13 May 2015

Noomi Rapace to play Maria Callas in tale of Aristotle Onassis Affair

By: Ben Child

Source: The Guardian

The Swedish actor Noomi Rapace is to play opera legend Maria Callas in a biopic that will centre on the diva’s infamous two-decade affair with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Titled Callas, the film will be directed by Whale Rider’s Niki Caro from her own screenplay, based on Alfonso Signorini’s biography Too Proud, Too Fragile. The project will be touted to buyers at this week’s Cannes film festival.

“This movie is about an extraordinary woman whose deepest desire is to lead an ordinary life with the man of her choice,” said Guido De Angelis, president of Italy’s De Angelis Group, which is producing. “Callas was la Divina, a goddess who just wanted to be a normal woman, but she found out she couldn’t.”

Jamie Carmichael, of film and television sales company Content Media, said: “We fell in love with Callas instantly. It’s such an emotional and powerful story of one of the world’s great romances – and we’re certain that audiences around the world will be charmed and entranced by the passion, beauty and operatic splendour of this epic tale.”

Callas, the American-born Greek diva known as one of the greatest opera singers of all time, began her affair with Onassis in 1957 when she was still married to Giovanni Battista Meneghini. The relationship supposedly ended in 1968, when the businessman left her for Jacqueline Kennedy, but the pair are said to have continued to meet clandestinely for several more years. Callas died of a heart attack in 1977 at the age of 53 from a heart attack; Onassis had died two years previously at the age of 69.

It is not known if Caro’s film will touch on earlier elements of Callas’s troubled life, which was coloured by a fractious early relationship with her overbearing mother, a dramatic weight loss in 1953-54 and a legendary rivalry with Italian lyrico spinto soprano Renata Tebaldi in the early 50s. 

The singer also suffered at the hands of critics angry at her “diva-like” behaviour. In 1958, she was accused of walking out on the president of Italy in a fit of pique during a performance at the Rome Opera House, causing a scandal. Doctors confirmed she was suffering from bronchitis and tracheitis, and 13 years later the opera company was found to have been at fault for not providing an understudy. But by then Callas’s career was over.

Rapace rose to fame as Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s popular crime novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels. She has since made the shift to Hollywood, taking roles in Alien prequel-of-sorts Prometheus, and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. It is not known if the 35-year-old actor will be required to sing as part of her new role.

Previous Callas biopics include Italian director Franco Zeffirelli’s Callas Forever, a heavily fictionalised take on the last few months of the singer’s life, starring Fanny Ardant. Meryl Streep was last year reported to be playing the diva in a television movie for HBO, based on Terrence McNally’s play Master Class and with Mike Nichols directing. However, the project’s future appears uncertain following Nichols’ death in November 2014.