For anyone going through withdrawal after seeing Bohemian Rhapsody, may I present for your consideration Maria by Callas?

In this immersive, often deliciously sensuous documentary portrait of the late opera star Maria Callas, viewers are treated to another rise-and-fall story of a great but tortured artist, this one punctuated by the occasional real-life bed of roses and pleasure cruise.

For those too young to know who Callas was, YouTube or Wikipedia will bring you up to speed: Long before Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, she was that rare opera singer who was also a household name, as famous for her beauty and glamour as for her tonal range and lyrical interpretive skills.

To observe New York-born Callas arriving in Rome, Milan, Paris or New York in a cloud of furs, flowers, poodles and pearls is to understand the fundamentals of diva style, imitated but never equalled by Madonna, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.


Callas' command of her own persona is on regal, extravagant display in Tom Volf's film, in which the director uses her own words — from letters, diary entries, interviews and her memoirs — to narrate ravishing, rarely seen images, including some of her most famous (and notorious) performances, and candid footage of costume fittings and home movies.

What emerges is a portrait of a woman of extraordinary natural gifts, who was pressured to become a superstar by her mother and then her husband.

"Destiny is destiny," she says resignedly at one point. "There's no way out."

When she falls ill and cancels performances, or is fired from the Metropolitan Opera because of conflicts with its director, the viewer wonders if it's not her way of retreating from a profession she never truly chose.

Callas finally finds true love — if not the conventional domestic bliss she craves — when she meets Aristotle Onassis, with whom she carried on a legendary love affair until he met Jacqueline Kennedy.

That triangle forms some of the most compelling material in Maria by Callas, which is at its best when it simply watches her sing and, in her words, try "to reach those heavens where it's all perfect harmony".