Maria Callas | Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Her fans, and they are many, call her “La Divina,” the divine one, and Maria By Callas shows the reasons why.

Closer to a deity than a singer to her devotees, Maria Callas was an extraordinary opera star who brought dramatic intensity and emotional intelligence to her roles, not to mention an off-stage life that included a much-publicized love affair with one of the world’s wealthiest men, fellow Greek Aristotle Onassis.

Director Tom Volf initially planned to do a conventional documentary but decided it would be more intimate and revealing to do a film on Callas almost entirely in her own words, using performance footage and TV interviews, as well as letters and unpublished memoirs, which are movingly read by contemporary opera star Joyce di Donato.

The film expertly presents the emotional essence of this performer, leaving you both shaken and stirred by the extent of her gifts and the way they connected to both audiences and to her tumultuous life. She would have happily given it all up to have children and a domestic existence, Callas informed a dubious David Frost, adding “but destiny is destiny and there is no way out.” She also told Frost, “there are two people in me actually; there is Maria but also Callas. I have to live up to all of myself.”

Kenneth Turan is the film critic of the Los Angeles Times. He is also the author of, most recently, “Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film” from PublicAffairs Books. This post was adapted from Mr. Turan’s Los Angeles Times review published November 1, 2018.

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