"First and foremost, I belong to the Greek people. I may be married to an Italian. I may have received accolades from all over the world, but my blood is Greek and nobody can change that".
This audio excerpt from a rare 1957 radio interview with Maria Callas plays in the lift as you ascend to the second floor of the brand new Maria Callas Museum in Athens. It is the first of many audio excerpts that visitors get to hear during their visit to the world's first museum dedicated to the life and work of La Divina.
On October 25th 2023, the City of Athens inaugurated the long-awaited Maria Callas Museum, housed in a three-storey neoclassical building at 44 Mitropoleos Street, opposite the Athens Cathedral. The inauguration coincides with the 100th anniversary of her birth (December 2nd, 1923) and adds to a wide range of artistic events taking place throughout the year in honour of the great soprano. And we're guessing you 've probably heard of “Maria”, the upcoming biographical drama starring Angelina Jolie, due for release in 2024.
Now open to the public, the MCM features more than 1,000 items belonging to or associated with Callas, including priceless historical artefacts such as rare live recordings, personal items, record collections, sheet music, photographs, dresses, jewellery and much more. "A dream 24 years in the making since that historic auction in Paris," according to the director of the project Kostantinos Bitzanis, referring to the "Souvenirs d'une legende" auction that took place on November 25th, 2000, when a total of 420 items were sold.
On the ground floor, visitors can check out the museum’s shop for some opera memorabilia, or have a snack in the La Divina café/restaurant - which also opens out onto the beautiful Petraki Street at the rear, where you can have lunch al fresco. The building's marble staircase leading up to its three floors is covered in a ceremonial red carpet. The third floor serves as a temporary exhibition space and is also used for educational activities, workshops and musical performances, with stunning views of the Acropolis.
The second floor is home to "The Callas Experience". An itinerary takes visitors through three themed soundproof studios (a forest, a replica of her Parisian apartment, a recording studio) where they can sit on bergère chairs and chaises longues and enjoy Callas' renditions of three epic arias: Norma, Tosca, La Traviata. There's also a fourth room where visitors can see her teaching process at the Juilliard School masterclasses in New York in the early 1970s. On the first floor is the core of the collection, with over 1,000 items ranging from sculptures, photo books, stage costumes and wigs to a Manolo Blahnik design inspired by Callas. The collection was made possible by contributions and donations from various institutions and private owners.
Next time you're in Athens, make time to visit the brand new Maria Callas Museum and get to know the greatest soprano of them all. This is the first of two cultural centres dedicated to La Divina planned by the city of Athens. Her temporary home on Patission Avenue will be restored and transformed into the Academy of Lyric Art Maria Callas.