Review: MARIA BY CALLAS Is A Well-Meaning But Overlong Documentary


Maria by Callas is a solidly-made documentary that will appeal to opera fans, but its long runtime and meandering pace may turn off general audiences.
Entertainment Value
Technical Merit

Maria by Callas is a new documentary film about famous Greek-American opera singer Maria Callas. It is an intimate look at her life told through her own words. The movie has been playing the festival circuit to positive reviews.

Callas is undoubtedly a wonderful performer, and even if you are unfamiliar with her talent before watching the film, you are sure to be familiar with it by the end. The movie contains ample amounts of footage of Callas performing in which you are able to appreciate the grand quality of her voice.

That being said, the documentary almost looks upon her too favorably. The film seems like it is afraid to truly dive into the more controversial aspects of her life. Although the movie does touch upon these subjects, it is more occupied with admiring her career and achievements. While it is still interesting to explore her success, it would be more interesting to explore her difficulties.

Left to right: Maria Callas. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The biggest issue with the documentary, though, is that it is simply too long. There is truly no reason that it needed to be two hours long. If some of the fluff had been cut, it very well could have been more brisk and involving. It wasn’t exactly boring, but it was slow and easily could be if you have little to no interest in the subject matter.

Despite the long runtime, the film still doesn’t feel like it is deep enough. Much of the information is surface-level and could be discovered simply by reading articles about Callas. Perhaps if the movie had used fewer interviews and more of her personal writings, such as letters and diaries, it could have felt even more intimate.

maria by callas interview
Left to right: David Frost and Maria Callas. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

However, this film offers something unique and unexpected that has some intrigue: subtitles for the operatic performances. If you have ever wondered what some of the most famous opera songs of all time were actually about, this is your chance to learn. It isn’t worth going out to see the movie for this reason alone, but it’s a cool bonus.

The execution is also strong. The documentary blends performance footage, interviews, and readings of letters written by Callas. The diversity in the mediums used keeps the film moving and adds some interest. Music obviously plays a large role in Callas’s life and the film, so the musical sections are perhaps the most impressive.

Overall, Maria by Callas is a solid documentary, but it felt somewhat shallow. Fans of opera are likely to be pleased, but general audiences may not be so impressed.

Maria by Callas is now playing in select theaters.


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