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"Diva" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

“Diva,” by Daisy Goodwin, is a highly entertaining novel about Maria Callas, one of the most influential opera singers of the 20th century. The author indicates that the novel is not a biography, but the plot and timeline lean heavily on the real life of the operatic star.

            Callas’ voice was a gift; few singers have yet to surpass her in her ability to perform dramatic roles from the most famous operas of all time. She was also a talented actress on stage, and she kept the audience's eyes riveted on her throughout her performances.  The word “diva” was applied to her throughout her life.  She had a famous temper, always dressed in the finest of clothes, and her Greek heritage gave her a classic, regal appearance.

            Callas’ professional career extended from 1941 to 1965. Throughout most of her life, the paparazzi followed her relentlessly. Callas’ remarks about her abusive mother made headlines. A dramatic weight loss subtly affected her singing ability, and rare cancellations of performances, because of her voice issues, furthered stalking by the press.

            When Callas became the mistress of Aristotle Onassis, a married man, the interest in Callas extended to the masses. Rumors of abortions or a stillborn child fueled the press frenzy. Callas reduced her professional appearances in order to be at Onassis’ beck and call during their 11-year affair. When Onassis abruptly left her to marry Jackie Kennedy, even more attention was focused on Callas. The author indicates that Onassis continued his affair with Callas just weeks after marrying Kennedy.

            “Diva” is arranged with chapters unfolding within sections of the book as an opera would be arranged. “Act One ''includes stories about Callas’ unhappy childhood that describe near-blindness that plagued her all of her life, her weight issues, her perceived homeliness, and her rivalry with her sister. Interspersed with these details are Callas’ encounters with the press, her musical conductors, and with the famed gossip columnist, Elsa Maxwell.  (Maxwell fueled the press stories about Callas and introduced her to Onassis, hoping for fodder for her columns and television appearances.) The novel ends with “Final Curtain” and the marriage of Onassis to the former first lady of the United States. 

            Characters such as Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, Winston and Clementine Churchill, Lee Radziwell, the Duke and Duchess of York, Franco Fellini, Marilyn Monroe, and other famous mid-20th century personages populate the pages.

Goodwin also was the screenwriter and producer of the PBS/Masterpiece drama “Victoria.”



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