Monica Bellucci Talks ‘Maria Callas: Letters and Memoirs’ and the Opera Singer’s Everlasting Impact at New York Screening

When Monica Bellucci first tried on Maria Callas’ Saint Laurent gown, it fit like a glove.

“I couldn’t believe it was just perfect,” the actress told WWD. “To put this dress on gave me the sensation that I was in touch with her in some way. I could feel the 60s. I could feel her.”

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It was this vintage sheath that Bellucci wore to portray Callas onstage. Between 2019 and 2023, she starred as the iconic soprano in Tom Volf’s production “Maria Callas: Letters and Memoirs,” a story he’s since brought to the big screen.

Monica Bellucci at a screening of "Maria Callas: Letters and Memoirs" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Volf and Yannis Dimolitsas’ documentary, which doesn’t yet have a release date, screened on Monday at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The film follows Bellucci as she prepares for a series of international shows. In her theatrical debut, she performed “Letters and Memoirs” in three different languages and 10 different countries, taking the stage at iconic venues like Paris’ Théâtre Marigny and New York’s Beacon Theatre.

Days ago, Bellucci returned to the Beacon after closing “Letters and Memoirs” in 2023, which also marked the centenary of Callas’ birth. This time, she didn’t miss out on the theater’s parting ritual.

“All of the actors sign on the wall and the elevator, and I was so full of emotion when I did the show last year that I forgot to sign,” Bellucci admitted.

Much of Volf’s career has been defined by Callas, who is considered one of the greatest sopranos of all time. He’s authored three books on the opera singer and directed the 2017 documentary “Maria by Callas.” His most recent volume, a compilation of Callas’ personal letters, was the basis for his play.

Monica Bellucci at the Beacon Theatre.
Monica Bellucci at the Beacon Theatre.

“When I read the memoirs of Maria Callas, they were so full of emotion and vulnerability that I had the feeling that I could touch her soul — in a very humble way, because I’m not Callas,” Bellucci said. “I want to share this emotion through my work with other people. I think this woman deserves something special because she suffered so much.”

Callas’ life story is something out of the dramas she starred in. Much of her childhood was spent training, leading to a strained — and later, nonexistent — relationship with her mother. In love, Callas was also unlucky: her husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, stole her fortune in their divorce, while her lover of nine years, business magnate Aristotle Onassis, left her for Jackie Kennedy.

While she found great success in her career, Callas retired in 1965 as her vocal abilities declined. It’s been said that she died of a broken heart.

“She had a special light and that’s why she was a diva,” Bellucci explained. “She had talent, she had beauty, she had style. You can create style, you can create beauty, you can work on your talent if you have to, but she also had this special thing that you can’t explain. That’s why people wanted to take her light, and they did it. That’s why she died.”

Monica Bellucci in the documentary "Maria Callas: Letters and Memoirs."
Monica Bellucci in the documentary “Maria Callas: Letters and Memoirs.”

“Letters and Memoirs” was partially shot in Callas’ Paris apartment, one of the only things she was left in her split from Meneghini. A replica of one of her couches makes up the play’s minimalist set.

The black-and-white film features Bellucci reciting Callas’ letters to lovers, teachers and friends, melding footage of the actress on stage with archival reels of Callas at her peak.

While Callas lived nearly 50 years ago, Bellucci believes that she paved the way for many women in the entertainment industry.

“I think that we’re still talking about [Callas] today because I think that she represents women,” Bellucci said. “She was courageous. She fought for her freedom to divorce when divorce was forbidden in Italy, and she had the courage to follow her heart. Now, women have such an impact in society and there is a special place for women because there is less fear of speaking up. Callas is such an important woman because she’s an example.”

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