Callas Forever

Callas Forever (2002)
Image Entertainment
Cast: Jeremy Irons, Fanny Ardant

Maria Callas is without any doubt the greatest voice in opera history. She achieved legendary status during her lifetime and had a huge following of fans around the world, who all adored her soprano voice like that of an angel. Sadly, Maria Callas at one point of her career began having problems and her voice deteriorated. She ended her career voluntarily as a result, but became a reclusive constantly mourning for her lost voice, her career and her fans.

"Callas Forever" tells a fictional story as Maria Callas (Fanny Ardant) lives in recluse in her Paris apartment. Her friends are extremely concerned about her, as she deteriorates visibly, barely eats and seems addicted to pills and alcohol. Her friend and former manager Larry Kelly (Jeremy Irons) decides to pull her out of her lethargic state and proposes to relaunch her career. He plans to film Maria performing selected operas and matching it to older sound recordings of her at her best to create the perfect presentation of the material. Refusing at first, Maria changes her mind when she sees an example of how it could be done and the effect it could have. Head over heels she plunges into the work of bringing Bizet’s "Carmen" to the big screen this way. She begins blooming once again and becomes obsessed with making everything absolutely perfect and as everyone realizes soon enough, her infamous temperament is back with it.
Once the film is completed she can’t believe the enormous impact it has, reducing her to tears to see herself and the story of Carmen in such a perfect rendition. And, of course, Larry is already looking to taking her next opera to the screen.

Director Franco Zeffirelli was a long-time friend of Maria Callas and decided to create this loving and moving tribute to opera’s greatest diva. The movie is incredibly heartfelt and sensitive, showing us the fragile nature of Callas, the side that didn’t make the headlines but it is also showing us the honest concern her friends harbored, oftentimes unable to get through to her. It is simply heart wrenching to see go to pieces over her lost voice, day after day after day. The fire she exudes once she begins working on the new project is magnificent and one can only imagine what a determined person Maria Callas must have been during the height of her career. As such Zeffirelli manages to shows all the sides that made up Maria Callas in this very personal and affectionate portrait.

French actress Fanny Ardant plays Callas to the hilt. It is almost impossible at times to think she is not Callas, that’s how absolutely mesmerizing her performance is. She becomes the character inside out and with Jeremy Irons by her side, the two deliver performances that are remarkably honest, subtle and human Combined with the magnetic images that Zeffirelli and his cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri conjure up the film often turns the opera segments into voluptuous scenes that are simply beautiful to watch.

Image Entertainment has created a <$PS,widescreen> presentation of the movie for this DVD in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. The image is clean and clear and virtually without blemishes or defects. Color reproduction is warm and strong, rendering all scenes very faithfully with natural flesh tones and vibrant colors. Especially during the "Carmen" scenes the color reproduction is magnificent and brings out even the most subtle hues and textures in the fiery production design. Black levels are rock solid and never break up, creating deep shadows that help root the image visually. No edge-enhancement is evident and the compression is without flaws.

The audio on the release comes as a full-bodied <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track. It is rich and makes good use of the surround channels. Particularly during the opera scenes the sound field is wide and engaging putting the viewer right in the midst of the action. A wide frequency response adds deep, natural basses to the mix as well as clear high ends, entirely free of distortion. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable.

No extras are included on the release, not even short biographies of the cast and crew members or Maria Callas for that matter, which is a bit disappointing as it doesn’t even outline the milestones of her career or the circumstances of her sudden death.

As regular readers of the site will know, I am a huge fan of bio pics or movies surrounding real people and "Callas Forever" is another great entry in that genre, bringing opera’s great voice to life once again. I was eager to see "Callas Forever" and I was not disappointed. Franco Zeffirelli is painting a picture here that is stunning, moving and magnificent as Maria Callas was in live. Fans of the genre and fans of music in general should definitely take a very close look at this fabulous release.