old friend and collaborator, Larry Kelly (Jeremy Irons), comes to the rescue with an idea: Callas must star in a film version of Carmen in which the opera diva will lip sync the performance to an old recording of hers from 20 years earlier. To Callas, it’s a fantastical notion fraught with peril, but she eventually gives the nod and proceeds with the film, igniting her dormant passions and reconnecting with her lost art.
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli (Romeo and Juliet, Tea with Mussolini), Callas Forever is as much a gateway as it is fine filmmaking. It will introduce opera neophytes to Callas’ ethereal, magical voice and reward older fans with splendid renditions of the diva’s finest work.
Fanny Ardant is marvelous as the temperamental and mercurial Callas. Camp fans will delight in the occasionally over-the-top performance: her celebrated rages, her agonizing despair, her touch-and-go relationship with sanity. Irons is equally as good as the effete impresario who struggles to bring high art to the philistines. The plucky Joan Plowright also turns in a worthy performance as a celebrity journalist and friend to Callas.
Be forewarned: Callas Forever includes little gay content. A thankfully small subplot is devoted to Irons’ pursuit of a much younger lover — a small and unimportant diversion, for Callas is the real object of our affections. Countless queens have known this for decades. Forget the beefcake. As the soundtrack soars and that melodious voice grabs hold of you, it’s Callas that you want. Encore, encore!