Listen to the music

Maria Callas was a supremely gifted Greek singer who died in 1977. People at the time were astonished by her talent.

‘If the public could understand how deeply and utterly musical Callas is, they would be stunned. It was extraordinary, almost frightening,’ Tullio Serafin, an Italian opera conductor, said at the time. Other singers and musicians used to say, ‘Callas opened a new door for us, for all the singers in the world, a door that had been closed. Behind it was sleeping not only great music but great ideas of interpretation.’


Yet she suffered immensely. Her mother wanted a boy and let Maria know it. When she discovered Maria’s talent, she forced her repeatedly to sing. ‘I’ll never forgive her for taking my childhood away,’ Maria said of her mother, ‘During all the years I should have been playing and growing up, I was singing or making money.’ But her mother did arrange tuition for her and Maria advanced quickly. Her teacher, Maria Trivella, recognised, ‘the tone of the voice was warm, lyrical, intense; it swirled and flared like a flame and filled the air with melodious reverberations.’

Maria Callas was called ‘La Divina’, meaning she was touched by God and it was in a way she did not understand. One who knew her, Victor de Sabata, quoted Callas, ‘when you want to find how to act on stage, all you have to do is listen to the music. The composer has already seen to that. If you take the trouble to really listen with your soul and with your ears—and I say ‘soul’ and ‘ears’ because the mind must work, but not too much also—you will find every gesture there.’ De Sabata went on, ‘She paid a tremendously difficult and expensive price for this career. I don’t think she always understood what she did or why she did it. She knew she had a tremendous effect on audiences and on people. But it was not something that she could always live with gracefully or happily. I once said to her, “It must be very enviable to be Maria Callas.” And she said, “No, it’s a very terrible thing to be Maria Callas, because it’s a question of trying to understand something you can never really understand.” Because she couldn’t explain what she did – it was all done by instinct; it was something, incredibly, embedded deep within her.’

I give a lot of space to Maria Callas as, it seems to me, she is a prophet for today. She shows how the divine literally intrudes into our world and yet it is all so hidden. ‘A man throws seed on the land’, Jesus says, ‘Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is wake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know.’ This is a vivid image, we are given by Mark this week, of how God is at work, every moment. But can we hear God’s music ‘with our soul and with our ears’ (our heart and our mind)? If we can, we will find everything there.

13 June 2021   Sunday 11B    Ezek 17:22-24             2 Cor. 5:6-10              Mark 4:26-34

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