DIVAS come and go. Maria Callas is forever.
That, at any rate, is how it looks now, more than two decades after her death, at fifty-three, in her lonely Paris apartment. Though her glory years at La Scala, Covent Garden, the Opéra, and the Met lie some forty years back, sales of her recordings have never flagged. Indeed, so high has her stock remained that the industry giant EMI marked its centennial, last year, with a second CD reissue of the entire Callas discography as it was originally issued on Angel LPs. The company has included several live performances of unusual fare, previously available only on entrepreneurial labels. Remastered, repackaged, and accompanied by partisan yet judicious new commentary, the EMI cache runs to some thirty complete operas (including multiple versions of Lucia di Lammermoor, and La traviata, Callas specialties all), plus nearly a dozen recital discs. Unlike many vintage opera albums, which sell at budget prices, EMI's Callas titles still command top dollar.
Keepers of other flames fume about corporate greed and wish out loud that the public would light more candles for the icons they prefer: Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Beverly Sills, or the undervalued Leyla Gencer, from Turkey. But Callas was never the invention of some publicity machine. Nor is her cult -- as some nay-sayers believe -- the unearned dividend of her private soap opera (the ill-fated romance with Aristotle Onassis) or professional blowups (remarkably few, actually -- a walkout here, a run-in there, all justified). True, in her lifetime a malicious, uncomprehending press splashed her across the front page. But at this late date all that matters is her supremacy as an artist. The danger for the future is that the legend will eclipse the work -- that new generations will take her greatness on faith alone.